A tragic irony of the plane crash that took three lives Saturday, July 19 is that the site, Snowslip Farm on River Road, earlier in the week hosted a first responder symposium on how equine assisted personal development, the arts and nature can be used to heal the emotional wounds that can result from serving as police, firefighters, EMTs, coroners and in the military.
The scene and duties for the first responders were horrific as the plane had burst into fire, trapping those inside. It was an emotionally brutal duty for those who witnessed the scene, secured the site, put out the fire, came to remove the bodies and investigate the cause of the accident, duties ongoing as I write. Those duties were of equal brutality to the young farmhand first on the accident who called 911, others from the farm who had to rescue and remove the horses nearby from the searing heat and smoke, and knowing that there was nothing they could do to help those trapped inside, all the while initially thinking there was only one person, later learning it was three.
The only blessing, if it can be considered so in such circumstances, is that the crash was near the road and easily reachable by the rescue workers and not on some far mountaintop or deep in the woods as is often the case. Here, too, the family will be able gather and seek closure. The setting is very peaceful and open with the AuSable River gently flowing nearby, horses grazing in the pasture, nearby pond and forests, and distant mountains with Whiteface rising to the north.
Lesley Trevor with a horse at Snowslip Farm
(Photo — Naj Wikoff)
Snowslip has been rebirthing itself as a healing place, most especially since it was engulfed by the floodwaters of Tropical Storm Irene in August of 2011 that covered the fields with upwards of 5 feet of cold muddy water filled with broken tree limbs and other debris. Significant damage was done to all the buildings, and thanks to volunteers from the Lake Placid Fire Department, and owners Lesley and John Trevor, all the horses were led to higher ground, indeed as to who saved who switched from person to horse and back again as horses and humans struggled to maintain traction and often found their legs swept out beneath them.
The symposiums were held earlier in the week in cooperation with Homeward Bound Adirondacks shared the experience of a first responder, Deanna Lennox, a 16-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who used horses to help with her healing; Chris Irwin, the founder of Equine Assisted Personal Development, and me, as the founder of Creative Healing Connections and who has used the arts to support healing here in the Adirondacks, and last year for Israeli and Palestinian responders to war and terror, session held in their home countries.
The impact of such traumatic events on first responders can be life threatening. As an example, in Canada 12 have taken their own lives in the past 10 weeks. First responders have some of the highest rates of divorce, alcohol and drug abuse, violence in the home, and stress-related illness of any profession.
"It is accumulative," said Lennox, interviewed by Global Edmonton television news reporter Gord Steinke. "There are certain events in your career that haunt you and stay with you. The reality is that police officers and other first responders are thrust into the not great parts of humanity and expected to deal with that. I had nightmares, I wasn't sleeping well, and I was having patterns of behavior that were very destructive."
"Every scene where somebody has loss their life has a degree of emotion to it," said Capt. John Tibbetts of the New York State Police speaking with reporters and members of the Trevor family. "You get upset, you tend to be able to put those things aside because you do the job that needs to be done first, and at the end of that day you go home and that's the best reward you can give to your family and friends. It's a small community. When we go to accidents, fires, crimes in progress, these are people we know and live with. You have to take extra care to care of yourself when that happens."
That taking care is not easily done. Some go home, put their feet up, crack open a beer or some other drank, and immerse themselves watching a sport or some other activity on TV, the idea being I need a break. What in truth is usually most needed is helping with the dishes, a child with his or her homework, yard work or some other normal activity, which can be a physical exercise like fishing. The goal is to tune in not tune out, talk about your feelings, express them in some way such as through painting, drawing or some other creative exercise, and get professional help if you or your partner feels its needed.
"There are no words that come close to defining what you have experienced and how the tragedy will, from here on in, have an impact on your lives," said Chris Irwin. "At this moment, what matters most is to hold on to each other and rely heavily on your love and compassion and support for each other. In due time, the trauma will transmute into much greater scope and depth and integrity of appreciation for why we are here and what we bring to each other."
At Snowslip Farm near the end of the day, indeed by chance as the body bags were brought in, Renee Cosgrove sat quietly in a field between the barns, then housing the horses, and the crashed plane, conducting a Buddhist Phowa ceremony as a means of helping bring peace to the troubled land and energies. "Buddhists feel that at moments of great transitions such as passing are special times for reconnecting with our natural open and trusting state," said Cosgrove. "Phowa consists of establishing a light-filled open presence that all in confusion and doubt are free to connect with."
The owners of Snowslip Farm hope to create a fall retreat specifically for the first responders to this tragedy and between now is willing to host a memorial at the crash site for the families and others impacted.