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La Grande Observer 12/22/14

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Mother Nature produces flooding, heartbreak to place I love

When natural disasters strike, I can’t not be sympathetic. When natural disaster strikes a place I love, it’s a different story.

I awoke last week to news of massive flooding in Boulder County, Colo., a place I lived for many years.

I first moved to Boulder in 1992 and the signs in the canyon that said, “In case of flash flood, climb to safety,” made me giggle. I thought, “Now how’s that going to work?”

Those signs, though silly, made me keenly aware that I was living in a flood zone awaiting its 100-year flood.

When I read of a college girl breaking her ankle playing on a makeshift slip and slide on the University of Colorado campus I remembered my own college days and body surfing during a red flag warning in the Atlantic. Youth knows little of mortality.

The Colorado Rocky Front Range is famous for sudden storms. One summer afternoon I looked out the window and saw a river running down Alpine Street. A young woman appeared to have been caught on a run when the heavens opened and was up to her knees in muddy water. I called my brother across town and asked, “Is it Armageddon?”

I, too, was caught in a couple crazy storms. Once while running through town, Finn and I sheltered under a tree just a few blocks from home until I thought it was safe to venture out without a helmet. Another time, Finn and his crazy cousin Cassidy the coy-dog and I were on a mountain run at 13,000 feet. We hunkered under a spruce while the rain washed the sunblock into my eyes. Nearly blind and reeling with a lousy sense of direction, we wandered around looking for the car.

This past week’s destruction in Colorado is no joke and I can only read so many stories and look at so many videos before I have to stop. I wonder what the chronically homeless are doing let alone the 1,000 families who had homes. Some have friends and family with whom to stay, others are in hotels, and many are in Red Cross shelters.

I was in Boulder just six weeks ago and more poignantly, Lyons, which a newscaster incorrectly called “remote.” For us in Eastern Oregon a town 12 miles from Longmont, population 88,000 and 12 miles from Boulder, population 100,000, is not even a suburb.

Nonetheless, it’s a town a little bigger than Joseph and almost as quaint, with a music venue called Planet Bluegrass along the St. Vrain River. For three days we danced and supped and camped during the Rockygrass Festival in this idyllic village with a river running by the stage — perfect for dips between sets.

Planet Bluegrass is a muddy lake now that the St. Vrain has lost all sense of its borders.

Even here I’ve seen freak storms wash out part of the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road and tamer storms that killed fish, knocked down hundreds of trees and turned rivers and their tributaries into chocolate milk. Discussing one such “weather event,” a colleague suggested that maybe we shouldn’t keep trying to fix rivers — lining them with concrete or re-routing them when they inconveniently get in the way of development. Maybe Mother Nature doesn’t play by a set of blueprints or a Computer Aided Drawing. Maybe, like the honey badger, she just don’t care.


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