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Worldwide Ace » A Nice Relaxing Soak

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A Nice Relaxing Soak

16 September, 2013 (19:51) | Social Commentary


I feel ill; sick to my stomach. I barely even notice the mud in the darkness until my soles are mired in it. My stomach is roiling, probably because of something I ate last night, but maybe, just maybe it’s the smell. It’s almost reminiscent of Maine on a rainy morning. Loamy, lush, earthen are the words that come to mind. Wet dog, I think derisively, my stomach churning once more. The heavy cloud cover and slowly falling mist leaves condensing droplets forming on my glasses. The hood on my fleece lined jacket should be keeping me warm and dry, but even now it doesn’t feel like the wet will ever leave. I have to take slow, deliberate steps, waiting for my shoes to stop slipping before I duck off the sidewalk and into the street.

The muck is leftover overflow. The house it sits in front of is at least as high above the creek as my house, yet it’s clear the waters flowed into its yard. There aren’t piles of things, bins of trash, or any evidence of damage to belongings or the house itself, just trails of mud leading down the driveway, across the sidewalk and into the street. Some of it has already been sprayed, shoveled, or rinsed away, either by the residents or mother nature. A little of it, enough to engulf a quarter-inch of my shoe, remains behind, a reminder that the flooding itself isn’t the worst part; the aftermath is the worst part.

Compared to the images steadily streaming off the internet, my walk to the store is sedate. Meteorologists say we’re at the end of the storm cycle and should expect nearly a week of welcome sunshine starting later today. In the misty morning darkness it doesn’t feel like respite is as close as they say. Then again, this is Colorado, where rain comes and goes in the blink of an eye and we enjoy more sunshine than any other state in the US.

Of course, this is also Colorado, where it never rains more than an hour or two and we average less rain annually than we’ve received in the last five days.

In the middle of last week, my friends were still planning life as normal. Emails were bandied about suggesting social events, hikes and game days. Instead our weekend was filled with attention and diversion. My roommate complained to me about a couple in their 20s sitting in a restaurant silently checking their phones for his entire meal. “If there were any time where I consider that forgivable, it’s now,” I tell him. After all, I’m glued to my facebook, google+ and twitter feeds. It’s full of retrieved photos and videos, from mudslides in Boulder Canyon to this footage my friend Tyler took of his apartment (I can’t relate to the images, as I only saw the aftermath).

During breaks in Sunday’s football games, I was flipping to news coverage, at once entranced by the images and disgusted by the amateur reporting. At the end of the Broncos game, a report on CBS came on interviewing a man in Longmont whose basement full of memorabilia was ruined by the flooding. My jaw dropped as I recognized Wayne, the man who runs Time Warp Comics. I’ve been going to his store for years, and while not more than acquaintances, I know him well enough to recognize the pain he was trying to hide in his voice. “Who’s Wayne?” my roommate asked just before the tag shows up on-screen. Apparently, I gasped his name. I didn’t notice the lump in my throat until I tried to answer her.

I feel brittle and breakable. It’s an uncommon feeling for me. My favorite fortune cookie of all time read, “You must stand tall like giant tree in storm.” It’s more hilarious when playing the In Bed game, but it’s also advice I’ve never felt capable of ignoring. Stoicism, patience, and study are the virtues I tend to exemplify, even when I get them wrong or they’re the wrong tactic to employ.

Luckily, not all the news is as overwhelming. Eric, one of the senior instructors at Eldora, made a slogging, harrowing escape from Lyons with his family. They appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN. I’ve never met his daughter, but the way in which she speaks about their exodus strikes me as admirable.

But that’s just it: this is just what we do. We survive. We move on.

I approach the Safeway around the corner while the sun is still hidden beyond the horizon. The doors haven’t been unlocked yet. There’s a man standing in the mist outside sipping coffee. His tall, heavy boots seem mismatched with his now damp t-shirt and shorts. We chit-chat until the doors open. Our regular small talk has been replaced with questions of where the local shelters are, if we heard anything new, and where to go to help. How can it not be? Still, the moment the doors unlock, we rush off to gather our groceries. Ceiling tiles are missing or askew, a dozen white barrels carefully placed beneath the openings to catch dripping water. The buckets seem mostly empty, the dripping barely a trickle from the wide, flat roof of the shopping center.

It’s actually raining again as I leave, not hard enough to cause me discomfort, but enough that I burrow more deeply beneath my hood for the walk home. I contemplate whether the rain will water down the cup of coffee in my hand before telling myself to quit being such a priss. A little wet coffee is nothing compared to what’s happening elsewhere. Besides the well covered destruction, several of my friends are up in arms about what the flooding has done to fracking operations and why there’s little to no news coverage of that yet.

The gym of the YMCA is already hopping with activity when I walk in. Though the University of Colorado reopened today, Boulder’s schools aren’t so lucky. Crestview Elementary, site of the largest Y-run after school program at which I’ve worked, is flooded and may not reopen for a week or more. The rest of school district has its issues as well and has decided to remain closed Monday and Tuesday. Boulder itself, however, has already moved past the five stages of grief and right into the rebuilding phase. The Mapleton Y has been appropriately coopted for a Red Cross shelter, so we’re left with the Arapahoe Y for our use. No one is sure how many kids will show up. A slapdash schedule is thrust into my hands as I enter.

The most amazing part of working with 100-plus kids displaced from their schools by the flooding is how normal everything seems. They play games, draw, tell stories, joke. No one asks about the flooding. No one asks if anyone else came through ok. It’s not until late in the afternoon another staffer even poses the question to me. Under other circumstances, I’d chalk it up to denial. I can sense the questions rising like a tide inside me. But it’s just us coping, moving forward, focusing on what needs to happen rather than on what happened and, honestly, is still happening.

The sun appears a little before lunch. I’m shocked at how brightly it shines. The ground is still damp on the hillside where I sit telling stories. It’s one of a dozen subtle differences, but the kids seem slightly more involved, nodding gravely as I weave a story involving a boy who gets washed down a river. I can see sunken red eyes and tired demeanors, several of the children noticeably worn down by the weekend. One of the consequences of a job with kids in that I will be used as a jungle gym, a stuffed animal, a human doll. It happens to all the staff, but today, they seem to do it more readily, holding more tightly. For the first time at the Y, a movie is on our schedule. “Are we watching Finding Nemo?” I joke. It flies right by as they point to the non-water-related flick listed on the schedule. I wince, thinking, too soon.

If there weren’t so many little things, I’d think it was all just in my head. It’s just a normal day at the Y with kids. It’s camp 2.0. But it adds up to an indelible impression.

I get off the bus near the Foothills bike path where it crosses under Arapahoe Avenue. It also crosses under six feet of murky water at the moment. Walking along the path, there are now two streams running along each side respectively. Washed over vegetation and drying tracks through a fine film of mud are visible in the corner of my eye no matter how hard I stare at my shoes. A raging torrent where three waterways meet the actual creek gives me pause. Closing my eyes, I can’t connect the loud rumble of the water with the burning dry heat of the sun.

When I arrive home, my social networks are full of renewal and rebuilding even at this early stage. We’ve collectively gone from “oh my god” to “what now?” It’s both daunting and promising. I’ve been slowly checking Tyler’s electronics once they’ve dried. So far, despite mud, muck and water inside, everything’s worked. Compared to Josh, who’s using his quarry’s heavy machinery to help Lyons dig out, it’s a minor victory.

Jamestown, Salina, Longmont, Lyons and many of the small mountain towns aren’t nearly as lucky. Footage and stories are still trickling down much like the water, a raging torrent too moving and painful to really grok from here.

Despite the pain, moments throughout the past few days have felt disturbingly normal. That’s part of the odd joy of being from Boulder. We’re blessed with interesting people doing interesting things in an interesting place. There’s never been much normal around here. Now that we want normal so badly, it seems strangely contrived. I can see people smile as they offer small talk, but there’s nothing small about it anymore. Every sentence holds hidden messages and emotional baggage. There are undercurrents of fear, pain, anger, and sadness to balance the resolve, relief, elation, and caring so many are finding. It’s all just beneath the surface.

“Having a Subaru Outback with studded snow tires doesn’t help when you have to ford your driveway,” writes one of my friends. She tags it #boulderflood and #firstworldproblems.

At the very least, I think, we seem to be inching closer to our baseline level of weird.