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Abbotsford farmer and winery owner shares thoughts on devastating flood losses

Ripples Winery among the casualties in catastrophic flooding on Sumas Prairie

When catastrophic flooding hit the Sumas Prairie, Ripples Winery and New Wave Distilling on Tolmie Road was among the casualties. The business is owned by Caroline and Paul Mostertman and includes Woodbridge Ponds (a pond plant nursery), 20 acres of blueberries and grapes, and New Wave Distilling, run by the couple’s daughter Kelsey.

At their peak, the water levels were six feet deep in the wine tasting room. The floods destroyed everything on the property, including the winery, distillery, houses, barns, inventory, crops and machinery.

The cleanup with take months and the rebuild will take years.

Below, Caroline shares her thoughts. “My hope is to extend the awareness just a little longer so that farmers who are only now just able to get into their houses will still have some of the volunteer help offered,” she says.

I’m asked how we are doing; I laugh. Do you want the real answer?

Days slide by in a kaleidoscope of amplified emotions, real-life film clips that don’t seem to connect. We’re living in a parallel universe. Life outside, normal; life inside, unfamiliar, reduced to “day by day.”

I don’t know how we are doing. One day soon, I will say “fine,” and mean it. But these are the moments that will stay etched in my being, the things that I will remember, long after we survive this.

As I throw sodden stuff out of the front door, a migrant worker drives by on a tractor towing a car dripping mud. The half-wave and smile, the sign of a shared bond. He has travelled to this country to earn for his family. He lost his few possessions in the scramble to evacuate to a cot in a crowded hall. He understands our stupor; I understand his.

I learn how quickly stuff becomes “just stuff.” I find myself throwing out items that didn’t get damaged, just because it seems easier than dealing with them. I may regret that later. Once they seemed important, but for now it’s “just stuff’,” a box of ruined baby clothes that wrings my heart with great memories.

I will cherish the warmth that we feel from communications with distant family, friends, and acquaintances. Those wonderful souls that take the time to check in every evening with us, overshadowing the sadness of not hearing from people that we have worked with daily. I will remember the contempt I felt at hearing a person mourn the loss of a gravel path, and the shame of those feelings. Loss is loss.

I relish in the humour that our family shares nightly on our group chat. Feeling so proud of them for their resilience, for the care that they all express, swapping poop jokes ad nauseam, pulling together, even though two of our children have lost almost everything they own and the third has lost her career and stability of her home.

I will never forget the community spirit that has united so many of us. The sand-baggers that saved the day, the people that manage supplies and volunteers, unseen warriors behind keyboards. People who tirelessly run around picking up supplies. Pet sitters, volunteer meal makers and women I barely know, who send 10 messages out into the universe to locate size 8.5 ladies’ boots, and then fly across a store to hug me.

The floating carnage that was once our farm, and the ache of losing my dance shoes that I haven’t been able to use for the last two years. The sadness at the dust crease in my husband’s good suit as I pack away clothes that “made it.” The despair at losing my dad’s necktie that has held the closet door in my bedroom closed for the last 20 years. Just as quickly realizing that it didn’t make me remember him any less – “just stuff.”

My stylish PPE coveralls, courtesy of friends, who moved mountains to get it to us and the supplies of gloves, bleach, and cheese scones that appeared from unknown benefactors that knew we needed them. The dread of what lies ahead when the flood recedes out of the winery and barns. The devastation that awaits. The fear that our destroyed, barren lands will never thrive again.

RELATED: B.C. flood recovery moves to cleanup of damaged materials

I will remember being so grateful that our animals are safe and the complete sorrow when the cow we pulled out of our neighbour’s barn died anyway. So many animals have died but this one cow, that we all worked so hard to pull to safety, needed to survive. Those “prairie boys” out in their boats, helping farmers, bringing feed in for stranded animals, ferrying calves and chickens out. Bringing a generator, checking in, being heroes.

I think of the resilience and compassion of our farm manager, to still be able to hug and help while he and his wife have lost all they own. He takes coffee daily to the roadblock people who sit in their car feeling helpless but doing their jobs.

I can’t help but detest Christmas music and advertisements for “24 fun ideas for the holidays.” Do people not know what is going on? Shouldn’t they have a little more sensitivity? No, of course not; the world around us goes on and always will.

But as the days slip by and the calls still come in to help, the strangers that are still willing to slosh around our soaked farm to clean up, the meals that still miraculously appear on my doorstep, the mechanic that works into the night to salvage a tractor, biting cold, determined to do his share and the friends that still call every night.

I marvel at the amazing people that fill our community. How a catastrophe can unite strangers to hug in shared compassion. Would I choose to live this again? Probably not, but I know that this too will pass. I know that time will soften the memories and I also know my life is richer for the experience.

RELATED: Financial assistance for flood-ravaged households, businesses expanded to cover more of B.C.