top of page

Dramatic NOT Traumatic Farm News

“Sarah!” Susie’s voice came loud and clear booming through the house in the middle of the night. I knew it was our neighbor immediately - and recognized a level of urgency and panic. 

“Susie, what’s the matter?” I heaved the question out of my body hoping it would land with enough volume to be heard, but it seemed mumbly at best. The vestiges of sleep still held strong leaving me borderline incoherent and wobbly.

“The sugar shack is on fire!” The sugar shack where a weekend’s worth of hard work collecting sap and wood to fire the season’s last batch of maple syrup was in flames. That thought isn’t what came to mind in the groggy recess of a middle-of-the-night-brain-barely-awakened from deep sleep, however. I didn’t think about Bill and Steve and Kyle’s fun weekend “mapling.” No, I thought about the house and what direction the wind might be blowing.

“The house? Is the house on fire?” I asked barely able to speak, so groggy, trying to focus and push the residue of sleep away. “Are you sure the house isn’t burning?”

“No, the sugar shack is on fire!” came her response from the bottom of the stairs. Clear, concise and definite enough to give me a bit of assurance.

After a painful second of launching slo mo into alertness, I was up and out of bed. I wanted to think fast, but fog was all around me; sleep still tendrilled between the waves of gray matter just out of REM. Focus on the words Susie needed to deliver and, I realized, wake Bill. Despite Susie’s perfect and fully placed alarm that reached precisely half of its intended course, Bill had not nudged even the slightest. He sleeps soundly all night long, while I am the one to toss and turn. I shook his foot sticking out from the covers, and in close enough proximity, brought Susie’s siren to Sweet William’s ears. “Your sugar shack is on fire. You need to get up.”

Finally awakened he sprang into action, made his way downstairs and out the door. He’s quiet under pressure. I followed behind, greeted Susie who told us again of the fire and that her phone wasn’t working. We wouldn’t have received the message anyway, I thought,  as we both have our phones silenced at night. Maybe that’s what she meant that her phone wasn’t working? No, I think Bill asked her about her landline, too.

“Yes, my phone is dead. I tried to call, but I couldn't get through. I decided to come over. I’m sorry” Susie said. I wanted to insist thank you was what we needed to say, but there wasn’t time. Bill was headed to the truck, and Susie’s car was behind it blocking the way.

“Thank you Susie. You better go move the car. Bill can’t get out of here.” I gave her a hug and shooed her out. “I’ll be right behind you.”

As those two departed, I noticed Kia was here and very excited. When Bill had come over around 9:30, Kia had not joined him. As the weather warms, it’s not uncommon for her to stay at Lake View to guard the farm. She was wiggling dog-speak at my feet as I sent Susie to move the car; I knew the dog had seen the fire and was concerned. I gathered my wits and coat, shoved my feet into some shoes and headed towards the door worried that on top of the fire, I would need to deal with Kia who might get underfoot. Not knowing what I would find, it seemed better that she stay put. With a VERY thick coat of fur, she most often prefers to be outside, but as I walked to the door to leave, low and behold, she had plopped down on the living room floor letting me know that she’d had enough excitement for one night!

The minute I stepped outside, a strong wind blew from the east and I went into panic mode. The sugar shack, a wooden cabin that houses an extremely hot fire inside a metal box was ablaze enough to alert the neighbor’s dog and then the neighbor. What I imagined to be a huge blaze was situated on the east side of the cedar-clad house, maybe 30 feet at best.  As I sped towards Bill’s farm worrying, I wondered if I should call 911, or had one of them already ahead of me? I pushed away the image of the house ablaze and visualized the sugar shack just as Susie had reported, “Your sugar shack is on fire!” I wouldn’t allow myself to get carried away with worry…not yet, at least.

I pulled into the driveway and saw Susie standing with the hose spraying the shack now completely engulfed in flames, and already collapsed. After a quick assessment, it was clear to see that everything else was okay.  Bill was just coming out of the shop with a section of hose to connect to another spigot. It was a total loss, but fortunately, the shack’s fanning flames were bending to the north running parallel to the house and shop away from anything combustible. Had a storm been on the way bringing those easterly winds, or a normal weather pattern with winds from the west, Bill could have lost one of his farm’s major structures, but as the winds blew in from the south with unseasonably warm temperatures, the fire was contained to the sugar shack only. 

I took the hose from Susie to relieve her of the duty. “How did you know it was on fire?” I asked assuming she had been sound asleep like the rest of us at 1:30 in the morning.

“Dusty was making some sounds. I thought it was maybe a cat outside causing her to get stirred up. I looked out the window and saw that there was a fire. I tried calling but my phone is dead! I thought it was the house on fire. Once I drove past I could see that it was the sugar shack.”

“I saw that Kia was at my place when we left. Had you seen her at Bill’s?” I asked.

“Yes. she was in the road.” Kia enjoys guarding from the road checking each vehicle that comes and goes. She waits for my return from her post near the mailbox and when she recognizes me, she darts away as if she’s working to chase the critters off. She’s a funny dog. I can only imagine that she was at Bill’s, frightened and not sure what to do. She saw Susie coming and was in the road to greet her. By the time Susie got over here to wake us up, Kia, too, had arrived with her own story to tell. I’ll have to teach her to wake me up next time something is in flames.

As Susie and I stood and sprayed water on the blaze, I told her of the wood that cooked the sap earlier today. Some of the wood being used was old cedar siding, so dry that it cooked the sap down faster than the split wood and logs we normally use. At one point yesterday afternoon, one of the thin pieces of siding dangled out of the cooker. “Hey, Bill. You better get that in the stove before it burns the shack down,” a visiting friend noticed. Was that an omen?

With not nearly enough thanks and gratitude, we dispatched Susie back to sleep. Once I knew the fire was soon to be out, I left Bill to tend the water-spraying on the last of the embers. We are both so thankful that it hadn’t been worse. The fire left a shadow of scorched earth that extended to about ten feet from his house. Tonight Bill could have lost his home, but instead, he lost a hobby. We did utter that idea, “maybe it’s a sign - no more maple syruping?”

Mother Nature has her ways, and fury is often one of them.

Today I awoke with the smell of fire in my hair, and a series of weird wonderings that made me think there were many hints left for me before the fire. Hints I completely ignored. I'm still learning to interpret life's omens, it seems.

First was our friend’s comment that the place might burn if we didn’t move the wood that had tipped out of the arch, but the next really rattled me.

This morning after making a pot of coffee, a photo on the kitchen table caught my eye. It’s an old polaroid of Salem Church that William had found to show me the morning before the sugar shack fire. From my farmhouse, I can see the stands of arborvitae that signal country cemeteries all across the rural countryside. It looks a bit Tuscan, honestly. By the time I bought this farm, the church that stood just north of my farmhouse was long gone. It had been vandalized so many times that the township decided to BURN IT DOWN (an idea that always seemed an odd country way to remove a building) before anyone got hurt. When I saw that photo of the church for the first time (the morning of our own fire), a building I had never seen, I felt a wave of extra-large sadness and internal pain that in hindsight seemed a nod to what was about to happen.

Next to the photo of the long ago burned down Salem Church on my kitchen table lay the Agri-View, a farming rag that comes to William’s mailbox each week. It really is an interesting newspaper for those from the city, and my visiting step-father, curious about its contents, brought it from Bill’s to read later. However, when mapling happens, reading doesn’t, so it sits unopened on the table. Today, as I reached for the photo of the Salem Church, I caught a glimpse of the Agri-View headline. It reads, “Fires arrive early in Wisconsin.”

I do love those sorts of coincidences and superstitious ideas. I just wish I could speak the language of harbingers and omens so I wasn't left to feel like such a dummy! On March 11th, 2024 at 1:30 AM we lost our sugar shack to fire, but the house still stands, the barn is intact, the shop remains, the neighbors survived, and other than a bit humbled, William and I (and all the animals) are okay.

Isn't it funny how the omens may be hard to interpret, but the lessons are much more clear? William has told a number of people this morning, as he cleans up the debris, “If you’re gonna build a sugar shack, make it out of cement and steel.” Those arches get durned hot. 

But, from my more feminine environmental perspective I’d argue that Mother Nature is telling us we’ve taken too much and it is time to stop. I don't read it as build better. I see it as stop taking.

That's the BIG news from the farm this week!

I'll be back with news of the Adult Day Camp Survey winner on Wednesday and share some ideas about that adventure. Thank you to all who participated. The survey is now closed, but I am always happy to hear your ideas.

Tend your fires with care and a watchful eye! Look what happens when we assume...

With BIG humility and love,


626 views1 comment

1 則留言


I so sorry to hear of your tragedy, but thankful all else was safe. It’s amazing to me that you believe and can look back to realize messages you may have received if only we would learn to listen. I believe in messages as well.

bottom of page