Three Feet High And Risin’

How high’s the water, mama?
Three feet high and risin’
How high’s the water, papa?
Three feet high and risin’

Well, the hives are gone,
I’ve lost my bees
The chickens are sleepin’
In the willow trees
Cow’s in water up past her knees,
Three feet high and risin’

– Johnny Cash, “Five Feet High And Rising”

I spent an hour on the telephone last night reassuring my mother in Edmonton that, despite what she was hearing on the news, the entirety of the Red River Valley wasn’t likely to end up washing ashore in Winnipeg. This afforded her some comfort. Undoubtedly the thought will likely provide some comfort to the wonderful folks in Winnipeg as well- I’m sure they’d put us up in a pinch but jacking the buildings square, and taking up residence wherever we came aground, would likely be pushing it a bit.

Ironically, the comfort I was providing my mother was provided to me the previous evening by my neighbor immediately to the north. We’re close enough to the Red River to be concerned, but the majority of our flooding is overland flooding from the opposite direction. Water from the Red might make it close enough to be a serious problem but flood water from our east is already here. And it’s running six inches deep over the highway a mile to our south.

Despite having lived in the area for eight years, and having worked my way through several floods during that time, this year has taken on some of the more disquieting aspects I associate with the 1997 flood. We were living in the valley at the time- but we weren’t living here.

The most water we’ve seen in the immediate area was not a result of the 1997 flood. Our benchmark was set in 2006. However, 2006 better resembled the spring floods we’re accustomed to and with that familiarity comes a sense of . . . empowerment. You know the water is coming, where the water is going to rise first, and what has to be accomplished, in what order, to keep the structures and livestock dry. 1997 was chaotic and, in areas too close to home, devastating.

My neighbor helped put things in perspective. We didn’t discuss what the river gauges are telling us, or what we were hearing on the news, but rather where the water was in relation to the floor of his chicken coop and workshop in ’97. We spoke about water levels in respect to the nails in his utility pole marking previous highs. And it was comforting as it allowed me to narrow my focus from “The Valley” to a much smaller area where my home is the center.

This isn’t meant to suggest that I’ve become complacent or unsympathetic to my more distant neighbors. I’m quite aware of the thought that, in the face of chaos, he may be entirely wrong in his expectations. But the conversation served the purpose as it curbed any potential for arm waving on my part. Arm waving is seldom a useful response in a crisis. This is particularly notable as stacking sand bags is a two handed affair. Been there. Done that.

And in the end, should we end up impinging on our neighbor’s hospitality to the north, there’s always the fact that the McDonald’s in Winnipeg has Poutine on the menu. I’d rather not have to make the trip, as part of a flotilla, just to treat myself to cheese curds and gravy on a large serving of fries; but it is worth a trip none-the-less.

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

The National Weather Service has updated the Red River crest at Grand Forks/East Grand Forks to 51 feet for Thursday, April 2nd. The historical crest is 54.35 ft on April 22nd, 1997 when both cities were inundated. Flood walls are in place.

With the closure of the bridge at Oslo, MN, the only open bridge across the Red, in the region, is between East Grand Forks and Grand Forks. The Kennedy bridge will be closed at 52 feet.

The historical crest for Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN is 40.10 ft on April 7th, 1897. The river appears to have crested this morning at 40.82 feet. However there is a great deal of water coming yet from the south, forestalled by freezing weather, and tensions remain high.

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