The Power of Water

Saturday, May 23 was when I got back to San Antonio from Alpine after spending a week there for a workshop for science educators hosted by Sul Ross State University. It was raining pretty hard when we unloaded our luggage out of the bus we took to Alpine and into our cars to get home. Driving north on the interstate, I noticed the warning signs that usually warn of car accidents said something very strange: flooding had caused the interstate to be closed up ahead. Fortunately it was north of where I had to exit to get home, so I didn’t get caught in the growing traffic jam.

It turned out that the normally placid Blanco River had been hit by some very heavy rain up in the Hill Country by Wimberley and had flooded a record 40 feet, spilling over the interstate, washing away homes, trees, and cars, and killing several people. It made not only national but international news. By Sunday I had received several calls from people asking if my husband and I were OK. Fortunately our house is on high ground.

This is how droughts end in Texas: with floods. When my dad died, he left me his canoe, and the first time by husband and I took it out was on the Blanco River in Wimberley near a weekend cabin my sister-in-law has on its banks. We had to drag the canoe for quite a ways before we found water deep enough to float it. Last weekend the flood waters made it all the way up to the back deck of my sister-in-law’s cabin, and she was one of fortunate ones. Some of the other ones in the area were washed away or at least badly damaged. She also wasn’t out there at the time, which was good because the bridges that lead out there were washed away, and some stranded people had to be rescued by helicopter.

This is what the Element of Water can do when you have enough of it. Try thinking about that the next time you are at a Wiccan style ritual and turn to the West. There’s a good reason why cities and civilizations are built on rivers, but rivers giveth and rivers taketh away.

Sunday my husband and I went out to the shores of the Blanco River to look at the damage. I was amazed at the size of the trees the flood was able to uproot and wash away. Huge cypress trees ripped out of the banks of the river, stripped of bark and leaves, and thrust onto bridges 30 feet in the air, or smashed into any man-made structures in the way. Others walked around gawking, searching for treasures the flood might have washed up, and taking pictures. I wish I had brought my camera, and I don’t have a smartphone. I didn’t know what to expect when we decided to go out there to look at what had happened. I thought maybe the media was exaggerating, but I had never seen anything like that in my life.

I saw places where harvester ant nests had been washed out, the underground tunnels now exposed, with worker ants busy trying to repair the damage. They didn’t seem much different from the humans scurrying around the scene, except the ants were more focused on rebuilding rather than gaping in awe at the destruction. Ants don’t think about how small they are, and when their infrastructure is destroyed, they just start rebuilding right away. Humans forget how small we are, so when Nature reminds us we are just like the ants, and can be washed away so easily, we are stunned and surprised.

I’ll try go out there later this weekend and take some pictures to show you what I’m talking about, but the news has already been full of similar images you might have seen already. It’s just different actually standing there, next to a tree maybe four or five feet in diameter that the flood waters had picked up, dragged across a soccer field (leaving a deep gouge in the muddy ground for several yards) and smashed into a bench, pulverizing the concrete and limestone blocks it was made of. You can’t take a picture of the smell of wet wood and mashed vegetation and water and mud in the air. I’m sure the city hasn’t started cleaning up yet, since we’ve had flood warnings almost every day since then. No use in trying to repair the damage when we could get another flood any day now. But now it’s starting to look like things are calming down. The chance of rain is only 20% for the next several days, and at my house at least, the sun is out again.

I can tell we’re going to be talking about “The Memorial Day Flood” around these parts for a long time to come. Last I hear they’ve found six bodies, ranging in age from 6 to 74. Six more are still missing, ranging in age from 4 to 81, and at this point it’s unlikely they’ll be found alive, though I guess there’s always some hope until the actual bodies are found. May those who were swept away by the River be received well by their ancestors.