In a nation where-yes, even now in 2016- many of us still have choices in life, you might be wondering why someone would make this choice. Why anyone would sign up for this.
Maybe the house knows the answer. It has been standing since 1908, watching people come and go, live and die. The house has stood through flood, massive windstorms, and earthquakes. It was perched on piles before being placed on a foundation and surrounded with fill from the abandoned Northern Pacific Railway line. It was abandoned at one point. The house survived the local dike wars and soldiers leaving for two world wars and the Vietnam War.
Every November, I wonder if I’ve lost my mind, or maybe lost the courage to face one more flood season. I obsessively watch the weather for the trifecta: A typhoon near Asia, warm winds coming up from Hawaii, and the jet stream pressing down on us. Add an unconsolidated snowpack in the Central Cascades, and voila! You have an atmospheric river, and a major flood in the Snohomish River Valley, overtopping farmer engineered dikes and sweeping across the fields.
I’ve been through two major floods: the Great Pumpkin flood of December 2006 and the January 2009 flood. Now, the locals said neither of these should have happened. Once you get past Thanksgiving you’re okay, they said. Ya sure, as we would have said in Minnesota. Ya sure.
I watched the 2006 flood from across the valley, my horses safely ensconced in a boarding barn atop the hill. The flood hit at the end of pumpkin season, before they were tilled into fields. I would walk to the bottom of the hill and peer across the water, trying to see if my foundation was still dry. The first night water filled the valley I stood and listened. I could hear fins and tails slapping through the waters: salmon on their way to spawn swept into the fields with no way out after it was over. The pumpkins bobbed along illuminated by the neighbor’s farm light, with dark blobs on top. When my eyes adjusted, I realized the blobs were rodents riding the pumpkins like rafts. Then I saw the owls. I counted eight-great horned, screech, barn- swooping down to grab rodents from the pumpkins.
When I returned home after the storm swept away, I drove past a pack of coyotes stretched out on the dike in the sun, bellies round with rodents. Waiting for the rising waters to run rodents toward your waiting jaws is a risk, but if you’re a coyote, maybe you’re a born gambler. A muskrat was in the barn, with the water line not very far behind.
The 2009 flood was harder. My hip was deteriorating and getting horses out and sandbags down was no joy. I had a little help, but preparations were slow and I drove out as the water was slowly starting to pool on the road. It’s the first time I heard the river’s voice change. It started out high-pitched as water splashed and spilled over tree limbs bobbing in the water. Then octaves tumbled as deep, rolling boils swirled like watery tornadoes.
This flood threatened to be worse than 2006, and I wasn’t sure the dikes would hold. I stayed in a hotel. My neighbors, who ride these events out at home, walked the dikes and sent reports.
The dikes held, with some calving, caving, boils, and piping. Julie got some great photos flying the river in Bunky’s float plane. More than the post-breach picture of Mary posing at the gate, Julie’s photos cemented my resolve to leave in large floods.
Because I’m the downstream property, I get everyone’s debris: plywood, power poles from a replacement project, prescription bottles, dead pigs, and this unfortunate victim:
Cleanup reminds me why I live here, as I watch a young heron slowly stepping through the pooled water behind the house, catching worms. The raptors have arrived in droves, and I watch a bald eagle and hawk lock talons and roll in the sky. The County piles up road debris 8 feet high , and as I’m walking by at night, I see a dozen owls perched on the mound, waiting for more rodent meals.
I moved here for nature and privacy. It’s obvious why this area doesn’t get developed, and I’ve got nature at its most rhythmic and normal, oblivious to whatever stuff we put in its way. The river is a voice thousands of years old reminding me that belongings are transitory, along with human life. It’s about living in the moment, feeling the place.
Sure, I’d rather trade the growling bass tones of a rising river for the gentle honking of trumpeter swans, the barking of snow geese, the spring chorus of frogs. But they wouldn’t be here if the river wasn’t here, and the river owns this valley once in a while. Maybe it’s a good reminder as I face another winter that we are ephemeral, no matter how mighty and eternal we believe we are.