An historical archive of the year of the great flood.

Thursday, Sept. 12th. Rain grows a beard, becomes the wrathful Old Testament god, or some guy drunk in a bar. He opens his red and black maw and swallows us all up. Outside, there is just flood. Infamous, the Hundred Year Flood, which is really the 500 Year Flood, and some will say the millennial flood. Holy holy!

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 Matt and Julie’s half sunken backyard the Stoke’s house underwater, and 4 rogue propane tanks in the river dancing in trippy slow circles and hissing from their punctures; the insistent smell of propane settles in over Jamestown.

Some houses, we don’t know the numbers yet, totally destroyed, gone down with the flood. We hike up to Mesa St., crossing 12th on some shaky old boards. We stand on Rutiger’s big porch and watch roofs, walls, hot tubs, decks sail swiftly past, every iteration of plastic, attached, snatched, there’s rubbish everywhere. Lower Main and Ward Streets are 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. The rain beating on the houses has broken in. Nancy’s guitar case flows by to our silence and awe.

Friday the 13th. 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 up from the east in her silver veils, soft as my mother’s hands to soothe us all.

Later, I go down to the sight and sound- MYTHIC!- of 5 , 6 ,8 army assault helicopters landing in a parade procession, loading up refugees and slashing away. Many friends have left. Our town leaders want everybody to go. But I was gone for a month already this summer with the hip surgery. And the dogs are here! The cars are here! The garden and house, perfectly placed to last eons, and we have so much food, and beer and propane to boil rain water, and we 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 either. 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.

The rescuing army descends on Jamestown with attack helicopters and desert storm fatigues in daylight. Loud and terrible panic for hours. Anxiety, heavy, the only thing unshredded by the rotary blades. Or maybe it’s like the Allies marching into Poland, and I should feel joyous and liberated. I do not.

When the last helicopter of the day leaves, i stay behind with the unevacuated, rolling in the wind with empty small plastic FEMA water bottles and all the trash to pray at the river. It is all River. Standing at the edge of the big park where we have all obediently stayed off the grass for years, i call the directions, sobbing softly. I get immediately diverted in the direction of west, the waters…the waters…the diverting holy waters! i cannot get over praising the waters: HO! Ho to the power of water, 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 pure celebration and absolute innocence, the magnificent enthusiasm, the fucking POWER of every drop.

As the shattered air knits back together, remembering patterns of rotary blades, quieting slowly, finally, it is so still, so beautifully stil, all at rest but that brown flood there, there, there, laughing sweetly. Rubble everywhere that used to be the road, chaos everywhere that used to be our lives. Brown waterfalls 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, crashing waterfalls. The wrecking ball, swung, swings on; reverb like a bowling ball down through the echoing lane of the cosmos. Another meeting, we hear, at 6 to check in with the commUnity.

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 enough. Maybe this is all a dream. Maybe i can make deals with gods….just this bedroom! Just this round window view of meadows lounging towards Nugget Hill. Just these mountains!

At the meeting we learn there is no way down. Boulder Canyon is gone. Hwy. 7 is gone. Left Hand Canyon is gone. So, even if we could get out of this canyon in a vehicle, there is no way down to Boulder. There is no infrastructure.
A fresh blast of thunder rolls through. This is the canyon that only helicopters can drive. This pile of stones, 5feet high, 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 phrase 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. 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.

Saturday, Sept. 14th: 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!” We give Barny a Xanax and some more pot oil, leash the dogs and head down the mountain. And we push toward that terrible roar, grab our shit, and we reach the frenzied park with the freaked out dogs, and the FEMA water bottles. Just below us, tilted gently down toward that violent roaring and the civilization-tainted brown water, the 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, geese, chickens, subalterns all, herded by men and women in yellow hard hats and khaki mud-plastered government issued trousers. Their kindness. Our choiceslessness. Tiny Plastic water bottles crowd the big new stage in the park that never was.

The fascism of the moment hovers over all 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 Joey’s dead as our options fall like houses into the flood, our lives suddenly shrunk, desiccated as rich fat 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 xanax, 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 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, the whining of dogs and gears 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,12 minutes. Years after, I’ll still be up there, like some photograph my body had taken. And the storm moving out at last, a flinch in my memory.

A child’s etch a sketch dissolves in time as the sky shakes itself out, the rain dissipating pixel by pixel, nothing left but the breeze and the light. The consequences, vivid, for years to come. And the army hands us off to the cops, 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.

Life rolls like a marble, like a cat. 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.

I am a woman of black and white judgements, a fundamentalist artist and activist, a radical feminist, an outsider, an outlaw; I measure the blade of my outcast shadow against every landscape. So much of this journey balanced on oppositional reactions, on edges, on knifeblades; my compass spins all critiques to true north. But this crisis, 8 weeks old today, has taken me down a rabbit hole of smashed certainties; everyone’s face is a mirror beaming me back into peace, into smile, into balance. I allign.

The helicopters that land and take off, rescuing us, over and over, are army attack helicopters, forged for war. The army bears us down, the folks who take us when we land, tender and vulnerable evacuees in a strange land, are the cops, who I’ve feared my whole life. Behind the uniforms, they are kind. Next, the Feds, who’s faces were patient and kind , surrendered up checks and offers of assistance, FEMA, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army piled gifts at our still wet feet. The big machines and their men, big stinky roaring heretofore terrible men and machines dug out the rubble, built roads and bridges, sculpted gentle slopes from harsh cliff edges, saving us. I only use small power tools, blenders and vibrators; always hated the destructive machines on sight, on principle. The second week, the Texas Baptist Men arrived in force, set up a presence in our town, and totally blew my little mind. Not all Baptists carry “god hates fags” signs at funerals, not all are racist and misogynistic and ignorant.

Contradictions. I struggle. I stop struggling and start celebrating. This is the gift, Paradox: complicate my beloved rigidity, the walls falling echo, my head buzzes always now with the clang of fortresses falling; the hoof ringing correction coming and shaking me and kissing me, and raising me up in my own estimation. A connection, a glow in my hearth, fresh eyes in my heart fill me up and the spiked stories i’ve told lie down, gentled as bedding for gardens where seeds warm winter with their tiny waiting, their fresh breath, defying death, correcting complicated contradictions. Paradox. The religion inside the seed. I am drawn closer to the center now, the edges that crumbled and fell in the roar of the rivers reverberate, and I begin to learn to soften, to relax. I walk, carrrying my life from side to side. Step. Step. Balancing like a wire walker, all sureties lapsing into babble.

The Baptists are gone now; the only yellow hat to be seen is an artifact nailed to the town hall office. And it’s hard not to feel that I am experiencing some tense in addition to the present. These trees, older than any person, fill my forest view. This Milky Way, these ancient stars, this glint breeze cloud, this conversation, this conversion, this land, altering beneath our breath, caught consciously in history, going to seed all around us. Fallowing. All of us, consciously posing in history’s shutter. Snap. This orbiting gravity, entropy, Fate, sinking all this sand into every crevice.

What we have lost, what wants to become. Swim in the flux, past piles of filed rubbish-that was our habits, that was our meaning, fluctuate like seasons, the wheel of light turning, the rubble ordering, sit in this angle of sun, this morning with this tea and these dogs and feel it, beating metronomes of shussshing; it’s the Big Secret, the mystery of participation, not lost, this door to the cosmos has been waiting, always, framed by the residue of dreams, swinging on improbably hinges, step through friend. Leave the gaping emptiness behind and find treasure here and now, extending transcendent ripples as i toss my stone into still waters and change everything, again.

Shoved and stripped and suffering landscape; one perfect dandelion flower peeks smiling through it all. Paradox: hold me tight. Surround me in soft blankets as you stab me in the mind, over and over. Knead me like this. Soften. Soften. Forgive. Surrender. mind full of slashes spills over to relax.

Tilted, golden meadow opens wings in all directions, a body of light and seedheads glittering, a rough silk pocket, a promise, a prairie, witness to geologic expeditions and my mind, braiding, unbraiding me and old autumn flowers beneath the big black crows. Gleaming bird hinges, open and close and mountains lean in to hold me as i rehearse wings and tune my throat for the next iteration of me. Ten thousand tress watch me here, pin me down, now. Bang me in the heart, stroke my eyes, close the circle of my mind like a nest. All the wild exhausted passion filled birds, resting.

Sit at the saddle overlooking Nugget Hill. This is the theater, the stage where i climb the curtains on cat claws. Here bevelled edges of evergreens everywhere connecting, union from separation: devour me! Make me YOU. Take all my I’s away; leave my eyes singing wonder and the willingness in my heart. Make me calm as you are, soothe me with a joining.

Oyster sky, dying season, late November. This is the dark and the cold lonely rest. Nest here with a thousand unnamed birds. With life underground, all warm breath and big plans for springtime. Wait, take new shape, ride this big black bird through the tunnel of tragic post-disaster recovery. This town’s a hospital with a great view, or a hospice in the biggest view. The river’s a liquid oracle, flowing past. Take it. Grateful.

Wild turkey tracks are arrows in the snow the size of my hand, pointing their progression up the hill. Giant hiking birds. Miracles everywhere, hidden and gobbling. Stay safe…2 days till thanksgiving. We whisper together through nights beneath lights of long gone stars that shine this sky and the world bows down and the sun leaks through to touch hearts trustingly wandering space. Ponderosas wiggle like puppies, so glad to see me and this now. Shadows pass, kissing the shine to flicker to cool to burst again into light.

High forest trail, the quiet is a silken roar, a relative rumble in my skull. The sky is cobalt, the trees iron-silvered by sun. Goddess cracks the egg to this freshened morning snow-globe, this sparkle silent tableau, a nursery of trees, a grave resurrecting eternally. Old sentinels, pine and fir, friends greet me every snowy step of the way, calumping down the trail i make steam.

Above the destruction, just a slight beep-beep charge to the molecules of air, just the shadow fact to our days, disturbed and reassured by the big machines below. Beep. Season in flux, seeds crushed, flown, leaves gone, heat still emanates from that ancient sun, slides up the angles of repose. I built my house on purple rocks, on a nest, deliberate as a crow. What i know about flow is a flood in September. And forests thick with cloud lust and bluejays. Woodpecker hammers the same dead crucifix of phone pole she hammered yesterday. Will rattle skull for food. Beep.

I walk the park loop. All so cleaned up and all so exposed. Enormous tower of trees stacked in smashed memory of roots and birds nests and squirrel runs. Packed with stones and swabbed in sand coats; giant puzzle of pick up sticks, broken bones, splintered, shredded, jagged jengas against the oceanic sky. Patterns of breaking and beginning again, the stardust of our bodies and the symmetry of autumn; austerity calling. I walk time in it’s skeleton, learning that we are unlimited by our bodies. Fold me into the world batter like that. The last roaring of the huge machines spins a circle round us, furious and kind. Dusk coming now.

December. Heated leather seat beneath me, sun warming the world around me, luxury humming my name. Hurtling over and past Rubbleville, bound for Babylon again. Great beat on the radio rockin’ me round the high curves past Ward, and the pyramids of 14-ers rockin’ back. This bronze meadow is a soufflé whooshed and settling in full views of the Divide. I follow 2 semis, and 3 semis follows me. Trucks carry giant pipes, culverts, porta pottys, giant trucks haul other giant trucks, hauling giant shovels. The Peak to Peak is an industrial corridor now, it’s I25 in the sky.

Nederland reservoir. The lake, chained to banks, breaks, blasting surf and splinters against the dam of today, again. I pull over. The shine heaving heavy water leans hard, leaps at the dam like a dog at the door, driven. Thinnest mist jumps the barricade, making a wish on freedom. Rocks watch, growing nostalgic and soft for the wild wishing, the splish splashing of water under the hammered silver surface. A thousand textures grab me, hold me here. Simple as a seed. Simple as a mountain. Cars pass, running late, they scheme and steer. Drivers pretend to control. Ha! Water. Water! Water!

Hearty cottonwoods light the way down, lantern me all the way to Boulder, to Longmont, leave the aspens behind, naked in the winds of 9,000 feet, remembering gold. My blood is thin and wild like me, like this torrential hundred year, million year flood, it hurtles through my body at waterfall rates. It races throughout the unexploded chambers of my heart, tidal in the arteries, pressure through the veins, hauling stones and trees, scrubbing me out. Volatile and powerful, shrinking and expanding, i learn how to be the right size for my world, also not standard, also in flux. Me. My world. And all the bridges rushed and collapsing in flood. Me. My flood.

Down James Canyon, the goat trail, first time in daylight. Needing new words for smash, for rubble. Trees felled in the creek, car-sized rocks piled, I have to stop by the lovely meadow at Madam Curie’s and cry and cry for what was and what’s left. Asphalt like pastry smashed. Every bridge for 5 miles buckled, unbuckled. Some recognizable artifacts: Mattresses, dresser, crib, crushed car. Another. I park at the confluence, turn off the engine, open the window to the rage of wind, listen to waters echo off rock. Evidence neatly filed everywhere you look. Piles of cables. Plywood. Gates. Propane tanks. Hot tubs. Everything sorted. Imagine the physical world through the mechanical vision of a track hoe, wed to a dumpster.

Nighttime. My friends down below in cities don’t know about starlight on broken stone, the final forest shading a cradle. River breath. Star pulse. Moon coming back, over and over in this canyon, gouged by moonlight, enrubbled in starlight, you go slow. The lips of road are harsh, you gotta crawl in 1st gear, roll in neutral, ease over and through.

I walk up Ward Street, opened like a wound, parted like a stone shattered sea, stunned; Here’s where the river wants to be, so we move. The earth is bruised with giant tire treads, culverts stacked and ready, and the river now on the other side! Still fearlessly rushing. Still supercharged for November, pooling deep, running loud velvet shusshes, piled with big rocks, rubble organized, civilized, order satisfied, i walk on. Past trash i can reach, and trash i can’t. Plastic everywhere now, laughing at our recycling efforts, fridge doors, and big screen tv’s, sand stung Samsungs, and cars, and toilets, bike helmet and horizontal whole walls of houses, the wind seducing all materials down the trail of dust. A bunch of failed sandbags – their drama shall not be forgotten!- beside a huge fallen fir that took out Karen Z’s house. The creek keeps singing, writing her own number for Jamestown Flood: The Musical. Voice of the wind in morning says hush. Mountains slow becoming dust and this mountain town crouching, beaten down, wanting more life, giving so much love, taking so much rescue, reminding me of me.

Disaster wallpaper wraps round our eyes daily, the majesty of Porphrey’s Dike, the soft roar of the river. At the park , dead trees that were our friends, that were our lungs, our companions on the road are chunked, sticking ripping silent mass of witness and evidence both. I go down to the river. I stand atop snow-covered rubble, watching asphalt hang a pouting lip over, rippled, ripped up and edged in orange cones like a giant’s tacky necklace. Trees down here, willows, stand creekside, marked for always by the flood. Big bites gnashed out, twice as tall as i am standing, arms torn off, witness and evidence both. consider the untold tales of mute lumber. The mud covered 2×4’s, a nail stabbed section of roof, some tongue in groove still groovin’, plywood circles, shingles, pink shreds of fiberglass, donkey dick, stovepipe, and a tire mired in mud. The parts greater than the whole, pick-up-sticks everywhere, undo the process of creation and here is what’s left.

The road is terrible tonight, shredded to the 10th power. I am a stone on the side of the road in winter, sprayed with incomprehensible number system, in hot pink paint. i direct the giant vehicles and men in this emptied canyon under a lowering sky.

January. Morning: A new road bed above the river rises. This morning i drive down, following a big work truck, with the fire chief behind me. When we stop, i watch the giant trucks line up to side-tip tons of stone over the edge of the road; watch a backhoe shove the rock into place; watch the heavy steel roller machine drive over it all, back and forth, packing the future gateway down. I sit now, 10 p.m., stoned, car turned off and pulled way over, rocking in these outrageous moaning winds that suffer the trees, buffet the air, over the fur of the sleeping bears. Wind insinuating into every crack of window and forest, fur coat and cave.

And it does no good to try and memorize the number of drops and shreds in the canyon road’s surface, cos these change daily. I count them anyway. This canyon road is alive. The flood was a living thing and the recovery is a living thing. I depend for my life on this road, he is a steady flowing solid lifeline beside the river. Huge dented, mud splattered golden trucks, tanks, dozers and hoes are constructing him back again, bashing him loose, prying trees and boulders from his shoulders, shredding these and growing out and up, and up, the plank of road rising like a window washer’s scaffolding outside a skyscraper in my headlights under this full moon. Hand over hand, pulleyed past our windows as we roll on down, the roadbed rises, my breath panting too for the effort of his resurrection.

This is an ode to the machines: the roar, the extraction of the machines, the diesel, the heaving tread, the early morning bang and stink, the holy miracle of something like forgiveness, mercy and power all ground up like huge chunks of asphalt, a composite conglomeration used, re-used, all in the name of continuing.

Spring, 2014, Remembering, pale stones tremble at the bottom of a god called Spring. Waiting for it, remembering is stitched into the stacked twitching corpses of trees and shrubs, some of my friends still trembling. Culverts, pavement, new gorges tumble still, 6 months later in dreams of green that will soon soften all but the memories, and fit life will return, giggling.

Enrubbled and over the enchantment of the adventure. It’s just sad and exhausting to face everyday. The dead trees, the debris choking all life…it’s spring, dammit, and i can’t tolerate the gloom anymore. My town trembles on all edges, breathes shakily, stumbles forward. Life, freshened always, smiles through the tears. Heart exposed, bandana over my nose, roaring in my ears, forward. My eyes flash in the sun, moving restless between road i drive and river that rushes beside. Alive! Alive! We: the bruised exhausted road, the happy, happy river, these witnessing eyes, all alive and shining.

Passover. Icicles in moonlight on treees in the forest and fenders in the parking lot. Full moon seder. Fire and icicles. The wind blasts us with wet icy droplets and bonfire roars at our feet and the full moon shows us to ourselves again, at last.

At the confluence, James Creek meets Left Hand, slicing, silken dragon down, past pretzled guardrails and shredded steel bridges. James so much muddier from all the machines in her twisted flow, thrashing upstream, heavy against the banks and my heart, smell of willow rushes splashes my head, my chest, my body fused to this event. The twin events of 2013, hip and flood braid as these 2 creeks, entwined tumbling, roaring down trapped in the Laws: gravity, entropy, fate, time pulling me down the fat braid of their rope. these stones, these bones, remember.

First rain, the sequin shot land slides by me, driving under a hammock of horizon hung with green softness, dangle here awhile. Pull over at the redstone cliffs lit with apple blossoms beside the song of river pouring brown, reminding me of flowing water in another time of rain. I drove a different car then. Oh, goddess of the sandbar. Goddess of the backwash, of new islands and flood worn commuter residents. Trauma in the gather, in the clotting skies, trauma in the sudden humid breath, the fall of drops, the quickening. Trauma in the roar, the green holding its verdant breath with me. The past weighs heavy as all the rocks in this ruined canyon.

I stand before the sandbox like a 4 year old boy, enraptured in wonder. Elyssian Park, it’s May and in my next life incarnation this morning, i wanna be a giant hydraulic front loader. The sandbox is my town. I don’t wanna be a truck driver, one of those dudes bouncing and skillfully spun all day behind heavy gears, i wanna Be the Gears. I wanna be the push, the lift, the shove, the DO. Backhoe, earth mover, track hoe, the big purple dump truck parked across from the town hall: I have a big crush on you, rock crusher. And Komatsu! Ah, you!

Komatsu, i chant, climbing the mountain of mud Komatsu has built for himself. So easy to worship this god, this Mars, this action being. Up here, on Sunday, he rests supreme. His cab locked- yes i tried!- the inner sacntum filled with warning stickers. O, Komatsu! Save us! Under the great arched neck of your iron trestle I sit on the bold bucket and write this down. Great force turning the earth, spring rising all around. You rolling over every surface shouting “Yes! I can! Yes, I can!”

Oak Chezar
Jamestown, Colorado


Comments on: "Oak’s remembrance of the Jamestown flood one year ago today" (1)

  1. Oak’s rememberance of the flood, her richly poetic essay, is a magnificent creation. It fills our senses and seeps into our blood stream and tear ducts. It tells us how the experience brought her enlightenment, transfiguring old stereotypes about the nature of nature and previously held social views. Bravo Oak!

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