So. Now that the smoke has cleared, I have to tell you something.
I can officially relate to the elite—that finite set of folks who claim to have left their body in cardiac arrest during surgery. They (we?) say they floated above the surgeons, in an inexplicably peaceful state of mind, and watched as the paddles came out to restart their heart.
When the Organic Valley headquarters building caught fire last week, I was a half-mile away, on top of a nearby hill, playing end-of-day, mushroom-hunting hooky.
Understand, when I say “hill,” I’m talking about a hill of the Coulee Region. Cap the “H.” Semi-mountain, is more like it. Up there, one can see for miles. When the sirens started to wail, when one after another fire truck set out in the direction of the HQ—when the mournful wails began to approach from nearby towns—I could hear it all, but I couldn’t see much for the trees.
Enter, stage right (and stage left, and stage back—from stage everywhere, it seemed) out-of-body experience. A fear sprouted and grew like a weed. Something very bad had happened at the HQ. Dark scenarios began to creep into my imagination. This place in the middle of nowhere, La Farge, has always been an unlikely home, at best, for a business headquarters. Name one other American company so true to it’s foundation principles (re-building rural community in this case) that it builds a 70,000+ square-foot office building much closer to its gorgeous heart than to logistical convenience. Sirens here are rare as moos in the city. Everyone stops and watches. And listens.
There I was, floating above the drama as the surgeons raced in like army ants.
A few cell phone calls and I knew. Fire. I snapped a few pics with my 1940s-vintage cell phone, and headed down.
As luck would have it, the very first person I encountered as I arrived on the scene was George Siemon, CEIEIO. He’d walked far down the “parking road,” to his car for something. I had not yet realized the scope of the fire—all that was visible to me was a waifish mist of white smoke. I really thought I’d missed it. It was out. A trash can fire. The building was evacuated just to be on the safe side, no doubt.
George said something (I don’t remember what) that I took as good humor—a little levity during a slight working day disturbance. I chuckled. When he then told me the fire was not out—that it might not ever be put out, that they might have to take off the roof of the building—well, what could I say?
I continued on and joined the helpless onlookers, at first employees only, then, it seemed, the entire population of La Farge. Tears. Blank stares. But smiles, too. No one was hurt, a fact that grew to an astonishing scale as we watched our brave (read: crazy) volunteer firefighters go after this smoldering, roof-melting, “monster in the walls,” as George put it. Eventually the roof sagged down to the upper floor.
The disruption would be longer than I’d first imagined, but no one is going anywhere. Business continues. It’s simple. We will rebuild. Here.
The gorgeous heart of Organic Valley was not damaged.