On a bank of the Big Muddy River
lies an 80’ x 180’ slice of scrappy land.
The owner of a now defunct strip-
club/bar called The Chalet (definitely
not as continental as it sounds) sold
the parcel to us in exchange for my wife’s
much-needed, honest bartending work.
But what if it floods? I asked my
husband before we moved there, after
receiving notice to vacate the tiny,
ticky-tacky box-house that we lived
in that wasn’t ours. It’s the only option
we’ve got, he asserted. So, we
packed up all our belongings (again)
and drove our old RV and ’79 Ford F150
down to the river’s edge to live
on an overgrown ribbon of gray
clay and silt.
Included in the price
were a loose gravel driveway,
an electric pole for service,
and a buried shit tank. So, in the sweltering,
mosquito-humming summer we dug
a 100-foot trench for fresh water.
Then added a pen for the dogs,
a 12’x24’ empty Cook cabin for us
and a 10’x12’ windowed barn for
their boy, thanks to some money
help from my husband’s mother.
At first, we used our cabin as storage
but then had to build walls and
shelves and places to sit and
places to wash, and bathroom,
and lie down—all while moving boxes and
piles of our stuff back-and-forth as we worked.
After some months, we could finally live
in our tiny, little shack, a place for
everything and never everything
in its place. But it was home for
a time. And eventually we added
nice things like an outside bench to watch the
river flow by, a garden for veggies
and a hammock for rest. We collected
bulging sweet, wild blackberries and tart, purple
mulberries, and even hosted visitors for barbeques.
We managed our small sliver of idyllic land
with hard work and pride for almost four years.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric
Administration describes the storm event of
March 10-26, 2006 as the following:
Moderate flooding of the Big Muddy River
occurred after repeated rounds of
thunderstorms…At Murphysboro, where
flood stage is 22 feet, the river crested at
33.80 feet on March 16. Flooding affected
houses just downstream of Bridge Street
After a couple days of steady rain
my husband and I went to
the local, miniscule library—the only
place we could get access to the internet—
to see the NOAA flood stage predictions.
We knew our land was at 30 feet,
the cabin at 31—the line-graph
prediction showed a peak of at least 32.
My stomach sank.
Shit, I said.
For days I watched the snake of a river creep up, inch
by dirty inch, slithering closer to us, its prey,
unhinging its jaw and opening its mouth
wider and wider, much further than it should, gulping,
and burbling in steady, unfeeling, measured increments.
I watched as the river rose up over its banks, then over the road, then
over the gravel in front of our cabin.
I stood on our porch, leaning over the
railing, watching the water slowly trickle
under the floorboards, my stomach sinking again,
knowing it was crawling to meet its counterpart surge
arriving from the backside of the property.
By March 15th the river let itself in
the front door.
We had time to put our important
things up high, and time to move the
car. But how do you explain to the dogs
that there’s no more yard to pee in? So, we
paddle-boated all four large-breeds to and
from the cabin to the end of the road to
pack into our Ford Tempo for potty breaks.
Movies and cartoons had taught me about
flash floods. Dramatic walls of roaring
water, slamming like a freight train into
everything unfortunate enough to find
itself in its path. But this “historic flood
event” taught me that sometimes a flood
comes slow. Unstoppable. Like a steamroller.
Not even considerate enough to cease when
it’s beautiful and sunny outside.
That flood was slow, and we were told
it was the “flood of the century,” a
historic “hundred-year flood.”
Until two years later, another hundred-year flood.
This time at 40 feet. So, we said good-bye
and we left it all behind.