The river came up over its banks just before morning light and like usual when that happens we are set apart from the rest of town. We knew ahead of time of course, flood watch had already started, cause she’d gone over twenty-nine feet at the Hacienda Bridge shortly after midnight. And it’s a flood when the river gets up over her banks, that is thirty-two feet at the Hacienda Bridge, thirty-four feet at Guerneville Bridge. The road in to our part of town goes under right away but is pretty impassable by the time it reaches thirty-five, thirty-six feet. But it all starts getting meaningful at about thirty-eight feet, that is when houses in the lowest areas start taking on water. Anyway it was still raining pretty good when people went to bed so everyone knew what was coming. These days it’s all on the radio of course and the tv and even them damn computers, but you didn’t need no weatherman when it rained like it was day after day, the river told you herself what was happening. What is different, is there’s more people living here year round, more houses, and in general more trouble.
So now, things, that is all sorts of procedures get set in motion when they start the official flood watch.
I mean on an individual basis, everyone of a thinking nature, already has obtained all the necessary supplies for this particular situation. River people know to put up water, batteries, groceries, toilet paper and the like, and paper plates since it’s a hardship to wash dishes when water is in short supply, baby supplies for the new baby, pet food etcetera, special medicine if you require it, booze to help you sleep, lots of finger dipping food, that is snacks, and smokes of course for them that still do that, and Roof Patch, you only forget that once! I suppose some folks got movies from the town video shop just on the off chance the power doesn’t go out, though it usually does, but then some of them nowadays even have their own generators.
But I also mean that they sent a sheriff to hole up with us, and there is regular fire fighting equipment, and they set up a potable water station cause there’s always some folks get caught without water. And these last couple of times there’s been helicopters flying in and out. A regular outpost.
And beyond that everyone just hunkers down. And waits on the damn river.
Funny thing flood times. Like one of them female opera singers, or like a damn good whore, gets your attention and keeps a hold of it, and there’s no walking away until the fat lady is done singing, if you get my meaning. And people who otherwise never paid the river no mind, never went down to the river, or even out for a damn walk, are all of a sudden called out to do vigil, called out as if to their first communion, called out by the river, and the whole outpost is walking the road down to the river. It’s no wonder to me that Noah and his ark are in the bible, and it’s no wonder that even those who know nothing about their bible know how many days and nights it rained in that particular situation.
Funny thing flood times. There’s a common notion around here about river time, referring to things not being done in a timely manner, not like city folks and city time. That is, river people get around to doing things in their own good time and there is no point in getting too impatient cause there is just no hurrying anyone. But I see now the real meaning is truly about there’s no hurrying the river, goes up and down when she’s damn good and ready, and that’s all there is to it. It’s plain and simple about waiting, and how impatient we might be don’t make a damn bit of difference.
So people did the only thing there was to do, that is go down by the river.
Funny thing flood times. People flock somehow like geese or sheep or maybe just like people do without my having noticed before. Took me by surprise at first but I noticed after a time there was always a crowd gathered around that spot on the road which yesterday had no particular meaning and today meant 38 feet at Hacienda Bridge. Which meant a good five feet of water on the road for a good piece that meant not even the drunk ones would think they could surely drive across. Which meant their wives and girlfriends didn’t even take them seriously when they started up with each other about hell yes man, damn right this rig can make it! Which meant we were an island.
And people walked two three four times a day, hell sometimes once an hour to that spot which is the edge of the world as it sits now what with the river being up. I guess no matter what there’s got to be a place to go, a meeting place where we come together without a lot of fuss and bother. A place where we can meet close up, but from the distance of regular strangers who over time come to know something about one another that connects us, but don’t bind us. A place where we can talk about just this and that. Though of course people mostly talked about what the river was doing. Just standing there as if they were sitting on benches, looking down at the waves and talking.
Talking about what they’d heard about whether she was coming up or going down, or just plain holding steady, and wondering about when high tide was. Some were telling storm stories, about the wind and spinners that is the stray branches and broken off limbs that fall out of the Redwood trees around here and can do considerable damage. Or stories about the wind and rain and getting up on the roof. And some folks talked about the damn feds and the regulations concerning building in the flood plain, and the cost of permits these days for repairing damages. Others wondered if this time FEMA and the SBA and the Sonoma County Building Department were going to get money together to help folks mitigate, that is take action before the next flood by raising houses, for example, rather than waiting again to pay out millions after the fact for disaster relief.
But the point is, there was always a regular commotion. Never went once when I was the only one there. That is it was like overnight there’d sprung up a ferry landing, and folks was going down as if to meet the ferry to see what news had been brought from the mainland.
published 1997 in Russian River Times