What is a flood to a fish. Fast running earth softening apocalypse.
White water parted around park benches. Is there a little low cabin
of stiller cold current stable along the stirred up muck lined basin.
Does the flood happen far above the heads of fish. Wait it out
weighted out way deep down. Beneath high water. New real estate.
New adventure. Was the fish’s world expanded by a natural disaster.
Thick rich one percent water heavy with death and nutrients.
Button eyes glued on and bulged out, flake of shiny black sequin set in a droplet of water
and loose to roll around while each slippery scaly arrowheaded wing throated muscle
patiently packed with tin cans rolling across the bottom of so many drowned rivers.
Horny heads hidden in creeks. Bass buried bellies brushing the bottom
of every many layered lake. Is that it, to fish, a flood. More traffic delay than catastrophe.
Bringing off the beaten path shortcuts into possibility. Honey get off at the bridge.
What bridge? I never saw a bridge here before. How could that be.
Well it never was underwater before.
I see. Said a blind fish. Lost in filth laden busybody highly agitated medium. Fast falling.
Dirty. Rich. Maybe floods are the opposite. For fish. When the weather is rough.
People hide inside and wonder how high the creek might rise,
how much more the lake can swallow before it is finally full.
But for fish, maybe a flood, means time to go to school.
The river always wanted to climb a mountain. Watch it. Rising higher. Growing whiter. Wilder. Spitting out tree trunks roots still attached. Streams and creeks and snaking roadway gutters running fast as they can to get down off the mountain. Sweating. Soiled. Stumbling several steps, unstoppable. Making a run on the banks. The river wants to take its money and run. It wants to climb a mountain. So it eats them. Inch by mile etched furrows that segment land masses and imperfectly complete them. One side to the other. Between ridges. The irony to write here how rivers are like bridges. How often roads run along them. Set their course on them. Bows up all proud in the summer brown shoulders and swallowing boulders reaches out a hand, and rivers and roads will dance. All twisted tightly together in and throughout the sharp, river etched mountains of southwest Virginia. But when the music has ended, there are places the road must go where the river can not follow. And there are places where the road can not stand it any longer, and takes off headlong down the mountain after it. The two are tied together, linked, but it would be a mistake to take it as indication of similarity. The river always wanted to be a mountain. It is always eating rocks and mud and trees and things.
But every road is already a river.
Anyone who has ever built a road or trail knows, or even just looked close.
It’s like my grandfather would say.
Don’t build a house below the road.
What I want to say here today is about how we build towns in low places.
Now I don’t mean lowly, or head stooped, or humbled. I am talking altitude.
Down between the bases of barriers. Mountains. Like rivers.
We even seem to dig valleys deeper.
So everytime I come close to town I am walking down.
It strikes me in this moment that this is not a rare
or new or unusual instinct for a creature to have.
In fact, going over the historical math, we, as a species,
have a longstanding history of stacking lives up high in low places.
So it makes sense so much of our myths are full with fear of floods.
Waters rising. Of frantically fleeing above.
And I want to say the answer today is not a bigger boat.
Or a taller tower, higher stacked along quartz clay barriers.
It’s simpler than that.
So simple in fact.
It fits in a backpack.
Hanging from the dented shoulders of just about every person
I’ve met and shared space with on an average hiking day.
A little food. A liter of water or two. And some shelter.
A sort of parachute to carry you once you abandon the plane.
Climb away from the town we built up tall in a low down place.
We are intended to fear floods the rest of our lives
for never following mountains to their full height.
And see, even then, land sandwiched by sea.
What I want to say here today.
I don’t believe a flood could swallow this place any more than oceans already have.
I want to reconsider how many myths were written by people who only build in valleys.
Never lived out of a backpack. Clearly haven’t climbed high enough to know
there are places in this sort of place that will never be touched by floods.
If you don’t believe me, you should go. Spend some time with mountains.
Just be warned. After a month or so,
you may have to find new things to be afraid of.