Tag Archives: flood

A Comfort

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.

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What the river left behind

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.

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A former horse pasture at the confluence of the North and South St Vrain
rivers became a funnel for debris

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.

Stonebridge crew picking vegetables last weekend.

Stonebridge crew picking vegetables last weekend.

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.

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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.

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What We Need

Our gas was turned on yesterday morning, a relief after 18 days. John lit the tank so the water could heat. We made lunch on the stove and turned on the dishwasher afterward. I had a bath; he took a shower. Soon we forgot that we’d been heating water to bathe, solar-showering outside, and cooking on electric griddles, crockpots, and the community room propane stove.

In the afternoon, we drove to Boulder on Hwy 36 for the first time since the flood on September 12th. We couldn’t believe what the St. Vrain River had become. The corner of 36 and 66 is no longer a highway intersection but a crossing of riverbed three times its previous size. The two-story log home that used to sit at the corner is gone, the bank where it stood now shirred off high above the river. A mass of twisted metal lay on the side of the road, former guardrails and the debris they’d stopped as the river roared through.

At Middle Fork Road, Left Hand Creek had engulfed a house and torn away a garage. The house still stood but the porch was surrounded by river rock and tree limbs dragged through the waters. Driving to Boulder and back home again, we gawked at new vistas left behind by a river and creeks straying madly off their course.

After dinner, we walked to our neighbor’s house to tell him about the dumpster arriving this week for cleanup along our stretch of road. We crossed the highway to look at the train tracks that normally run from the cement plant to the south, now shut down and silent for the first time in decades. The ground beneath the tracks and trestle have disappeared, washing rails away like Lego pieces snatched from a toy train. But no real trains will run that way for months, maybe years, maybe never.

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Exactly two weeks before, we’d stood here on the highway at the checkpoint temporarily restricting access to the town of Lyons, its residents evacuated from the flood that destroyed roads, homes, and businesses. We’d been called down to the checkpoint to vouch for friends staying with us temporarily. The barrier was intended to safeguard residents, but had become increasingly frustrating as rules changed daily.

By the time we got there, words had been exchanged and our friends had left down a side road now closed for the night. The officer confronting us wasn’t happy with the situation. He’d heard enough about who needed to get where. “Why don’t you people leave?” he yelled. “There’s nothing for you here.”

I paused to calm my voice. “But that’s not true.” I shook my head. “We have water. We have power. We have food. We have everything we need.”

He stared, surprised. Clearly, this was new information. He must have thought the rural places along the highway had been affected like the town. He didn’t know how self-sufficient we are with our generators, propane, septic systems, and gardens, not to mention our general off-grid attitudes.

Without a word, he retreated to find his superior officer. By the time they returned, the situation had eased. They took our friends’ names so they could return to our farm; we thanked the deputies for their long hours of work.

Everything we need.

I can’t speak for those who have lost their homes or businesses in this flood. I can’t even imagine that loss. But for those of us trying to hold as hard as we could to what we still had, the flood swept off the trivia of life’s worries, leaving a renewed vision of what matters most in its wake.

Now we’re rebuilding with the certainty that disaster can come when we’re not looking. What will happen next, we can’t ensure. But for now, we’re grateful  for the chance to rethink what we really need before it’s taken away .

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Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture