Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Flood Stories

Rivers and rising rivers have been a part of my psyche all my life. I've pretty much always lived on a river. First, as a child, on the Nashwaak River in New Brunswick, then on the Saint John River after we moved to the farm, and now for years, on the Rideau River in Ontario. 

So rivers, and rising rivers, and flood stories are part of my narrative, shall we say. Every spring, as we watch the river rising, we ask, "Remember the year school was cancelled for days because the water was over the road and the buses couldn't get through?" Or "Remember the year when the water and ice took the bridge out?" 


Danger water over road signs
Road closures during spring flooding in April 2014

When I attended my junior high reunion a couple of years ago we talked of the year, when we were kids, that the bridge over the Nashwaak River went in the spring flood. We all remembered the excitement. How an ice jam had let go up-river, and the water rose faster than anyone had expected. How school was cancelled partway through the day for those of us who lived on the other side of the river, so we could get home before they closed the roads. Buses driving empty over the imperiled bridge, with water lapping close to the pavement. And us kids following, ushered quickly over the bridge on foot, coats flapping, lunch boxes and book bags banging against our legs, to board the buses on the other side. I remember laughing with my friends about that, about the image in my mind of a girl named Debby riding on the back of her brother's bike, as the rest of us ran, thrilled at the drama. We laughed harder when one friend said he remembered the sight of the kids who didn't live on the other side of the river hanging out the windows of the school, longingly watching us having all the fun. 


road with flood water rising near
Water covers the flats, and  will soon be over the road here, as it is most every year. 
I hadn't been back home in the spring for years and years until 2014, when I was at my Mum's for two weeks in April. The day after I arrived, I waded snow up to my thighs to walk up the brook behind the barn. Then we had two days of rain and all of a sudden spring arrived. And the water everywhere was rising. The normally trickling brook gushed. I slept every night with my windows open wide falling asleep to the sound of the brook. Just like when I was a kid.

brook gushes between snow-covered banks
The brook at home on the farm, spring 2014
There's something bitter sweet about being on the farm, in the spring. Especially now that the cattle and most of the barns are gone. No stamping of hooves or clanking of stanchos as the cows wait impatiently to be let out into the barnyard, no new calves milling around on the barn floor and butting into my stepfather as he tries to fork hay down from the hay loft, no pungent smell of melting manure pile. No sap buckets attached to the maple trees that line the hill above the brook. No more smells and sounds of a working farm. Pity.


brook, snow, and water barrels
The old barrels which capture the water from a spring and where the cattle used to drink. April 2014.
But not everything has changed, the new grass still pushes up through the melting snow in the pasture on the hillside. The brook still gurgles white with froth over the rocks and down the hill to the river. And the river....the huge lumbering Saint John River still does what it does every spring. Rises and rises and moves with a swiftness that happens only this time of year. And of course it becomes the main item of conversation on everyone's lips for a few weeks.


fields, farmhouse, with river beyond
The old farmhouse with the swollen river in the distance. Photo thanks to my sister Connie.
This year, my sister Connie is home with Mum for a visit. The road across the flats is closed, as it often is. The islands in the middle of the Saint John where farmers grow corn and potatoes and hay are inundated, as they are every spring. But this year, for the first time in a while, the streets of downtown Fredericton are flooded. News photos focus on empty parking lots with just the tops of the parking meters showing, water lapping at the doors of the Beaverbrook Hotel, and the library downtown. Many riverside homes and businesses are not faring well. And it's all much more serious than normal. 

Of course it's always serious for anyone affected by floods. Farmers whose livelihood is endangered. Small businesses which can't really afford to stay closed for even a few days. People who have to evacuate their homes and then face a heartbreaking return. And let's not even get into the devastation of floods in other parts of the world, where lives and whole communities are lost. But for us, as kids growing up, the rising river simply meant the possibility of drama, and maybe a few days off school. 


flooded river and locked gates
The road down to the ferry. Photo courtesy of my sister Connie
One spring a few years ago, I realized, as I watched from my sun room window the rising water in the Rideau, that all the women in my family lived on a river. One sister lived on the Upper Saint John River a few hours from Fredericton, the other on the St. Lawrence River, and my mum was on the farm on the banks of the lower Saint John. We were all at different places in our lives, all facing different challenges, and I imagined that we all stood at our windows in that moment and watched the ice break up and the water begin to flow freely. And that the rivers we watched somehow connected us. 

And I thought... wow....what a cool idea for the "great Canadian novel." Because the change of seasons, the slow ebb of winter and the coming of spring, is such a part of our psyche in Canada. And rivers are such a great metaphor for the passage of time, for growing up, or growing old.

It's been years since I thought of that, even though I've written about that idea before on the blog. My sisters have moved since then, ironically both remain connected to rivers. One still lives within spitting distance of the Saint Lawrence, although in a different town, and the other can now see the Credit River from her balcony, instead of the Upper Saint John. And Mum has moved just across the driveway from the old farmhouse into her new little home, her view of the Saint John River unchanged. We all face different challenges now, but I like to think that we're all still connected by our rivers. 

I never did do anything about writing that novel. Although every spring when I look at the ice moving out I think about it. A flood story for the new millennium? 

Well... maybe next spring.





How about you my friends? Any flood stories in your "narrative"?







Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things,  #SaturdayShareLink-up, #fakeittillyoumakeit and Continental Drift




26 comments:

  1. Hi Sue
    This was a moving story to me. What an excellent novel you could write!! I could hear the brook and it sounded heavenly.
    I've never lived near a river or lake but have dreamed of doing so. On the flip side, I can't imagine the cleanup & recovery from a flood. My heart goes to all the people affected.
    I saw flowering tulips today and I almost did a happy dance.
    Another sigh of spring in our university town...are curb sides cluttered with broken furniture left behind from the students! Ha!
    Today the sun is shining and I feel spring has sprung!! ;-)
    Robin

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    1. Thanks, Robin:)
      Ahh... the spring migration of students. We had something similar in our small city, where we had two universities.

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  2. We live up in the hills above Sunset Blvd. Far away from your farming country. We worry about fires and actually flooding can occur. So far so good. Fascinating to read about your stories.

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    1. Thanks, Sandra. Hope you continue to stay away from the fires etc that affect your area.

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  3. Beautiful writing Sue & very moving to see the old farm - feel like we are there with you sometimes . My childhood home was very close to the rapids of a river & I fell asleep to the sound of rushing water each night . Rising water has always been part of living here in York too . Our Ouse doesn’t compare with your huge Canadian rivers but at times , after snow melts in the Dales to the west combine with heavy rainfall , it takes on a life of it's own . Years ago we would be sent home from work before bridge closures made it impossible to get through & there would be sandbags lining the roads everywhere . There has been much work done on flood-barriers since then but occasionally the river just takes over & nothing can be done . Dreadful for those who have their homes inundated . There’s one old pub that has all the power points at shoulder height plus stone walls & stone flagged floors . They whisk out the furniture beforehand then when the water recedes it can be hosed out . It’s on national news every flood time & thrives on the publicity . I like the sound of your book , so what’s stopping you ? I’d like to know a famous author .
    Wendy in York

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    1. Thanks, Wendy. I remember looking at the Ouse as it flowed under a bridge we stood on in York. The year we were in Yorkshire you'd had pretty bad floods, and Boltby where we stayed was quite hard hit.

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  4. What excellent prose in this here post!! Wonderful evocative description of rivers in Canada and your childhood journeys to school - oh please someone (?you) write that novel :)

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Penny.

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  5. So enjoyed reading your account about the exciting and/or stressful memories living close to a river can create. I live on the Red River which meanders through Winnipeg. The flooding memory that stands out sharply in my mind was in the spring of 1997 when abundant snowfall that year caused extremely high water levels. This affected not only Winnipeg but also Grand Forks and East Grand Forks in North Dakota. Luckily the Red River Floodway (which is affectionately known in Manitoba as Duff's Ditch) protected our area. Sandbagging crews and help from the armed forces prevented more damage from occurring...this year it has been much drier and thankfully the flood forecast is minimal. Ice jams can also create flooding and it is a relief when the warm spring temperatures ensure that the water is free flowing once again. Hope you will begin working on a novel...it would be much anticipated! Cheers, Alayne

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    1. Thanks, Alayne. I think that 1997 was the year that my brother and his wife had to paddle from the main road to their house in Cook's Creek, outside of Winnipeg. Travelling the old fashioned way. Ha.

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  6. Being originally from New Brunswick myself, I really look forward to your stories of home. It's funny how severe weather and nature events that are so costly to property and infrastructure can bring back fond memories from those who experienced them as children. I discovered your blog just a few months ago and would like to thank you for your stories. I would look forward to a novel from you.
    Michelle

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    1. Thanks so much, Michelle. As kids we just loved the excitement, I guess.

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  7. Your writing, your descriptions, your experiences are rich. Mine them. :)
    Water in Southern California is a scarce commodity and can be politically volatile as Los Angeles seeks sources for its thirsty, growing population. Fires in our environment can bring a different type of flooding when rains do hit a denuded hillside. There are tragic stories here where water is the lead character. Just last year, on a day trip, my husband and I discovered the 1928 tragedy of St. Francis Dam, 2nd biggest disaster in California, right after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
    Water is a unique substance. Powerful, deadly, live-giving, and life-defining. As a biology teacher, I used to spend a week on its properties before moving onto "life".
    Enjoyed reading this post and the mental meanderings it brought to my mind. :). Thanks!
    Charlene H

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    1. Thanks, Charlene. The disasters that take place due to excessive building, cutting of trees, or changing of water courses etc etc. must be particularly hard to bear if one is affected. There are so many historic disasters that make for fascinating reading, and listening. I loved to hear my step-father tell me about by-gone days.

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  8. I lived in the Texas Hill Country for 10 years, and during that time there were catastrophic floods that killed livestock, over 30 people, stripped homes from their foundations, destroyed a bridge, a highway overpass and much more. My dear friend lost both of his parents to one of these floods. They were swept a mile downstream and the force of the water ripped all of their clothes off and mangled their bodies. My friend found them the next morning... There's nothing like Mother Nature to make the basis for devastation and gripping copy. xoxox, Brenda

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    1. That sounds truly dreadful, Brenda.

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  9. I've lived on the prairie in east central Alberta since 1975 and this spring, for the very first time in all those years, a short section of the highway about a 20 minute drive from here flooded. It was minor compared to what many other parts of the country experience at this time of year, but it created quite the excitement anyway.

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    1. Excitement that abates quickly without anyone getting hurt is the best kind, eh?

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  10. Your writing is so captivating-you could have short stories book already! And the novel would be great,too
    I love the way you feel connected with your mother and sisters,through rivers....
    I am mesmerized with rivers,lakes and seas-but I've never lived near one or the other (although I can see the sea from my seaside apartment and it is so calming). There was a great flood in Zagreb 1964,after that the embankments have been fortified
    During last couple of years there have been a lot of floods across the country-dreadful for people living there
    Dottoressa

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    1. Thanks, Dottoressa. Our rivers back home flood regularly, with lots of property damage, but usually no loss of life. Pretty tame compared with other places. Like the devastation that happened in Peru last year just before we visited.

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  11. Beautifully written Sue. I particularly like to think about you, your sisters and your mum living alongside various Canadian rivers ... somehow this connection appears as a thread that holds you all together ...
    I’ve every confidence that you could write an amazing novel ....
    Rosie xx

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  12. I'm constantly amazed how so many lose complete rationale when a flood occurs.

    Authorities and the media have to issue strong warnings to not drive through rising waters and almost always someone dies or has to be rescued due to their foolishness.

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    1. Warning signs are always for other people:)

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  13. Yes, I grew up by the Big Sioux River and it would flood every spring, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. I love water and the trickling of it as the snow melts in the spring. Something magical, where is it all going? I would love that novel and think you should write it. Prayers the flooding ceases soon.

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  14. We had one flood and nothing dramatic like yours but it closed the school my girls went to. They diverted the stream, yes stream, after . We have houses here now built on floodplains and that becomes a problem when high tides meet heavy rain and saturated ground. I do not know why they build there. It seems illogical to me. Thanks for linking this superbly apt post to Continental Drift . I hope you'll join next month.

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All comments, ideas, commiserations, questions, complaints... are most welcome.