Okay. We got a little rain here in Illinois. Streets are closed. Backyards are watery wastelands. People took 3 hours to get to work. Such a contrast to last year’s drought, when parched, dry land kept rain at bay all summer. It simply would not rain.
Not so fast
No rain? Not this year. The downpours have been incessant. Last night the sump pumps in our house ran constantly. The groundwater pattern in our neighborhood points straight at our house. When digging postholes for the back fence, it was learned there is a layer of clay exactly 2 feet down. The water runs over that stuff. Right at our house.
That meant I needed to get up and fix a contraption of rain gutters to point the rainwater draining through a vent pipe for the boiler into the sump so it could be shot back out in the yard. The myth of Sisyphus got nothing on me, babe. That water just comes right back at me. That’s how the waterproofing company designed the system. Works almost as well as the economy. This year’s rainstorm is a stimulus bill so that the sump pumps stay employed.
I’ll go running tonight because the carnage is so interesting. Floodwaters have always fascinated. When the entire Oneota Valley flooded, the entire Luther College campus where I went to school was underwater. Months later the traces of the flood were still there. The extensive dike system built to redirect the river through town simply couldn’t contain the volume of water pouring down out of the limestone canyon tracts where water upstream gets funneled and pushed. Result: big-ass flood.
Flooding our memories
I recall running through that valley during another flood year. Our regular courses were underwater so we improvised, trotting next to the roiling floodwaters on a bank above the Upper Iowa. It was stupid and dangerous perhaps, but it was also memorable and fun.
People remember floods and the things that happen during them.
A few years back while riding in early spring our little band of Saturday cyclists decided to take a bike path next to a stream. The path was flooded with cold, clear water and suddenly we were pedaling into a school of carp wriggling across the path. Not able to stop for fear of falling over and hitting the drink, my front wheel plowed into the side of a carp. It’s giant body didn’t really give away, but the wheel glanced off. Everyone laughed at the thought of hitting a fish with a road bike.
Going through, not around
There have been a couple times during really long runs when I choose to go through a flood rather than around. If your shoes are sufficiently old and you’re going to get a new pair anyway, there’s no harm in running into the breach of a flooded street. Of course you’re reduced to wading. At that moment with your shorts filling up with cold water, the whole world might as well be flooded. You can see why really big floods take over the imagination of those affected. The recent tsunamis of ocean water that devastated entire islands in Japan remind one of the apocalypse or the Noachian flood.
If our world was still yet small in terms of communication, and we could not fly over New Orleans and see the devastation, or catch up on news updates when tsunamis take out entire cities, the legends might be big enough to someday make it into scripture of one sort of another.
The unlucky ones
Instead we’re stuck with the ugly little fact that even local floods are a real pain in the ass. They disturb our daily lives and affect our business. They prevent us from running and riding where we like to go and we stare in marvel at a car literally floating down the street. “Who’s the unlucky one?” we think.
Or less charitably, “Who could be so stupid to think they could drive across?”
At some level we’re all that dumb. We build houses on floodplains and barrier islands. We assume our rivers will stay put, especially after a year of drought. We ride our bikes and hit carp or try cutting through a flooded field on a run and find ourselves knee deep and stupid. We fail to recognize that water has both a mind of its own and no mind at all. That’s what the terrifying fable of Noah’s Flood is all about. We’re powerless before nature and don’t really understand it. It doesn’t matter whether the flood that floated Noah covered the whole world or not. The fact that a flood could be so unthinking is an illustration of the humility we should show all of creation.
Instead we run right past. Or ride. Or drive. And wonder when the next disaster will hit. Hoping it won’t be us. What a way to live.