Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

No Individual Raindrop Ever Considers Itself Responsible for the Flood

Our first clue was the puddle of water in the side yard of my mother’s house.

See, ’cause puddles never form there.

But the winter of 2009-2010 had been a busy one, meteorologically speaking; and late March had featured a “perfect post-storm”, if you will: a ferociously rapid spring melt … an exceptionally heavy and protracted rain event … and a nearby gravel pit that historically has acted as a catch basin for water runoff in the neighborhood wherein I grew up. The gravel pit usually is about half full of water, except in summer when it’s nearly empty. That March, following the melt and the rain, it was half full … then three-quarters full … then full.

Then, more than full.

Our next-door neighbors, who lived in the house between ours and the gravel pit, have occasionally done battle with the pit’s overrun, and they prepared to being doing so again. It didn’t take long for the water’s edge to creep up their side yard, make contact with their basement foundation, and become one with their basement. Nasty, but we’d seen that happen before.

Except I don’t remember the water level ever filling their basement. That was a new one. We offered them whatever help they thought we could provide, but it looked as if sump pumps and rags were not going to be nearly enough.

There, but for the grace of…, we thought.

And then the water’s edge kept moving.

And that puddle in our yard appeared. And grew. And reached around to the backyard.

And it was as if Mother Nature looked at my mother’s property, and said, “okay … you dared think it couldn’t happen to you? It’s on.”

So, over the course of the last week in March, various family members joined my mother in her every-two-hours, twenty-four-seven, i.e. get no more than two hours of sleep at a time before we go check the basement and run the pumps again, Sisyphean rear-guard action. Tiptoe down the basement stairs, note the inch or two of newly-acquired water, slip on the wading boots and fire up the pump again. “Rinse and repeat” became a slightly cruel catchphrase.

(Two subplots from this time in our lives, one having to do with the suspected root cause of the extra runoff water’s being deposited in that particular catch basin, and the other having to do with the great lengths to which members of that neighborhood had to go just to convince the Town that this was maybe something for which it shouldered just a bit of the responsibility … will be set aside, just now.)

The “Easter miracle” that year, for my family which is rather laden with churchly responsibilities … was that when the flood waters rose well past the point of nuisance, it was the Saturday morning before Easter, and not on Easter Sunday itself.

About 5:30 in the morning, that first Saturday of April, I tiptoed down those stairs and noted that the water level wasn’t an inch or two, nor was it a few inches, as had been the case for the previous day or so. It was most of a couple of feet. I even thought I could see it actively rising before my eyes; although this may have been one of the side effects of sleeping for 120 minutes in a row, max, for a night or two.

And then we figured out that, at the rate it was going, by mid-morning the water level would reach the basement electrical outlets … and that would be an uncommonly bad thing.

Time to shut the power off. Therefore, time to consider “transferring the flag”. Having family living nearby is a good thing anyway – a place to go to regroup – but especially when you look at your thirteen-step staircase from the kitchen to the basement and only see the top five steps.

Long story short, the water level didn’t eventually get all the way up that set of stairs, although it got close. And although much of the side and back yards had ponding water on top of them, our house sat on a faint incline that ensured that the lake would not engulf the house from all sides.

Spoiler alert: we didn’t lose the house. In the last five years, we’ve watched with great suspicion when the piles of snow gave way to not being piles of snow anymore (particularly this past winter in New England, which featured levels of snow that I couldn’t come close to seeing over) … and we’ve worried, when the rains have come with extra-special intensity. But so far (knock on whatever dry wood is handy), we’ve not seen a repeat of spring 2010. Climate change may have something to say about this in the future, but up through this moment, so far we’ve lucked out.

So, this morning, I looked at photos of the flooding in Texas … the vast, sweeping plains of muddy water covering whole neighborhoods and and businesses and highways! … and thought, I would like to be able to say that I have some idea of what must be going through the minds of some of my friends and colleagues who live out there. I would like to … but I probably don’t.

I have been only half-joking when I’ve described to people what it was like, that April morning, when we realized that we’d have to “transfer the flag”. At that moment, my imagination was working on sleep-deprived overdrive, and I thought there was a real possibility that we might lose the house, the house I grew up in. The half-joking part has been when I’ve said to people, “I went through the seven stages of grief in about nine seconds.”

I can’t, therefore, begin to imagine what it must be like to see your entire street, neighborhood, town … engulfed. With no high ground to go to, because it’s Texas. With no real expectation that your life might be flooded out, because you live in a landlocked area, unlike, say, those folks who live in houses in coastal-facing towns, which look great in the summer tourism season but can be just a wee bit vulnerable when the tides rise and the storm surge surges and you start wishing you’d chosen to live somewhere other than on a scrap of land that the ocean would now please like to reclaim.

What in the world kind of rainstorm dumps seven or nine or twelve inches of water on a town, overnight?


(Meanwhile, much of California is asking Texas, could we maybe take some of that stuff off your hands?; or perhaps loftier questions like, are there still makers of public policy who don’t think climate change is a terribly high priority? Yeah – the same ones who blame disaster-storms on local sin. A post for another time.)

Small comfort to the people of Austin, and Dallas, and Houston, many of whom may not have anywhere to go like my mother had … but one does occasionally look at one’s own problems and feel forced to admit they’re not as big as all that.

Similar small comfort, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person here in Drys-ville who are sparing a thought or two or twelve for the lower Midwest today.

And looking ahead to the storms that are forecast for this weekend, as well. Good Lord.


May 29, 2015 - Posted by | current events, family | , , , , , , ,

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