Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Flooding can hopen us up into a new future if we let it.

Past, present and future-- sometimes they all intersect. This has been one of those times for me. Many memories can flood up in me sometimes related to old injuries; but more recently I have gained more fondness for the pleasant times in my life, counting up adventures and friendships like blessings in my personal history. 

At the same time, I know things from experience and that gives me a different perspective from younger people who are just starting up with their adult lives and fortunes. I used to say as a young woman beginning to find myself that what I value the most are experience and friendship. That had something to do with my writing in some way; how can you enjoy writing without some substance? 

Over time I learned how to sit with the moment through meditating, healing practices, and poetry. Those disciplines have not all been readily maintained in my daily life because I tend to be a scatterbrained slob. But they help me to understand what is valuable. Generally it isn't the big wins but the singular moments.

 Here we are now, living in middle America, with another flood upon us and thinking back to 1993, when we were stunned with a hundred year flood. Huh. Somewhere either I or my daughter has a book that the Post-Dispatch  published afterwards, filled with the photographs of the drama that emerged out of the clouds. Now we're back there again in Missouri and places further south, while my brain is hung up on current needs, past scenarios in a grattitudinal analysis of where i have been since kidhood. Seems that I had some premonition about this flood of memories over all sorts of history-- when I heard the weather forecast before the disasters hit us with tornadoes, floods and horror.
Yesterday, May 2, 2011,  the Army Corps of Engineers began their intervention on the flood wall front to protect the little town of Cairo, Illinois, leaving some people in southern Missouri bewildered over it all. Think back to the flood of 1927 for a moment. I lived in Paducah, Kentucky for a couple of years, a solitary confinement of a memory for me in some ways. It was not the happiest time of my life, finishing up with my high school education under duress. But I remember those stories from people about how one might find underneath the wall paper on many an old house interior the flood line still visible. Pianos floated in that water, among other dearly loved possessions. Can you imagine that? There were elders in the community who remembered those incidentals and chuckled about it by then, mid 60s.

Later I traversed an assortment of highways on an occasional visit back to the Paducah area, and some of those towns are familiar sights in my mind yet-- Metropolis, Cairo, Cape Girardeau. They have changed, no doubt; but I crossed over into Kentucky over more than one bridge. People who aren't familiar with the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi don't really recognize that the Ohio is a much larger river, and it is a stunning place on the planet where the two rivers meet.  That's why I started to follow the story so closely. I can visualize some of those areas as they usually have been, and the photos of the flooding, along with the flood levels at Metropolis have stirred me with concern and with reverence for what we are looking forward to on this planet in terms of climate change.

We need each other on this Earth to use our collective inquiry into ourselves and the powers that be in order to change the future. Imagine that. Determining our future instead of denying it a chance as a hopening, a quiet interior place where hope happens by our opening up to the stirring of our collective spirit.

Map of flood areas, Paducah to Cairo on the OHIO River

View Larger Map

The map shows how the Ohio is a broader river which confluences with the Mississippi at Cairo.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Floods of emotions

So why would I be so intrepidly following the news of the flooding on the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers? Actually I was on an inner alert about it when I heard the weather forecasts last week saying we would have rain with heavy thunderstorm over the course of four days. That was a heck of a clue. Then it turned out that a funnel cloud translated into a minor disaster at Lambert Field. Within two days we were hearing all the details of tornadoes a bit further south, especially in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where lives had been lost as a result of a mile wide swath of horrifying sweep across that territory. And now even more forecasts of rain for the coming week are out there.
While people, including President Obama, investigated and intervened in the disaster areas,  I was still noting that the rivers were certainly rising rapidly. This is partly because of having lived in Missouri for more of my life than any other state, and knowing that people around here are now and again suddenly jumping into their boots to go sandbag someplace along one of our rivers.
When I was a kid I lived in Union, Missouri for four years. My friends and I would often get together on a Sunday afternoon and hike along the Bourboise River, a small stream compared to the Mississippi. Back then it was still wild and untamed. Farmlands were adjacent to the Bourboise along our hike, but usually the foliage was underbrush along the edge of any existing fields. We also found some rocky hills and small cliffs that we climbed up, imaginings all sorts of adventures by exaggerating stories about what we were doing, and laughing all along the way. We learned to take snacks along because we used up so much energy.  We were ordinarily hungry at that age. Using our minimally learned Spanish, we joked about walking to St. Louis with people we met, then tiptoed across a rail trestle.  Afterwards I wished  that I hadn't gone there. I had just discovered fear of heights watching water gurgling underneath me.

Eventually we arrived at a prominent rock that reached out into the river, which we clambered up onto and took seats overlooking the stream while chattering about everything important and facetious that came up among us. We may have waded in a bit, but never actually swam there. We had a pool in town for that.

Sometimes I found mussel shells or picked up an interesting rock. By the time we all got back to town I often went up to my room and slept all night, missing supper entirely, which worried my Mom a couple of times before she gave up on making me come to the dinner table. Did I have all my homework done? Oh maybe.

One May  many years since then we woke up in St. Louis to the Flood of '93, which many remember as the stress of their lives around here. Services of the community were stretched thin over that time, and day after day images of the rivers, the breached levies, houses sometimes washing away or inundated to a degree that they might never be livable again met out eyes on the news. People donated food, money, clothing and helped however they could. That is how disasters usually affect us, as the people in Alabama have been doing. Everyone who escaped in one piece kicks in to help the others. In some ways it is an example of community kindness and spirit that renews our faith in humanity, oddly enough showing up a little better for the wear.

This is the first time in my life that I have ever heard of States going to court to attempt to protect their own residences and land from the ravages of a shared flood. It seems like a territorial struggle that one might have wished could have been avoided by a conference call or something. So, Your Honor, what's up with this Army Corps of Engineers thinking that we have to lose out?  And some foolish notions spoken in Jefferson City that were truly regrettable to most of the people I know. Of course, having lived in small towns, I know such stuff might come up, but usually the spirit of cooperation overrides displays of territoriality. That aspect of the currently rising flood levels has puzzled the dickens out of me. My father had always loved the country and used to tell me that the bottom lands next to a river were especially rich and productive to growth because of the years they had flooded, leaving the rich river sediment as a topsoil for the years after.

In our current history, though, political drama is essential, I suppose, to ride on the rising currency of the news media, since campaign funds come with all sorts of strings. Personally I have been watching the water height rise at the levees south of here, wondering day by day how tough it is to decide when to blast a levy open. Our large rivers are so channelized nowadays that they can barely create their own path like they did in the days of Samuel Clemons.

On the other hand, some of the infrastructure may be a little wobbly in places, and the increasing pressure of the weight up against levies, which are mainly dirt and sand, doesn't compare to a flood wall like we have in  downtown St. Louis. As time goes on, with climate change events becoming more recognizable and frequent, we may have to rethink how we manage resources regarding some places which are populous and others that are mainly farm lands. These decisions could be viewed as precedent setting. Scoping them out from the point of view of educated engineering principals seems to be a vital part of the process, and shouldn't be lightly dismissed by joking about which scene is more worthy. No teenage jokes please about small towns in another state.

As of now we are still watching day by day what level the river will get up to, with more rain on the way. Sixty feet above flood level is the marker which the engineers are holding to, which is a tremendously huge amount of water pressure against any structure built by man. And to some extent they need to judge ahead of time when it will reach that target.

Suppose you were a Supreme Court Justice. Would you want to have anything to do with making such an imperatively reasoned judgement, that is ordinarily made by highly trained engineers?