Slow Flood

Holly Sparkman

Nonfiction Editor

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
in Murphysboro.

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.