Today was a terrifying, and very good day- in that order. The kind of day that as I sit down to write this, I’m trying to think back to what we’ve done since the last post- and it doesn’t matter.

We’re at a ranch in extreme South East Arizona, just 6 miles from the Mexico border, the only campers here, with just 2 other souls on the 40 acre ranch. First is the owner, Belle, then her cousin that’s visiting from Kentucky until March. Belle is 83ish, and her cousin is about a dozen years younger. So you could say we’re camping here on our own, and you’d be close to the truth. We don’t mind it at all. In fact, that we’re here doing for ourselves is a major part of the reason we’re enjoying it so much. I’ll corral all of my thoughts on the ranch experience in a separate blog entry.

This morning, we continued work on the project we almost finished yesterday, on Monday. It was the third manual labor project of the day- we were clearing the campfire ring of 5’ tall weeds and debris, hoping to be able to use it when we were done. We worked until after dark, and got everything tidied up to finish the next day. Part of the reason we have been so successful in getting the kids to help are the opportunities that are available, with the number one favorite: to drive the John Deere Gator (a 4 wheel ATV with a bed like a mini pickup truck). Everyone wants to drive the next load of weeds and debris to the burn pile, or take it across the ranch to get tools or deliver hay or – anything that allows them to drive it a bit. Even Meila has shown skill at maneuvering it alone (with an adult alongside to supervise). This morning, Ethan was up before any of the rest of us as usual, and efficiently finished up some school so he could get outside and work on the project. He worked hard, Meila joined him later and sometime during the course of the day there was another load to take to the pile. Ethan said he’d ‘be glad to take it’, and Meila was going to ride along. With their demonstration over the last 2 days of driving ability and attention to safety, it seemed like a reasonable decision. I was fixing a broken shovel handle, Kelly was raking, the other kids were in various stages of working, playing or brushing animals etc.

Imagine the front of the bus is pointing to 12:00, and is positioned so it is facing across the gentle slope. At the 9:00 position is the burn pile, about 200 yards uphill from the bus behind a dirt berm, I am working at the 9:00 about 10’ from the bus, Kelly is at 3:00 (on the other side) about 100’ downhill, along with Trevor and the other kids in that area. At about 6:00 position is the cabin that the owners cousin is staying in, and although I didn’t think she had a puppy, but I heard some faint high pitched yelps at one point and looked over to see if I could see her yippy dog- but still didn’t see one. It seemed like 5 minutes later that Meila came running down the hill calling MOM!, DAD! NEED YOU QUICK! I dropped what I was holding fearing the worst, and not having asked Meila a single question, took off running toward the burn pile where she and Ethan were both supposed to be. Cresting the slope and rounding the hill I could see the front end of the Gator poking out of the 5’ deep burn pit at a 60 degree angle and getting closer ran into a surreal view of something I’ve seen a hundred times in 19 years of ambulance work. A body crumpled under the back end of the machine, on top of the charred pile of old metal and fresh weeds. I couldn’t see the whole body, and I wasn’t thinking it was Ethan- although it couldn’t have been anyone else. I jumped to the other side and down into the pit next to Ethan’s face. It was the face that he wears when he’s injured, but he’s tough enough to take it. He was grimacing but answered very cool when I asked what hurt the most- ‘My legs’. Sure enough, they were supporting the weight of the Gator, still loaded, which kept him from extricating himself. A tubular mass of old metal was jumbled all around his torso and head. He was speaking normally, obviously breathing and mentally alert, so I jumped back out and hollered at Trevor to hustle, even though he was already moving fast, ahead of the rest of the family. Quick direction, then we lifted the machine off of Ethan enough that he could wiggle out, he stood immediately and said “I’m OK, Dad.” He was filthy, and what skin I could see was pretty scraped up. We helped him up to the edge of the pit and laid him down. Kelly made a good secondary exam of his body and revealed all of the places that had been damaged by this split second accident. With Ethan back in the bus, Kelly had Ethan in the shower and cleaning him up while Trevor and I went back to take a look at the scene. Ethan skimmed by a tragedy. How he hasn’t broken any bones to date mystifies me. He is the most adventurous, pure boy in our family. God must have something big planned for Ethan that he needs all of his bones intact, because this was a great opportunity to incur a major injury. We are very thankful for this turn of events. (The Gator emerged without a new scratch.)

I guess the reason that I’m writing all of this while it’s fresh is to be able to come back and remember the feeling of nearly losing something so valuable. The sense of fear that Ethan, and Meila felt was part of the experience that will help them grow and make better decisions, understand why parents act the way they do, like saying NO when it doesn’t seem necessary, or BE CAREFUL when there is no obvious danger in their eyes. Kelly asked if I was really going to write about what happened today, when she came in to see what I was up to, seated quietly in the back of the bus, my two fingers pecking away at the details. She went on that she was afraid of the lecture we’d get from our fathers about being safe if this story got out. Even today, one of the things we think about when something goes awry is a lecture from our Dads (although we don’t get very many these days) and I think we’ve been critical enough on ourselves about the way things went that she probably doesn’t need even a sideways glance to realize how close this call was.

He was between the back wheels, under the frame.

Our family is guilty of being critical of others when something doesn’t go just right. We seem quick to correct others, before we look inside ourselves to do better next time. So they say that the first step is being aware of the problem, so we’re aware and we’re working hard on it- but those symptoms showed their face again today as several of us looked at what happened, and what went wrong. Ethan told us that he backed up to the pit and went around the side to lift up the rear gate, while Meila lifted up the passenger side. It was jammed and wouldn’t come right up. Ethan thought he could loosen the tailgate from the center of the rear easily, and then step back and they could both lift it, so they didn’t get covered in weeds and debris coming out of the back.  When he went to lift the tailgate, it rolled backwards a little and he tried to push it forward without success as it continued to roll back and pinned him beneath six feet later. Meila watched from the side and screamed, and Ethan directed her to ‘Go down, Go down.’ She said she didn’t know quite what that meant but started to run ‘faster than I have ever run before’ to get help.

The potential for great injury was remarkable as he landed on top of the sturdiest (and most dangerous) debris.

As Trevor and I looked over the pit at what happened he said quite confidently that it should have been in gear, and that Ethan shouldn’t have been behind it. The way he said it seemed to be less of a criticism, but a concerned look at what went wrong. His words seemed to be tough learning that is inevitable in any accident. He was right on both counts, and there were several things that I could have done differently. So we’ve moved past kicking ourselves about it, Ethan was very quiet and thoughtful the rest of the day, and we all learned something that we didn’t pick up at a museum or visiting family or at any of our tourist stops. I’m sure we’ll all remember this part of our trip pretty clearly, and favorably.