If I had a blog, today I would reflect on the start of a new year in the wake of the Flood of 2015.
Missouri is about rivers. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 named rivers and creeks plus countless back-road streams that come to life when rain is abundant. On Christmas night 2015, it started to rain. It came down in buckets for three days and nights, leaving us with a grand total of 11.26 inches. Even the tiniest stream became a roaring river, closing back roads and interstates, washing away homes and cars, and changing the lay of the land in ways I never imagined.
Yesterday, we visited our own river: The quarter-mile of the Little Piney Creek that is our southern property line. We wished we could see the Piney when it was up and rolling, but the myriad side-streams kept us away until yesterday afternoon; until the moment we were witness to the raw and merciless power of Nature.
To put it bluntly, the river and the valley that lies beside it is unrecognizable. The pasture that once fed our cows and sheep is now a beach. The river gouged a new inlet, six or seven feet deep and fifty yards long, into the field, buried or ripped away the fences, and left a giant sycamore, uprooted by the flow, resting on its side where the river bank used to be.
The pathway that meandered through the green mansions of sycamore, river birch, and paw-paw trees is scoured clean of underbrush. Great masses of sticks, leaves, and vines are draped around tree trunks, six or seven feet above the ground. Feet of sand cover the ground and everywhere, great trees lie upon the ground, felled by the raging stream.
At the river’s edge, the sand bar where we picnicked, swam, and sunbathed on steamy summer days is reformed. Here, the sand is gone; replaced by stones from miles upstream. The path we used to drive down is blocked by downed trees and made almost impassable by a huge hole filled with river water.
It is sobering to see an entire landscape changed overnight; taken from the world of the familiar and replaced with something barren, battered and bruised. This morning I stepped into an alien world and I felt afraid. Standing on the banks of the Little Piney I faced the fear that haunts us all: The fear that we are not in control.
Nature, biology, random human violence all force us to admit that however neat and tidy we make our personal lives, nothing is certain; nothing is forever. In the blink of an eye, our world can change forever – and that is what keeps us awake at night.
In the face of The Flood, stepping across the threshold into a new year feels less comfortable than it has in the past. I can pretend that my vision of 2016 is accurate: That I can set goals and see them realized; make plans and see them bear fruit and walk confidently ahead on a familiar path, knowing that the foundation of my life is secure, but the Little Piney tells me to be careful because life isn’t safe. In fact, life is terribly unsafe. It is unsafe for children, unsafe for adults. Life is unsafe in any direction. Life is unsafe at any speed.
So how do I move forward? How do I face this brave, new world? The Piney offers me wisdom in her rebirth: The disaster came, but The Piney didn’t resist. She rose and fell, changed her course, and even made footprints in a foreign land. The river flows on without fear of the next flood. Even today she is coming clear again. In a few more days, her voice will be softer and, come spring, little green things will begin to poke through the choking sand and reclaim their rightful place among the budding trees. The Piney says, “Ride out the catastrophe, then start again.”
Things on the river will not be the same. New paths will emerge, old trees will fall, and water will make its home where once there was dry land, but, if we are wise, we too will adapt to the change. Even in this microcosm of life, we will find new bliss. Summer will come and one fine afternoon, we will traverse the fallen trees and muddy pools and sit beside the laughing waters once again. The wood thrush will sing, cardinals will find refuge in the brush piles, and otter will find crawdads under rocks that have come from many miles away. Life is change. Change is life. All we can do is go with the flow.