When Life Gives You Frozen Carrots

... Make Soup. It's part of everyone's experience to deal with loss at various points in life. Often, we find that we have uncultivated coping mechanisms, and we flounder in various states of avoidance, suppression of the pain, unrealistic optimism, utter despair, and so many other feelings that seem better [for a moment] than truly feeling the feelings associated with loss.

The Back Story:

I've recently had an experience that has provided another opportunity in learning to deal with loss - and in finding the treasures within the experience.

We had a very unusual, sudden, and extreme cold snap in mid-November. In preparation, I harvested the rest of the root vegetables (since there was no snow to insulate them). I covered the greens in the field that I could, set up a backup heater in the nursery greenhouse, and a heater in a room of the shed that was holding the bulk of the root vegetables, dahlia tubers, tulip bulbs etc - a temporary storage space until they could all be processed.

The temperature dropped to -15C that night + wind chill, colder than forecasted, and an extreme drop from the lows of -2C that we'd had already this fall. I got up at 5am, and found that the main heater AND back up heater had quit in the nursery greenhouse. The temperature was -4C at plant level, and they were all frozen solid in their trays. Yikes. (Fortunately, many of them actually recovered - a testament to the high levels of sugars in the healthy plants, and their living conditions that made them cold-hardy. Phew!)

Next, I checked the shed, and stared in disbelief at the thermometer that was nestled among the carrots. It read -2C. Surely the thermometer wasn't working! How could it be freezing in there? Unfortunately, the wind had been blowing against that corner of the [mostly uninsulated] shed, and the heater simply couldn't keep up.

Later that morning, when I went out to the field, I found that the plastic had been ripped off of my biggest greenhouse. I found out afterwards that one of the ropes had given way, and then the rip started from a small tear near the base - and ripped right up to the peak.

Everything in the greenhouse would have survived the cold if they'd been protected - but no cover and such a cold temperature + wind meant that everything in there was lost.

I was reeling in shock, and realizing the full implications of these losses: the majority of my winter income, a big cut into the food supply for my CSA members, the loss of most dahlia tubers for next year's blooms, a major hit to the farm's finances at the end of a very rough year, among other things.

Later, I found out that the fridge with the fermented vegetables had also frozen (it was right by the shed door - full of kraut, hot sauce, and some specialty ferments), several varieties of broccoli (for next spring's crop) had perished, and pretty much all of the leafy greens were gone that would normally be able to handle cold if there had been a gradual drop in temperature.

The good part of all of this is that it was just "stuff". This is not as traumatic as losing a beloved friend, our health, our liberty, or high-value intangibles. There was no harm to any person or major infrastructure. The livestock are all fine. The produce in the cooler and in the basement is all fine. Everything else is fine.

More seeds can be planted. More kraut can be made. I can find other ways to bring in an income this winter. The greenhouse can be recovered (after the dislodged frame is repaired). There'll be another season to try again; to daily work with factors beyond our control; to accept the "bad" with the "good".

But all of that should not distract from the devastation and the reality of what was lost - even the less-tangible things that are harder to identify. Some days, it feels that the biggest loss was the many hours / weeks / months of work that ended up being for nothing. No compensation - just more work to clean up the mess so that we can move on.

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Some Thoughts on Dealing with Loss

Here are the top 3 things I've learned about loss, over varied experiences in my life:

  1. FEEL the feelings. Let the roller coaster of emotions play out in real time - not put off for another time. Why is it that most of us have learned to suppress our true feelings in times like this? Ride the waves, the ebbing and flowing tides. Find courage to acknowledge the hurt; to face it straight-on; to recognize the validity of our deep-down feelings, and that they're part of the means to help us heal.
  2. Gain perspective. Look at the bigger picture. Realize how the experience fits into a year or a decade or a lifetime. This is one day of many days in our lives. Find acceptance.
  3. Express the feelings, to those who have the courage and empathy to sit with another's pain, grieving and mourning; to those who also feel the hurt; to those who understand loss. We're not alone in our feelings - these are common to the human experience. Earlier this year, a friend shared a book that differentiated between grieving and mourning. In a nutshell:

    1. Grieving: our feelings associated with our loss
    2. Mourning: the expression of our grief. We need to both grieve and mourn. Powerful stuff, when you really think about it.

These are hard things to do when our breath is taken away; when our appetite disappears, leaving a clenched tummy in its wake; when our mind is paralyzed by shock, yet racing through the very real implications of our loss; when we're numbed by the immensity of it; when we're overwhelmed and feel like going back to bed; when we gravitate to a hundred ways to distract ourselves...

To move beyond our pain, we must move through it.

A lot of things that people face are unique. Perhaps no one has ever been exactly in your shoes. And yet, many of us can identify with the feelings associated with loss. As we mindfully deal with our own losses, it gives us the authenticity and vulnerability to sit and be present with the sadness, grief, and pain of others.

The treasures within the experience can be so many things, including: becoming a more authentic person (as we embrace the whole-ness of all our human feelings), understanding ourselves more fully, having a greater feeling for others, learning to live with an acceptance of whatever comes our way, gaining clarity on a better direction to take in the future... etc.

Oh - and carrot soup! This is one of my treasures these days. Because I had several bushels of freshly-harvested carrots that froze, I knew that my only chance to save any would be while they were still frozen. Otherwise, they would all be fodder for the compost pile after they thawed. They're still not sale-able, being just for my personal use, but at least they're not a total loss (and actually, they've become rich and satisfying meals).

I washed them up, sliced them, and stashed them in the freezer. I've been roasting them and making this very delicious roasted carrot soup. Try it out, for a warming and nutritious winter treat. Frozen carrots aren't required to make it :)