Oak is a great friend, a member of our conscious community, and an incredible poet, activist, and torchbearer for all things good and true. She posted this description of what she want through during the September flooding in Jamestown, where she lives. I found the depth of her description to be heart-rending, exhilarating, and mind-boggling; and her courage (and those of her neighbors and responders) to be truly inspiring.
I asked Oak if I could re-post this and she generously agreed. If you–or someone you know–would like a first-hand account of being in the flood, this will take your breath away.
Make yourself a cup of something yummy and put your feet up: you’re in for a treat.
After the Flood, by Oak Chezar
Just as I am able to touch my foot in the shower for the first time, to pee on the hillside, leaning back into the angle of repose and miss my shoes, and I get my new mattress delivered, which cost more than my Subaru, the canyon up, the roads in, and my town are destroyed.
From my journal:
Monday night: A freshened dome, the rain drenched earth, and the mist that ladders the 2…suddenly it’s not summer. Sodden and silvered and the roar of that creek down there insisting with the disgruntled crows….every pine needle drips down from spongy bark.
Black night of silver knives pounding on my little wooden boat of a bedroom nook, my delicious mattress, this steep steel roof. It’s the 4th day of pounding rain, pure hard-heartless rain; rain as karma. Rain as justice. Scimitar rain. Shiv rain. Biblical. Deadly. But, nature opens wider to receive. And the forest goes down on her knees…
Coming home Wednesday night from Boulder, too late after ILC; met Saira and Sabino too late. The sirens go off in Boulder town, as we’re smoking outside the cupcake shop, and I pack up to leave. This is relentless nature, red and black and blades like Kali, whirling like spinning Durga, dancing dervish till nothing can stand. There are fist sized stones littering the muddy canyon road, washed out by flood waters, every drop a wave, a flood, a winged hammer; every curb a moat in town… calf deep, you can’t stay here. I head home, leave while i can….impossible just crossing the street. Sirens are loosed upon the land and I am driving up the canyon, slow so slow, into the pouring pounding rain. Left Hand to James Canyon… a mission….i crawl home, windshield wipers on frantic fly. This is Chicken Little CanyonThere are boulders in the canyon, drive so slow to miss them, and every gully a wash, and every driveway a flood, i crawl home, diverted and diverted again. its all one long detour, unmarked, through a sodden snake of wetness pounding rage, in way more danger than i realize, i submit, i surrender: allright you wild goddesses- take me. I’ll hold this wheel and feel it.
Another hour braking hard for rock slides, took a Vicodin, opening a soft curtain of pain relief, blurring everything to easier silt, a slit of road in a world of rock, easier stones, an easier roar filling my head to epic proportions. What a night! The violence is just beginning. I arrive home at 12, minutes after the mountain collapses, killing Joey. I arrive home, so single minded, at midnight, just before the road collapsed and just fell apart down the mountain behind me. I fall into bed, and vibrate there for hours awake.
Thursday, 10 a.m. Joy wakes me: “Jamestown’s been evacuated…but there’s no way out!” A 15 foot wall of water just slammed into a first responder, on his radio in Buckingham Park trying to warn us. All night in this wooden hulled ship, the pounding of brutal verticality, a billion swords striking without a softening heart. An unchanging rhythm crashing, bashes straight down, soft drown, cancelling time, undeterred, traversing our silly careful plans, insisting on anarchy, sky rules, cosmic law, erasing all boundaries we have known and creating insurmountable ones, washing out all our flames.
The blind, dying wolf comes upstairs to pant on me his terror. All that is unchangeable, melting under the brutal verticality, unvarying velocity, hammering cold wild drumming gangland style cascading, loosening teeth and boulders and weekday normalcy: ha- #*$& that! Unstrapped from phone and electricity, from roads and gravity, it’s all gravy, a done deal and you ain’t going nowhere. Neighbors been door to door rescuing since 4 a/m/. I just woke and already there are homeless neighbors and friends. Flattened beneath the ocean, tipped out of the unseen upper universe–where the #*$& i s all this water coming from?! We’re on an island and its shrinking. The bridges, destroyed, Joy’s gone out to check. we have plenty, habondia; I have reading and writing to do, but we have no one to talk to but ourselves. The chrome plated surf, the terrified air, clanging falling sawblades rain, rain filled with rubble and the gulf of ball bearings, rising.
Rain grows a beard, becomes the wrathful Old Testament god. Old testicle god; Limitation opens his red and black maw and swallows us all over again. Outside, there is just flood. Infamous, the Hundred Year Flood, which is really the 500 Year Flood.
Joy and I walk down to Lynne’s where we faced the roaring brown waters taking 12th street away forever, and we hear that Joey is dead. We ford the rage of road to watch from some half sunken backyard the Stoke’s house underwater, and 2 propane tanks in the river that has become It All dancing in trippy slow circles and hissing from their punctures, and the smell of propane popping finally settles over Jamestown. Six houses so far, totally destroyed, gone down with the flood, to Longmont. Nancy, her neighbor, all down the river. We hike up to Mesa St., crossing 12th on some scary hippie bridge boards. Stand on Rutiger’s big porch and watch roofs, walls, hot tubs, decks sail swiftly past, there’s styrofoam everywhere, Nancy’s guitar case flows by to our silence and awe.
Jamestown was evacuated at 3 a.m. but we were asleep, stranded but safe, and we’re staying right here man. We got everything we need: solar power, the fridge, so much water filling every barrel, dope and books and beers, and we’re cool. It’s an official “disaster”, like a gov’t disaster, like FEMA and helicopters are coming to take away the sick and old and the babies, and I’m scared for the goats and for Jesse, the goat guardian. Ward Street is buried under the river and every bridge is gone. There are 2 meetings a day planned at the school. We have to cross the scary planks again. And again.
Friday the 13th. Yom Kippur. No one has #*$& flood insurance, it appears, even the rich! How is that even possible? I wonder from my dry warm safe hot tea morning high bird perch about my friends and neighbors. What will last? What’s already run out? And how about this vast mass of human mess torn and shoved, shook and gone down the river? The styrofoam down there dances against the ruined bridge’s piers. The sky clears a bit for an hour till the dragon rushes back in from the east in her silver veils, soft as my mother’s hands to soothe us all.
I don’t want to think about it. I want to get high and stay happy. Next morning: think about it! GO forth and record and witness this. FEEL!
I go down to the sight and sound- MYTHIC!- of 5 or 6 or 8 army assault helicopters landing in a parade procession and loading refugees and slashing away. Many friends have left. They want everybody to go. But it’s home, it’s here, it’s so gorgeous, and staying seems so important to do. I was gone for a month already this summer! And the dogs are here! The cars are here! And Yashi, perfectly placed to last eons, and we have so much food, and beer and weed, propane to boil rain water and can last forever, except when we run out of propane, there’s no way the truck can get here. No way to haul drinking water from the contaminated spring. No way out if there’s an emergency and i need to get to the E.R. or if there;s a fire! There’s one firetruck on our side of the island that has 300 gallons of water, which will last 2 minutes, and when that’s gone, there’s no more water in all of Jamestown’s system.
How to tell it, the tale that must be told? The army descends on Jamestown with attack helicopters and desert storm fatigues in daylight. Loud and terrible panic for hours. The anxiety is heavy, the only thing unshredded by the rotary hell blades.
Friday 13th, Malestrom. The roar wraps vivid ribbons of pellucid sound all round us.
When the last helicopter of the day leaves, i stay behind with the evacuated, rolling in the wind with empty small plastic army water bottles and all the trash to pray at the river. It is all River.
I call the directions, sobbing softly. I get immediately diverted in th direction of west, the waters! i cannot get over praising water .HO! Ho to the power of waters, who, without our mess could just flow so magnificently, sculpting new canyons, ending a chapter, moving into the freefalling future without disaster. Ho to the exuberance, the agility, the absolute innocence, the enthusiasm, the #*$& POWER of every drop.
As the shattered air knits back together, it is so still. So strange the irony of stillness now, boiling as we are at the bottom of a trough of disaster and despondency, but it is still…so beautifully still…
Rubble everywhere that used to be the road, chaos everywhere that used to be our lives. Brown waterfalls splashing everywhere, carrying away what used to be our houses. Detritus spreads like a bloody stain in water, as roofs and porches, propane tanks and hot tubs stack up making higher, louder waterfalls, and the chaos of the goddess’s reply so pretty.
Unstill, but calming the crazy chaos of this that’s inside us all now.
Another meeting, we hear, at 6 to check in with the commUNITY.
I wonder, staring at the river, how to be IN FLOW now? How to be more ALIVE?
Feeling like every refugee, every sobbing, bundle-laden hungry sleepless terrified unwanted displaced human that ever was. The dusty, frozen,soaking, huddled masses, the line of human mammals that stretches, trying to huddle, back to the beginning.
I DON’T WANT TO GO! NO! NO! I don’t wanna leave my perfect life….maybe i haven’t been grateful enuf. Maybe this is all a dream. Maybe i can make deals with gods….just this bedroom! This round window view to the cosmos! Just these mountains! My luck has run out like a road, a landslide of luckless random #*$& chaos landing on my Rocky Mountain luck, stoney stones raining rocks.
Hey, fool! There’s no war here (despite the choppers descending and rising), no famine. Just a little water and debris. We’ll be right back. What is flow? how to let the flood feed you? Like the ducks down below, little boats on the lakes of perfect old fields, quacking their soft happiness and surprise, joining the green to the blue, harmonizing it all.
We go to the meeting. Down over the planks to cross 12th street deluge, up Mesa St. to the school. It’s hard for me to walk this far, and i’ve done it twice a day. My limitation is growing another head.
At the meeting we learn there is no way down. Boulder Canyon is gone. Hwy. 7 is gone. Left Hand Canyon is gone. There’s no way down from even Coal Creek Canyon. So, even if we could get out of this canyon in a vehicle, there is no way down to Boulder. Nothing. If we decide to stay, says Tara the water world’s greatest mayor and David Mans, the greatest leader, if we stay after the last helicopter at 8 a.m. tomorrow, they will not support us past then. There is no infrastructure. The National Guard ain’t gonna wait for us to be ready to leave (when and how could i ever be ready to leave?) leave my house? For months? But there’s no infrastructure in town- no water, no electricity or phone, and, they say “we cannot provide you support. Nobody will send you support here.” There’s no good we can do up here, but down there, we can lobby for our road to be fixed asap. Get ready to leave. Turn off propane, close all the windows, lock the doors and then fill the streets with food for the bears.
Turns out most want to stay. It’s impossible! Months…and winters coming on….put the food in the river when those last ones leave….take all food from yr neighbors fridges and toss it into the streets, feed the blessed bears!
A fresh blast of thunder rolls through. This is the canyon that only helicopters can drive. This pile of stones is the riverbed that used to be Lower Main St. Here is the sheer gulf, the cliff hanging terror that used to be our canyon road. I25 is closed from Boulder to Wyoming. Helicopters circle to land in pitch dark as we are heading home by torchlight. Holy Shit is a word that never runs out.
On the patio, our last night here. I don’t want to leave! I don’t want to leave!
Half moon waxing, Jamestown waning. The second helicopter of the night settles. Decide. Tonight. It could be months. Months?? Infrastructure, personified as a punked out black leather teddy bear sends me a big fat raspberry: Fine! You fix this shit!
i can’t stop crying. Out here in the moonlight, the starlight, scheming ways to come home. I could start bike training in Boulder and by the time i was strong enough to get way the #*$& up this canyon, it would be almost done. But then, i could take a car….OH, a CAR…how to live for …6 weeks? 6 months? Down below, in Amerikkka without a car? How crazy ing is it to mourn this, to not imagine the possibility of this? Broken roads. All of em destroyed. And we’re #*$&.
All day, Joy and I had said NO WAY, we ain’t leavin’! Cos that was for other people, people that were’nt used to living off grid, people with 9-5 gigs in town or farther…and styrofoam still circles dancing against the ruined bridges’ piers. The sky clears a bit and the dragon rushes back in from the east in her silver misted veils, soft as my mother’s hands to soothe us all.
Saturday, Sept. 14th: How to tell it? The army descends on Jamestown in huge throbbing helicopters, 8, 9, 10 times yesterday in daylight, 2 more at night. People running with backpacks and dogs and kids. Loud and terrible for hours, those blades reading Military Assault, reading Occupation, reading War…menacing images float and are shredded by the blades and more form still, forcing our dreams into cages, huddled like that for hours. They are the rescuers, the flood the enemy force, but i feel it all backwards. I’d take the flood over the helicopters. Am i crazy? This is the window, today at 8 am that will open once, then close. I cried all night long….surely there’d be other helicopters, other chances to get out later. Leaving now feels like quitting. Like admitting we are beat and we give up. But somehow, Joy shifted and began lobbying to leave…”It won’t be for long, Oak…We’ll be back”, while i sobbed in her arms….but i don’t want to go!… In the end i just said “I’m not leaving”.
Dreaded daylight and i’m still curled up crying NO. Leaving Yashi and the plants…the plants! How to get past all those green stares?
Michael Box came up and together they persuaded me, cos i’m old and infirm and not up to what it takes to stay behind with the able bodied folk. Suddenly, we hear the chopper coming….”Go! Now! Go!” We hear the chopper that pushes our cold toes off the inexorable edge of the high diving board…”Now!”
And we push toward that terrible roar, grab our shit, and Michael carries some, and we reach the park with the freaked out dogs, but they turn us back. Just below Yashi, tilted gently down toward that violent roaring and the civilization-tainted brown water and air filled with angry blades crouching over the whipped up, wiped out road, coming down into all that, i watch the figures, the odd, sad procession of lost people, resigned and rushing, hugging and stopping to grab tighter to bags, holding onto terrified dogs and terrified kids, subalterns all, herded by men and women in yellow hard hats and khaki mud-plastered government issued trousers. Their kindness. Our choiceslessness. The fascism of the moment,in tall shiny black boots, he flicks his iron whip and everything changes. He insists and the ground disappears beneath the canyon road, crack! He imagines it, and our options fall like houses into the flood, our lives suddenly shrunk, desiccated as rain fills the world like amnesia covering all that we know that we are.
Another copter’s coming right behind. Barny’s collar needs tightening…he’s on enough pot oil to drop a rhino and a zanax, and still, 4 men fight him on as Pearl walks next to me, terrified but obedient on her leash. The sound is astounding: forests felled and falling, agent orange and bombs falling, jungles burning, vibrations of napalm energy fill the world. And the heat rushing all round us, and the flattened grasses we stayed off of, limited parties all summer, and we’re in, we’re up the green steel ramp, me next to Alan, Mark and other firefighters across and I cannot stop crying. I cry all the way to Boulder, stop for a picture, flashing a peace sign. 12 minutes. Then the arrmy hands us off to the cops, a gentle transfer, and there’s animal control officers offering biscuits and water for the dogs, and coffee and pastries for us, and its early morning in the Boulder airport, and we call kara and she’s coming. There are so many busses and dogs and tears and a shit ton of warm caring and welcome thats there and we find Deirdre and she takes us to Niwot High; then kara picks us up and takes us home to Louisville.
Life rolls like a marble, like a cat. A gorgeous black and white cat in the jade green hallway. Life rolls like those magnificent waves of the river i never said goodbye to. Like the hot air shredded through our ears and the gears of bladed army rescue copters. The hot wind that rolls through my psychotropic nights, dreamless, pain killed, memory filled and dry softening like ashes.