Another incredible story from an honorary bee.
I consider myself a logistical person (something that makes me a little different from Katie and Tamrin, the hosts of this blog), the kind who thinks things through and prefers a bit of a plan. However, from time to time I catch wind of an opportunity and something in my soul says “you gotta go do it.” That’s exactly what led me to join a group of people I had hardly met before in a 1,000 mile trip to Ashland, KS to aid in wildfire relief.
Let me start this one back from the beginning. On March 7, 2017, over 1 million acres of land in Colorado, Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma was burned in a major natural disaster that was the product of fire and 60+ mile/hour winds that changed direction at the drop of a hat. The area affected is mostly small towns and pastures of beef cattle, which caused this event to be low-profile on the national news. Many posts circulated amongst the agricultural community’s social media accounts featuring cows and calves who had been burnt badly in the flames, grasslands used to graze cattle entirely burned up, and ranchers figuring out their comeback plans. People across the country began sending money, food, clothing, fencing supplies, hay to keep the surviving cattle sustained without their main feed source, milk replacer for orphaned nursing calves, and countless other supplies. I have always considered myself incredibly blessed to be a part of the agricultural community, but I feel extra fortunate watching my comrades step up in times of need.
So, let’s fast forward to my involvement. A few days after news of the fires had spread, I saw a post from my former FFA Advisor (and an absolute inspiration to me, to be honest) Mrs. Rose Hartschuh, saying that she and her husband, Greg, as well as a couple of other area farmers were planning to drive a load of hay and various supplies to Ashland and they were collecting money and hoping to take a group of volunteers as well. My initial thought was to donate to their PayPal account to help make this project successful. But then came that little voice inside me: “why can’t you just go along?” That voice nagged on, I checked my schedule and found it was pretty flexibly open for the days they planned to be gone, so I called Mrs. H and signed myself up.
Nine days later, I met up with those without trailers in a parking lot where we consolidated into the 12-passenger van, proudly dubbed the B.A.V. and we met up with the rest of the convoy of over 40 trailer loads of hay and supplies headed for Ashland. The BAV crew was made up of people who were familiar at best, but strangers become friends quickly on the road, and by the time we hit KCMO we were well all buds (still weren’t sure if Derek/Duane/Daniel/Darnell liked us or not but whatever). Mishaps were minimal on the way out, with a little tire and engine trouble within the Morrow county tribe, but we all reached Ashland, Kansas eager to get to work.
We arrived late enough on Saturday that most of the ranchers weren’t ready to start a group on new projects, so all our group that had arrived headed over to a nearby ranch, where we were put to work by the cow boss, whose name was Kyle. He handed our group fencing pliers to cut wire as well as the keys to his farm Kubota, and instructed us to remove all the wooden posts that had been destroyed by the fire all around his pasture. This process would help to speed along the replacement of these fences, as the heat of the flames ruins fences handily. All the partially destroyed posts as well as other debris was being thrown in a large pit that reminded me of a grave (Parks and Rec fans should know that I was singing “The Pit”).
The second day, a group of six of us went to the farm of Dr. John Kellenberger, a local large animal veterinarian who had barely been home since the fires due to his work treating cattle, and unfortunately euthanizing cattle that had been burned badly. We started tearing out fence while Dr. John was off teaching Sunday school, and he joined us upon his return. I think the emotional toll an event like this takes on the vets really set in for me when I climbed into the passenger seat and saw the box of .22 shells sitting on the center console, signifying to me that they were something he had needed to utilize regularly for the past couple of weeks, kind of a sobering moment for what these people were going through. Despite the difficulty in his work, Dr. John and the entire Kellenberger family were very thankful that they were all safe and appreciative of the kindness of strangers willing to assist as they worked toward letting their cattle back out on their land.
Our last day, the entire crew converged on one farm for half the day, where we worked hard tearing down and ripping out wire on miles of fence. Our group had a great time working together for the last time, and got a ton of work done. There we were reminded that while our help was appreciated, there is a huge amount of rebuilding and regrouping to be done, and it will take years to know for sure this disaster’s full effects. An interesting thought for us to chew on as we began our drive home.
This write up would be incomplete without talking about the incredible people we found in Clark County, Kansas. From the Ashland Feed and Seed being a hub for all supply donations, to the church camp next door organizing volunteers and pairing them off with ranchers in need of a helping hand, the Ashland community was incredible. The people in the nearby town of Minneola were just as wonderful, as members of the Minneola Community Church prepared our meals and opened their homes for us to stay, with extra love to Ron and Chris Lang for housing two other ladies and myself, and doing my laundry even though I said several times that was not necessary. A shout out is also for Paraiso Mexican Restaurant, for giving us the best breakfast burritos I have ever had each day for breakfast. Our group from Ohio was incredibly fortunate to have contact with every one of these people.
The biggest takeaway of this trip for me is that despite all the bad people and unfortunate events in this world, there are so many exceptional people. When times get hard, these good folks rise from the ashes and step up to take care of their neighbors. As one old farmer, along on the trip stated “I don’t care what that campaign slogan says, stuff like this shows us that America has always been great. It’s great because of these people.”