Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Flooding in Binghamton, Part I

In June of 2006, Binghamton, NY made the news with the disastrous flooding that brought Broome County to a standstill. There hadn’t been a flood in 78 years, and officials felt safe in calling it a 100-year flood. Last Wednesday, areas of my city were once more being evacuated and my basement was under water. Most of us experience natural disasters as the current news story. In a population this large, most of them don’t affect us personally. We think the danger ends when we stop hearing about it, but for the survivors that’s when it begins. What follows is the first of five days of me, experiencing the flood, mostly personal with some relevant perspectives.

What’s happening here is still happening.

September 7, 2011
To evacuate or not to evacuate.
We were prepared to lose power and water...

It had been raining a lot, as my green tomatoes lusting after sunshine could attest to. Wednesday afternoon, they said the flooding could be as bad as it was in June of 2006. Considering that many people and businesses have only just finished rebuilding, it was enough to create warranted fear. In 2006, the house my apartment is in had been spared from more than water in the basement, sitting high above the flood stages though close to the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers. I prepared the same way I had five years ago, by raising the electronics off the floor, just in case some water came up through the boards.
My landlord came by and pumped the water out of the basement twice during the day. While I couldn’t gauge the rate of the rising water, I felt like I didn’t have to worry. In 2006, the water stopped three inches from the first-story floorboards, and that was after 24 hours. But then the rain came, pummeling and pelting the sides of the house with a force I could not recall hearing anywhere else… except at a campground in the Adirondacks in my childhood. It was raining so hard, we were watching tiny rivulets of rivers forming and sweeping past us as my dad and brother tried to level the trailer. I remember someone pulling my brother out from underneath it and the fear of the almost-accident as a jack slipped in the mud.
That day I understood something terrible could have almost happened for one of the first times in my youth and that feeling was settling in me, in my adult body. I am not special. I have to reason to assume that we will be spared again, just because we were before. Fear crept over me as the rain continued, unrelenting. By the time the dark set in, the news was saying it was probably going to be worse than 2006. And our landlord, who lives a few blocks away, came by to pump again and told us he had been evacuated from his home.
I set to motion and filled every container I could find with water, in case our water treatment plants were flooded out. I lit candles on my Ancestor Altar and prayed to those who came before me, who weathered floods, tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes, earthquakes and more. I didn’t pray for them to save me or to stop the flood- that’s not in my cosmology. I prayed to their spirit inside me and sought the strength and courage of their past survivals to quell my current fears. We might have to leave our home. We could lose everything. But we would survive. That breath made it easy to relax into doing what needed to be done. Waiting.
Every hour, I went down to the basement to check the water level. The sound of water rushing into the basement was too loud, magnified by the reflective surface creeping upward. But the creeping was slow enough and we would be okay. At some point, the rest of the house went to bed. I couldn’t sleep. Instead, I kept vigil by the hour and left the news open on my computer. I had just begun to calm after reading that those who were going to be evacuated were receiving automated phone calls when the phone rang. It was the automated messaging system, instituted after the previous flood, telling us that three new areas were being evacuated around me.
I couldn’t tell if we were in the areas or not. After ten years I don’t know all the street names and I had to pull the map out to verify. Not us, but we were so close I wasn’t sure I could assume we’d be fine. And what about our cats? If we did evacuate, where would we go? Where could we take them? In a natural disaster, if you wait too long to go elsewhere, your choices of what to save get smaller and your options of physical ways to safety shrink vastly.
I don’t know what choice I would have made had we been pushed. I sat up all night, checking the basement every hour, and waiting for the knock on the door of men telling us we had to leave, prepared for them to pry my cat from my cold, dead fingers (because I would not have been able to leave her behind). But Bella slept in my lap as I waited, mentally running through checklists. I backed up all of my files and photos on sticks and put them in a Ziploc bag to take with me.
Looking around, I realized that, next to my partner and my two cats, in the core of me I truly believed that I could leave everything else behind. I made a pact, not with deity, but with myself, and I spoke it aloud to my Ancestors. If we were evacuated and the four of us managed to get to safety, I would accept the loss of everything else. And the fear of losing things ebbed in me.
It was a sleepless night of waiting, checking road closures and accessible evacuation centers. It was scarier in the dark, when the sound of the rain was so heavy on the skin of our house, filling slowly with water in its bowels. The raging storm outside served as isolator. Everything is scarier in the dark. I greeted the dawning sky with a weary sigh and allowed my eyes to close, if only for a few hours. I would let the morning show me what was yet to come.

Tomorrow: Part II, My City is Underwater


  1. Although I knew my home was not in much danger, the anticipation of the flood on behalf of my friends, neighbors, and coworkers had me in a similar mindset... Thank you for sharing. I eagerly await part II.

  2. Nature is powerful and the idea of losing hold of our material lives is daunting. I felt similarly during the night the hurricane hit us here in New Jersey. I found myself uneasy and unable to sleep in the pounding rain and howling wind. I heard trees near by topple and I feared they would on us while we slept. You captured that feeling very well in this piece.


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