How water acts and how we should during disasters

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28, 2011

Dear Pat,

Though the duration is hardly biblical, more than a foot of rain has fallen over the region the past week. Part of one city has been evacuated, and communities around the region are putting up sandbag defenses. Up and down the Midwest, historic river crests are predicted.

A downtown floodwall, a now-empty flood plain and a concrete flood-control project that snakes through the city protect Cape Girardeau. Only real old-timers remember when boats navigated Main Street during a flood.

Now we know the river's up when the floodwall gates close. It means the Mississippi River needs to spread out, but it won't happen here. That means it will happen somewhere else.

Here in the city, our experiences with flooding are more individual. We encounter flower beds so saturated that the earth is like pudding. Or the city's driving range closes for the first time in memory because the ground is too soggy to retrieve golf balls.

DC and I share a driveway with our neighbors Frank and Robyn. Water is in both of our basements. Theirs flows from their higher backyard. Now the water in their carport is too deep for them to park there. Our water flows from the driveway into an old coal bin at the front of the basement. Both households try to keep ahead of the inundation by running sump pumps.

Sump pumps are mysterious devices. After all, what is a sump? I had to look it up. It's the lowest place -- where the water drains in a basement, the oil pan in an engine, the bilge on a boat. A sump pump sucks up water that collects in a low place and pumps it through a hose elsewhere.

DC and I have two sump pumps, both of which work when they want to. After awhile they simply stop but will work again after a bit of rest. Sort of like me. We try to help them with push brooms, coaxing the water to leave. But water goes where it will.

Be like water, the martial artist and author Joseph Cardillo says. Water is both weak and strong. Spontaneous and free. "You are like the mirror surface of undisturbed water -- your mind still and awake, reflecting everything, lovely or dreadful, without allowing any of it to spoil the calm."

This is how to encounter an opponent and how to encounter the world. Especially when faced with disasters small and large.

I'm glad our downtown stores no longer periodically fill with floodwater but appreciate that floods can replenish land that has been exhausted. That wetlands act like sponges and actually help control flooding. Accomplishing both is possible.

Both the Bible and the Quran report the story of Noah's ark. The story ends with God promising that the people of the earth will never be destroyed by a flood again.

Right now that's reassuring.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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