Dark raging waters

Dark raging waters
Image: Andrew Liptak 

You might have seen on the news that Vermont and the general US Northeast has been under a flood watch. We'd had some rain in the last couple of weeks, and the rivers have been full – fuller than usual. I texted a friend after the last bout of rain on Friday: "South American jungle, or Barre, Vermont?"

On Sunday, we got word of more rain on the way: several inches work, which was enough to go right over the saturated soil and into the swollen rivers. The Stevens Branch below our house was still roiling in the morning, and I began making some trips down to the bridge below our house to see how it looked. By 11, the water was beginning to fill the parking lot of the warehouses below the house – a pretty normal occurence in the spring with the snowmelt, but not something we usually see in the middle of summer.

Trees and logs began tumbling down, and when the water began hitting the bottom of the bridge, I ducked out to get some water and the kids from daycare. Megan stopped by the store to get some extra provisions, then parked up the hill beyond a gate – an escape if we needed it. By five, the parking lot across the river had begun to fill, and an hour later, the water jumped its banks and went over the road, then the bridge. The guys working at the concrete place below us gave up trying to triage their equipment and retreated for the night. We packed some bags, just in case. The water continued to rise.

We’re okay: our house is up on a hill, and we’re still high and dry.

It seems like it peaked around 11 or so. I snagged a road cone and stuck it in the road, and watched as the water crawled up and beyond it before stopping. We brought the chickens inside for the night after we heard a loud crash. Bram and I went out to check on the car and the bridge up the river, and talked about being scared and how floods happen.

I stayed on the couch and checked on the yard a couple of times in the night. I awoke to the sound of a tree crashing down, and saw that the water was still raging: it swept away the neighbor’s dead car, and there’s a lingering scent of oil hanging in the air.

What’s been most unsettling has been the noise. Not the rushing water, but the sound of trees, dumpsters, and other debris hitting the buildings and bridge. I saw a video of a Lays Chips truck floating down the river like it was a toy, before it crashed into a bridge. I'd taken a picture of it a couple hours before in its parking lot. We took stock of what remains of the road, put the chickens out, and recovered my car, now that the gate at the top of the road is open.

The water's going down quickly, and in the next couple of days, you'll see videos and pictures of the devastation. It's looking like it'll be worse than when Tropical Storm Irene passed over the state: our second hundred year flood in twelve years.

When we talk about climate change, we always think about the extremes: the ocean-front cities that find themselves under water, the disappearance of the ice packs at the poles and mountains, or the regions baked to death by extreme heat. After Irene, there was a lot of talk about resiliency and how it's the big rainstorms and changing patterns that'll be the new normal in our warming climate: it's those smaller, gradual changes that'll be the end of us, house by house, road by road, and life by life.