3.03.2011

hundred year flood

If you've been following along here, you know that my friend Eric Alder has this new weekly photo prompt thing on his photography blog. So far I've managed to write a poem to his prompt each week. Here is Eric's photo prompt for this week, which has brought me a flood of memories:


This photo has brought to mind a hundred-year flood I lived through that is strongly imprinted in my brain. Though I grew up in a house right on a crick and lived through floods when I was a kid, this one, when I was a young(er) adult, is the most remarkable. A few months ago, I wrote a poem about it ("spring creek") and Eric's photo for this week brought it all up for me again. I recently found a box of my old writing and journals, and I was able to locate what I wrote about the Spring Creek flood. Here is is, mostly unedited:
 
Sunday morning, January 20, 1996. The events of the past few days have been unreal, remarkable, amazing. The great blizzard of '96 that hammered us a couple weeks ago melted and flooded. On Thursday, the temperature reached about 60 degrees and over night Thursday to Friday morning, we had crazy tempestuous thunder and lightning storms--it was scary, brought down all the snow on the roof in huge crashes. On the news they said that we got 2.36 inches of rain in five hours, which would have been three feet of snow. Friday morning my bathroom lights would not work and Paul came over to look at the breaker box. I thought it might be because of the rain (as it turns out, it was unrelated, the box just went bad)--I left for work and the hill, Paradise Road, was flowing, a huge stream of brown water and debris. I couldn't go up, but had to cross it toward the hatchery to turn around and drove to work the long way. At that time, the stream was very close to the road in a couple places and it was still raining very hard. I went to work and it continued to rain and rain so I left for home because I thought the road would be washed over. I had NO idea what was to come! I came home and Paul and I were planning to clean out my eaves so water wouldn't come in by my bed. I called Judy and told her to come home. My wood was getting wet so I brought a large amount in the house and started a fire. Stream rising. Then I called a landlord and negotiated a settlement which kept my client and his family from being evicted. Spoke with the client. Judy came over and parked her car in my driveway. I kept the key just in case. The water was only about a foot from her bridge--I watched her walk across and we knew she was over there for the duration. I took some photos, but still had no idea what was to come. I came in the house and Kathy called, she was concerned. Her basement up on the mountain was flooded and she had been watching the news. We spoke for about 20 minutes and during the conversation I began to panic. Looking out the stream window the stream rose quickly and dramatically while we were on the phone to begin covering the lawns across the stream. I called Judy, really began to panic. Alter's bridge began collecting debris, tree stumps and limbs. A lot! It was scary. I kept going outside to take photos (made me feel calmer) and then coming back inside. It became apparent to all that it was "coming" and Paul started to suggest that I move my things up if possible, which I did, guitar, books, etc. and things on the floor. The dam on the bridge kept building. For a long time Paul and Allison (who barely made it home from school--she parked at the juvenile detention center and Paul retrieved her by going up Fishburn Hill) and everyone was outside. The road became flooded over from Graystone to between the green house and mine, flowing down the road and back into the stream. Then the road was flooded over by John's house all the way up. We stood outside and watched the mess by the bridge. First the mailboxes went downstream. Then--amazingly--Punkin's swimming pool and dog kennels crashed through Alter's fence and went on downstream--it was unbelievable. Part of the pool attached to a bush in MaryLou's yard (which was then in the middle of the stream) and stayed there. Punkin also lost three trucks full of firewood and her house was getting flooded. The pool and fence going actually made it easier on her house. A big picnic table came down from the hatchery and got stuck on the bridge--eventually let go. The temperature dropped to 8 degrees Friday night. Saturday morning it was amazing! Judy's bridge is gone except for twisted steel girders. The hatchery was really damaged, all the fish let loose. Everything is covered in ice, everything has been wrecked and turned into diamonds. 
At the time of this flood, I was working in my first attorney job, as a tenant lawyer for the legal aid office covering several rural counties in central Pennsylvania. I lived in Bellefonte, in a little grove called Fisherman's Paradise, along Spring Creek, a mile or two from a hatchery. The fish commission improved the stream for fly fishing and stocked it with trout. I lived in a tiny cabin between the tiny road and the stream. The house was so close to the water, it felt like being in a houseboat when you were inside. I heated with wood and lived alone with two cats.

During the flood and the next day, I snapped a lot of photographs. Ironically, in another flood just a few years ago (this one not an act of nature but an act of neglect, when we went on vacation and forgot to turn off the water supply to the washing machine), I lost a lot of photos including all the flood photos. But here are a few shots of my tiny cabin and its environs. The photos are from different seasons, but they show both of the driveway bridges that were taken out by the flood. The one upstream (in the winter photo) created the dam with trees and debris until it let loose; the one downstream (in the spring photo) was the one my neighbor Judy walked across to get to her house, not long before it gave way. There's a photo that shows a tree that fell in my tiny yard during that storm, too. It snowed a day later.


I have a few other poems set in this locale as well, including "like keith zettlemoyer" and "rain on the roof." I lived there for three years--it really was Paradise--until I moved here to western Massachusetts. Yes, to another house on another raging stream, and then yet another house on a stream; now we live in a small town, with no stream rushing by. But at least we have our friend the mountain.

14 comments:

  1. Thanks for the story. The photos are wonderful. Amazed you got such good ones.

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  2. Wow. I loved your retelling of the insanity (the swing of the temperatures must have been bananas), loved the pictures...but I marvel at your missing water now the most. We live on a canal inlet, and this is the second time I've lived on the water. It is such a comforting thing - and after reading this, I realize I take that comfort for granted. This water could sweep us all away anytime it felt like it. Frankly, I prefer (and *oh*, do I miss!) what you have now - a nice, steady mountain. :)

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  3. Wow! That's the longest response I've ever gotten to a Monday Photo Prompt!

    How cool that it led you back to your previous writing, like a re-found treasure.

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  4. i am not taking my mountain for granted, either!
    eric, your photos are wonderful.
    my flood looked nothing like that, as it was in winter. but still.
    imagine the water all the way up to the top of that stone wall. yikes!

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  5. Aw, thank you! :)

    The spot where I took the picture is an overpass. Often the water floods all the way up to the bottom of the road - and one time it actually was flowing OVER the road!

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  6. an overpass? wow, it is hard for me to see that in the photo.

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  7. yay! THIS is fabulous.
    love reading your history...

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  8. glad you like it!
    it was fun for me to discover that description of the flood in my old journals.
    that was the most wonderful little cabin. sigh.

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  9. wow, the photos and your story...all quite amazing. I just wrote on my blog how my dream is to live by a stream...lol - after reading this I am not so sure anymore!

    I am glad our paths crossed, Marian (thanks to Eric's Bifocal Univision photo prompts.) There is an award for you on my blog at http://sheila-moore.blogspot.com

    Hope you have an awesome weekend!

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  10. i am glad too! yay!
    and i would still choose to live next to running water.
    it is right, for me.
    i miss the kingfishers.
    an award! running off to look!

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  11. There is something very special about someone who writes, "...everything has been wrecked and turned into diamonds."

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  12. and it was true. it was like a world of glass and diamonds after the devastation, the next day. icy diamonds on everything, long fingers of ice everywhere. i'll never forget it.
    and carl, there is also something very special about someone reading my words and noticing that. xoxo

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  13. wowee- at first I thought you were writing about a flood we had here in Oregon in 1996, but nope- you were across the country from us...but similiar things happened not to us ( we were lucky) but to others. Water is an amazing force.
    Great story and pics- too bad about the ones you lost.

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  14. it's weirdly ironic though, how they were lost, so it's okay. i bet i could find photos of that flood online at this point, maybe i should try looking.

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