Powerful IntelligenceA few days after the September floods in Colorado, my six-year old daughter asks me a question that makes me rethink her world and mine.

“Mama, did the flood happen in ever country?” She looks out the window of the car waiting for the answer. I glance at her through the rear view mirror and reply, “No, baby. It was just in Colorado.”

The flood did quite literally touch most of her world—her teacher’s house flooded, her friend’s house flooded, and her own bedroom flooded. The water came into the house quickly and quietly while we were having dinner.  It drenched the carpet, the beds, the bookcases, and boxes of photos. Two days later, on the girls’ 6th birthday, it was still raining.  We gathered with neighbors and walked in the wet weather to the park, some with umbrellas, some without.  We marveled at the dead fish in the creek, the soggy hillside, and the swampy playground. The children laughed and played as children do.

I have taught my children to enjoy the rain because, as a friend from Rwanda told me, “To run from the rain means you don’t appreciate it.”  And so my girls and I  welcomed the rain. Together we would squeal in delight as the rain fell harder and we became wetter. We would challenge each other to not have any part of us dry by the time we got home. But now, whenever it rains, my stomach ties itself into knots and my girls ask if we will be okay.  I have to teach them to trust our world again. I don’t want them to be afraid of the rain. I don’t want to be afraid of it either.unnamed

Four months after the flood, a distressing and violent death, the second in a year, devastates the school I teach at; I am re-traumatized but I want to protect the youth and to preserve whatever innocence I can, mine and theirs.  I don’t want them to be afraid of their school, of each other, of themselves.

Six months after the flood, my friend’s baby doesn’t wake up from her nap and our neighborhood is overwhelmed with grief and sadness for the family as much as for the lost life. I don’t want to be afraid of losing my own children, but I am. I drive between two broken worlds, and like a river that’s gone off course, struggle to find direction.  The tragedies saturate my world and all I can do is note the truancy of hope and the absence of sense.

Eight months after the flood, I decide to hike along one the trails impacted by the heavy rains, and I am surprised to see the land so scarred. What used to be a creek where the water ran slow and steady down Green Mountain is now more like a luge run. The torrent of water turned the creek bed into a crevasse and the grassy banks into a dike. It is now a skeleton of granite, sandstone, and metamorphic rock, just a deep fissure in the ground.

I feel like I am walking in a graveyard.

Two pine trees–ripped from the earth–lie diagonal to one another, half-standing, half-fallen, in some sort of state of limbo. The bedrock has been uplifted and hurled into the hillside.  Slabs of granite and shards of sandstone litter the riverbed. Someday they will metamorphose into something larger, something new, but for now, they are the result of the deluge. What destruction! How the water must have crushed, how the trees must have crashed, how the boulders must have cracked! The dead and downed debris is now motionless, lifeless, still and the whole scene broken and heavy.

And yet I know that the water will return and bring new life. The creek bed will recover, the earth will heal, new growth will come.  And the river, forced from its old path into a new one, will be beautiful and alive again.  I must believe that humans can do the same.

Ten months after the flood, I hike South Boulder Peak, where the fires of 2012 damaged much of the ridge.  Now, this same ridge is carpeted in flowers—Larkspur, Penstemon, Western Wallflower—and the resilient Ponderosa Pine.  The bright purples and yellows contrast the black of the burned trunks, like a rainbow at night. Nature has healed and repaired herself.  From destruction came beauty. I think of the resilience of nature and the resilience of the human spirit, and am grateful for the irrepressible will to survive.

Photo credits go to Chris Weber

Sometimes there is no warning before destruction, sometimes healing is agonizing and traumatic and longer than expected, and sometimes the landscape is never, ever the same. We are part of something so much larger than we know–something that doesn’t end with the destruction but evolves as a result of it. We must find our place in the new landscape because to survive is to live. All we can do is run our course, flowing forward over the rocks and the debris, carrying some of our past with us and leaving some of it behind, like sand in a river.

 

 

 

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IMG_7950Susie Weber has enjoyed living, working, and playing in Colorado for the past seventeen years. She has taught high school English for over ten years in Westminster, though she is currently taking a year off to pursue a writing fellowship in Children’s Literature through Stony Brook University. She lives with her husband and their two girls in South Boulder, where they can often be found on the trails getting their feet dirty or taking in the views. Susie has been published in Couloir Magazine and Glimmer Train on-line. She earned her Master’s degree from the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College and her undergraduate degree in English from Colby College.