How often do you listen to the weather and the meteorologist apologizes for the fact that a few thunderstorms are brewing off to the west and may make it over the mountains to possibly, maybe, deliver a half-inch of rain while you are sleeping? The rain even overshadows the fact that the highest peaks may get a few inches of snow, early harbinger of a potentially glorious ski season. The thought of more rain makes us hold our breath.
The torrents-that-were-once-peaceful-streams-become-raging-rivers have gone down a bit, but most are by no means calm and placid once again. Road debris, uprooted trees, junk, gravel, boulders, acres of mud, piled up furniture and ruined houses, stores and barns are everywhere to be seen. Emergency repairs to open vital roads could so easily be taken out again, for these measures, while successful in some spots, are only meant as temporary. How much more water would it take to take them out? Why has a year’s worth (or more) of rainfall come in only a few days? Why is there more on the way? So much debris to be cleaned up, so many lives to be reclaimed, and a bit of rain can be a terrifying thing.
My friend came over yesterday and told me that when she rented her apartment her landlord never bothered to tell her that when there is a lot of rain her ground-floor apartment can flood. So she never moved the books and other things she had on the floor to a higher spot when it started to rain, and rained and rained. She didn’t worry about her stuff when she went to stay at a friend’s house closer to town and work. Her loss was so little compared to others, she wept. “How can I be so upset?” she asked.
“How could she not?” I thought.
It is bone-chilling to drive around now and see where the rivers moved with such force and volume as to tear out bridges and uproot big trees. And yet, a foot beyond the edge of the mud and debris, only a few feet higher up than the high water mark, I saw a pretty blue house with its garden untouched, the yellows and blues and pinks and reds of all the many flowers waving in the breeze, soaking in the sun of a warm Sunday afternoon as I drove by. The lines between total destruction and seeming blessing of much rain after several years of drought are sometimes just that clear.
My own house, the whole little neighborhood in which I live, is just such a place. The brown spots in lawns are gone. My grass is so dense and full I hardly recognize it. My mower struggles to bag the clumps of clippings that it can’t throw back away from where it’s just been cut even though I stop to empty the bag often. If it ever dries up enough I’ll run the mower around just to pick the extra stuff up. I mowed the front yard a couple of days before the back. The front needs to be mowed again.
This is unheard of. Grass is something to be coaxed out of the ground here. We routinely waste precious drinking water making lawns and golf courses. Watering restrictions usually hit for some amount of time in towns and cities every summer. Irrigation water for the farmers becomes a priority. Reservoirs start showing their lake beds by this time of year, waiting for the spring snowmelt to fill them up again.
Instead, every plant and tree within eyesight seems to rejoice in all the amazing amount of water it’s received. The lawns nearby, and the pocket-park in front of my house have never looked so good. That might be the assumed norm if you never left your home here, or never turned on your TV.
Unless, of course, the thousand-year flood stage of a nearby body of running water loomed. Then there was no rejoicing. The little river, normally a foot or two deep, maybe a few feet wide, that is known as The Little Thompson River flows near my old house in the country. In a couple of days it became a quarter-mile wide and ripped out the bridge of the north south road nearby, and the bridges on all the north south roads for miles east, too. All the houses a few hundred feet away and seemingly well uphill in the subdivision got to meet the river, too. And yet my old house, just a few feet higher up, a few hundred feet farther away, was fine.
I remember looking at the flood charts when we first bought the house and thinking about buying flood insurance. I still had a “flatlander, humid and rainy and possible flood zone” mindset as locals call those of us who are not born here. The house we were buying was outside that line, so I didn’t buy it. Turns out it wasn’t needed. But for thousands of people who’ve never seen hurricanes and the amount of water that can come in a day, after all this is a semi-arid climate here, flood insurance wasn’t even a consideration. So thousands of people are learning the hard way about water. It takes everything.
Yet in the middle of all this disaster are shining examples of people helping neighbors and friends and stranded families. Churches collect and distribute food and clothing and other kinds of help. National organizations rally and the Red Cross stocks shelters and helps heal the broken-hearted as well as those needing medical care.
On a personal level, lots of people called or emailed or got messages to me asking how I was, even friends I hadn’t heard from in a long time. The people I care about; my children, my friends, all seem to have come through pretty well, if not unscathed. The friend sitting on my couch yesterday, heartbroken over her losses, still had a wise thought flit through her mind. “Maybe I ought to move,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about it anyway.”