I’m feeling tender these days, softened to the land and the altered lives we face. The landscape has changed, not only geographically by a river outside its bed, but emotionally as we wonder what will be lost and what will be left. As one friend says, “Recalibrate. Recalibrate. Recalibrate.” We note the strangeness of life on the outside as we assess the damage and hold away despair.
We helped some friends last weekend who used to own riverfront property. I say “used to,” not because they’ve moved, but because the river has. During the flood, the St. Vrain cut a new channel 10 feet deep and 40 feet wide across their grassy land. After the river changed course, two dry river beds—one old, one new—remained. Cleaning up, we found debris that had washed down from other people’s homes. A duffle bag was wrapped around a tree trunk. We pulled it free and wondered what we’d find inside. Nothing. A disappointment. We’d hoped at least for a good story, a curiosity of floodtimes to remember.
Driving into town these days, we pass the boneyard of ravaged vehicles dragged from the waters. The pile grows by the day, joined by appliances and propane tanks waiting for scrap. Mountains of trash line the streets, the sodden remains of homes and businesses along the way. I’m not sure where it’s all going, but I think of the Trümmerbergs in Munich, grassy parks built upon the rubble of WWII.
At the edge of town, excavators are digging new trenches to connect the old irrigation ditches to the river’s new course. Our ditch has not been damaged and can still reach the river. We should have water next year, a comfort in these sad times.
A comfort. When the world goes awry and familiarities seem forsaken, we look for small tokens of normalcy amid the decay. Our members say that picking up their vegetables is a comfort, a routine that connects them to their pre-flood lives. For others, knowing that our fields weren’t damaged is a comfort, one shared by grateful farmers here.
Some readers have told me that they found my book a comfort in its reminder that seasons pass in cycles, some more difficult than others, while nature measures time to its own accord.
Other readers took comfort in the strength of my grandparents and great-grandparents, rugged people who lived close to the earth without modern conveniences. If they could survive the Dust Bowl, who are we to complain of a temporary lack of water, power, and—what my ancestors could never have foreseen—communication technologies?
And where do I take comfort in these disrupted times? I’m suffering some pre-flood amnesia. I seem to have forgotten events that happened right before the disaster. Things I had started but then abandoned seem to have slipped my mind. So I look for any small return to that pre-flood life as a reminder of what had been.
Like today, the first yoga class since the flood on September 12. We practiced together again with our teacher, who lost so much, but greets us, smiling, with words of strength and love. The town still lacks water, gas, and sewer, so our studio was chilly, but it didn’t matter. We warmed each other by showing up, a homecoming to the normalcy we all crave.
I take comfort, too, in the beauty of the river, peaceful after its destructive course. New vistas have appeared, new access to the wildness it harbors, accompanied by a new respect for its power and no doubt that it will rise again.
In the middle of the riverbed last weekend, I found a book, a salvage of words twisted by water and tumbled upon smooth stones. My friend recognized the names of the characters from a popular series for teenaged fantasy readers. How this book found its way down the river we’ll never know, but for me, its survival tokens a comfort, a wish for words washed clean downstream to welcome arms below.