A Place For The Future Past

Flood, Aftermath
December 27, 2007, 2:32 am
Filed under: Community On The Earth

Christmas has come and gone, and life on Leudinghaus Rd has been struggling to achieve a sense of normalcy. Many homes closest to the river carry the dreaded orange condemned placard and await demolishing and removal. Others have had drywall, insulation and cabinetry removed and are getting rebuilt. Slowly and from the inside out repairs continue — many homes are empty at night, the families living elsewhere while work is being done. Others have RVs parked outside, with portapotties on site as well as giant trash bins. The yards and pastures remain muddy, debris strewn and fence-less — the cattle roam from field to field — today Em and I watched as a HUGE black bull ambled leisurely across his familiar field towards his “herd”, unconcerned that there was no longer fencing to keep him close. Where would he go? All the gardens have been swept away.Here at Dryad’s Rest we are an oasis of calm and normal routine. The woods kept our own rain runoff from getting out of hand and returned to as they were before. The Chehalis River took away part of our driveway but the property itself was unaffected — mostly. On the front door is the only clue — Instead of a pine bough wreath is a printed placard warning folks to disinfect their shoes.

The local road crews have been hard at work — and now we have a replacement bridge in place, where the Meskill Hill (Leudinghaus Rd) bridge had been is now a new one-lane bridge — if possible even narrower than the one before. At last we don’t have to use the long twisty back road over Elk Creek — over a truly scary bridge. Badly damaged and temporarily shored up, it now has to endure far less traffic (whew). And now I can call the Chehalis Post Office to have my mail service restored — a step closer to normal life.

Heavy rains swell the rivers instantly though — signs that damage has been done to the local lowland topsoil, the heavy thick mud not allowing rain to penetrate instead collecting in slimy pools or running straight to the creeks and rivers and fields. Some folks have begun pushing the mud into large mounds, disposal will be an issue. But it is too soon to worry about the mud, first come the homes and making them livable again. Hopefully as spring approaches there will be the opportunity to deal with the ever present mud. Chicken coops remain empty as do many barns. Solstice has come, Spring is long time away.

I did have a rather interesting conversation with the neighborhood fire captain — someone in charge at the local disaster command center — about the nature and timeline of the flood. Approaching as something of a newcomer to the area (which I am) I had a copy of a detailed map in hand — the same one Em and I had been using to mark ways out via logging and back roads, now with a tracery of blue marking pen, marking the route of the Chehalis River. We are located near the middle of the west fork of the Chehalis.
I asked, I know what caused the great pile of wood debris that tore up the south (east) fork of the river — but what happened on our side? Lots of rain, lots of snowmelt was the easy answer.
Too Easy — I pointed out that the morning after the night of heavy rains we had lots of standing water and the feeder creeks were full to capacity but Leudinghaus Rd itself was high and dry. But at mid afternoon we had a surge of flood water that rose ten to fifteen feet — where had THAT come from? He explained that there had been a massive mudslide farther upriver — further than PeEll that formed a ‘natural’ dam in a narrow canyon — tons of earth and dirt clooging the bed of the river. After building for several hours it broke free, tearing out the hillside and moving tons of earth trres brush and muddy water. I asked, where had all that wood come from? From alongside the river was again the too quick reply.

I had heard this exact phrase used before, by loggers who felt the states insistance that several hundred feet of land on either side of creeks and rivers be left alone and unlogged was unreasonably restrictive. Whatever. I pointed out that during our drive across the shattered landscape that was Boistfort, we could see in the acres of wood were many logs that had been cut, not ripped. Also that during a visit to the FEMA office I had the chance to talk with other folks — and one lady had told me that a stockpile up near Stillman Creek had lost part of its collection to landslide.

Meanwhile, an old timer nearby had come up to listen and he confirmed that yes, there had been a stockpile up there. And the fireman we had been speaking with reluctantly assented. So I asked, is there more? Stockpiled wood up there? Yes, many yards full, that they were unable to access because of the washed out roads and unstable terrain (oh REALLY!).
The old timer brought up the next obvious point — that with another hard series of heavy rain, the same thing could happen again, many of the same conditions remained in place. And the fireman we had been speaking with again reluctantly assented.
Thank you, I said, you have answered my questions.
By now there was a small cluster of folks listening in on the conversation. I thanked the fireman and old timer and we went home.

Is it possible I am the only one asking these questions? Oh my, I hope not.


Flood, part 4
December 17, 2007, 11:25 pm
Filed under: Community On The Earth

08 Sunday and still no land line phone service. Really feeling awful from my cold I was happy not to be at the shop that day. Normally I am a healthy person with a sturdy immune system, but the week had taken its toll. No long trips this day, we ventured out in the frosty weather to the Dryad firestation (that was the local command center) and picked up firewood and cleaning supplies (the supplies had been donated by the Latter Day Saints Church with literature inside each bucket, to save our souls no doubt, bless their hearts). Negotiating the short but bumpy trip was complicated by the presense of large Guardsmen trucks, dumptrucks, road scrapers and other heavy equipment, massing to try and put the neighborhood back together, clear rubbish and level the torn up roads, to create an imprompto local dumpsite for fast growing mountains of ruined furniture and appliances and personal possessions. While at the Dryad firestation I had a chance to look over the wall of newspaper clippings and collection of photographs posted by neighbors and relief workers. Above the collage was written in colored pen, “Life is Good”.
We dropped off a couple of bottles of hydrogen peroxide and a few packages of face masks for the relief workers who needed a bleach alternative. Concerns were being voiced about the toxicity of the sewage laden mud that was everywhere. Not only had estimated 190 septic systems been compromised, supplies of gardening sheds had been sacked — pesticides, herbicides, gasoline and oil from cars and tractors, transmission fluid, radiator fluid — and now the decaying animals buried in the mud and still submerged to add to the mess. On the way home I noted in one of the higher pastures was an odd mix of animals — the usual horses and cows but also now some goats — and I was greatly relieved to recognize the same three goats Chance and I had helped herd back up during the rainstorm, happily munching in a clean dry borrowed pasture. I had been agonizing on the fate of those three — had we helped to round them up only to have sent them back to their soon-to-be submerged pens and a horrible death? Instead of that fate they were dry and happy — relatively speaking — and I was very relieved.
09 Monday — another day off. After feeding in the frosty morning, I settled into my computer chair to resume writing (this journal). Still no phone, I was storing up the days to post once I was able to get back online. Typing away, I glanced up to see Em running up to the house from the barn. Uh-oh, this can’t be good! I spun up out of my chair, grabbing a heavy coat and gloves as I went, meeting her at the door, she gasped–

“We have babies in the barn!”

Well, and where else would they be? So what? No, NEW BABIES!

OH!! Frakka had her babies, two little girls. In all the excitement and distraction, none of us had thought to keep a special eye on her even though we kinda knew she was getting close (she’s the goat who had the single boy — Wonka — who she immediately rejected and we bottle fed). This time she seemed far less stressed by the whole ordeal and apparently was willing to try the mama goat thing. THAT was welcome news — bringing two newborn babies into the house to bottle feed every few hours was not the kind of fun we were prepared to have — not at this particular time that is. So we rigged up burlap walls for the nursery pen to keep out the drafts, set it up with clean straw and a hanging heat lamp (temperature was dropping to below freezing these nights) and spent a few minutes helping the babies figure out what end of mama to focus on. Fortunately both they and Frakka were patient with each other and they all got it figured out. WHEW.

Still no door to door mail service, so I would have to head up to the Doty post office to pick up my mail — I pulled together the stack of envelopes with payments inside — even though things were upside down, the bills still had to be paid. As though nothing had happened.

Flood, Part 3
December 16, 2007, 4:02 am
Filed under: Community On The Earth

05 Thursday dawned cold, thankfully the power had been restored overnight. Since we ran out of daylight the day before (instead of returning to the shop as hoped) Em and I set out to finish supply shopping — this time livestock supply, in particular hay — I knew the flood had destroyed the local hay supply. We would be running out soon and I feared we might be forced to buy hay a bale one at a time in Chehalis — at a price of about $14 a bale (ruinious!) We also needed to drop a flood rescue kitten at the Lewis County Animal Shelter. Good news — since road crews had been working almost continuously, Hwy 6 was now open from the interstate to Pe Ell — with the exception of a landslide halfway through at Spooner Rd. So Em and I planned to try Ceres Hill Rd through Boisfort and Curtis Hill Rd, rejoining Hwy 6 on the other side of the landslide location.
As we manuevered down the treacherously steep gravel road (Ceres Hill) we could see the valley stretched out below us, and the sheer gigantic scope of the damage began to show itself. Though this was only a small portion of destruction, the damage was nearly as far as the eyes could see, a wide swath of mud edged with massive collections of wood and home debris. We crept down the hill and passed by a house that had been floated to its new location in the road, past the Boisfort dairy where tractors were busy pulling dead dairy cows out of the pens, stacking them in giant piles. Silently we drove past the Boisfort Fire Department — the trucks were being pulled out and worked on, muddy waterlines six feet high. A shed resting atop a sportscar, piles of muddy furniture and large appliances beginning to pile outside sodden homes — a sight to be repeated endlessly everywhere we could see. Muddy people gathered in shocked clusters as they began the cleanup.
Once we reached Chehalis we travelled to the animal shelter then to the feed store (the only one in the area that had not been damaged) then thanks to a tip from the shelter, we stopped at an emergency National Guard command post where we had heard free hay could be picked up. It seemed too good to be true, but when I flashed my driver’s license their faces furrowed with concern at the mention of Leudinghaus Rd, and we were loaded up with a weeks worth of the precious hay.
We retraced our path (except for the upsetting drive past the shattered dairy) choosing to travel home via the freshly scraped Hwy 6. The new back exit in and out had opened up by then and we were relieved the trip home was uneventful — both of us were wiped out from the two day forage for emergency supplies (and I was feeling a cold coming on). We stopped in at a community meeting where we gathered up stacks of informational handouts plus a well testing kit. We were being encouraged to get tetanus and hepatitus shots, told not to use our water until testing, told where to pick up bottled water, how deep to bury our animals (thankfully we had escaped that tragedy). Once home were both exhausted but satisfied — I felt safer in taking the truck the next day to work — the home was well stocked as well as set up with the generator should another outage occurred.
06 Friday was cold and wet, I allowed an extra half hour for the new commute and good news — the interstate had reopened, also the Spooner Rd slide cleared, so once I reached Hwy 6 at Doty (across the last standing bridge in the area — a scary-ass bridge how it survived I have no clue) it was more or less the normal trip to work. Once there I wanted to check messages and email — my first chance since I had been there almost a week ago. As I plowed into the long list of emails, I had to stop every so often to answer anxious posts from friends and family (my sister). By the time I got to the phone messages I was stopping every so often to collect myself as I would quite unexpectantly start bursting into tears. I couldn’t help it — I had been feeling completely insulated by the disaster and more than a little overwhelmed by everything we had witnessed. In telling over and over I began purging the layers of — something — and was feeling more than a little humbled by the outpouring of concern. Strangely too was a new feeling of guilt — we had not suffered like others were suffering. (That night too the nightmares began — the river would rage all over again in my sleep).
Once home again Em filled me in on the first official visit — an army corps fellow who was checking house to house, in case of folks unable to come to town for supplies. He was mightily impressed by the yurt (it looks very unassuming from the outside, inside it’s quite civilized and cozy). He looked over the water control project we had started and Em told him of our plans to install a winter running water powered system. He gave her several valuable tips on how to proceed and left, evidently satisfied at our condition. (it was kinda cute — he asked how we were shaping the whole plan and was shocked at the answer — with shovels and other hand tools. And this answer was coming from Em, a woman old enough to be his mom)
07 Saturday — one week later — another work day and my body was showing the strain as my cold was coming on in full force. After the initial weirdness of leaving our neighborhood laid waste and crossing into the normal world (where the realities of the disaster were already starting to fade in the conciousness of those who did not live there) it was comforting but bizarre to be at my shop surrounded by something that had not changed one bit, knowing that later I would be plunged anew into our community turned upside down.
I finally reached the bottom of my email messages — it took two days to go through them all, contacting concerned friends and replying to the relieved message sent by my sister and others who had been anxiously hoping we were spared. Those folk who had visited Dryad’s Rest knew we were probably safe — we are on a hill. But those who looked up my address on Mapquest or Googlemaps were frantic — the maps would show my address located on the street itself where the mailbox was located, not the actual property up the long driveway and above the trail. Which would have placed us right in the raging Chehalis at the crest of the flood.
Coming home I learned of our second offical visitor, Fireman Mac. A big, burly hunting good ol boy who also left satisfied that we were all in good shape — and very impressed by what we were doing at Dryad’s Rest. He took in the greenhouse, was VERY impressed with the very clean barn (GOATS? You have a barn for GOATS?) of course the yurt and loved the look of the woods and the cleaning of brambles — the hunter in him could not resist asking about the local deer population. Em told him how two bucks were felled (with permits, thank you) practically from the back porch. Yes he was impressed and maybe even a teeny bit envious.

Flood, Part 2
December 16, 2007, 4:00 am
Filed under: Community On The Earth

02 Monday morning dawned, the power still off, still raining but much less now. Listening to the radio we heard that the Chehalis River had yet to crest and was threatening to cover parts of the interstate I-5, sixteen miles east from us. Locally, folks were forced to use the trail for access in and out, because Leudinghaus Rd was now under the Chehalis River– limited access at best. The warm winds continued to gust, threatening to bring down tall trees, the soil softened by the soaking rains. With them would come mudslides — and the sudden spiking of the temperature was closing the passes with avalanches as well as sending additional snowmelt downriver. Another nightfall approached and we were going to have to start rationing our candles and lamp oil and firewood.
03 Tuesday morning came and the waters began to recede. Our driveway waters drained away and Em and I began our initial lookabout — the layers of gravel and asphalt had been stripped away, down to subrock in places, and the debris left behind was scattered everywhere. A full cord of chopped wood was crammed up against what fence still remained alongside the south driveway along with a chair, tires, a culvert pipe, gates, fenceposts and wire from the neighbors field and assorted wood. At least we would stay warm again that night with all the wood. We climbed into the truck and ventured out to Leudinghaus Rd and joined the steady stream of returning neighbors, all in shock over what they were seeing. Enormous tree trunks jammed into windows and left on porches, cars scattered across fields and left to rest upside down in ditches, barns shifted from their foundations or just plain gone and animals missing — the few remaining were thick with oily mud. A tree was dangling from useless wires above the shattered road, huge spans of asphalt had been lifted up and deposited in nearby fields along with drifts of gravel and rock. Three local bridges were gone, their banks littered with debris. The seas of thick brown mud covering fields, roads, yards — edged with piles of wood and building and household debris. House after house had waterlines of where knee, chest, over-the-head high waters had been. And pasture after pasture with destroyed or missing fencing that were now empty or depleted of stock. Horses, cows, goats, pigs, turkeys, chickens, emus — dead or just gone. We returned home in silence, it was too late to try to venture any further (we did not dare try after dark), but I was resolved to try and find a back road out the very next day. Surely all these local good ol boys, local hunters and loggers familiar with the maze of logging and secondary roads north of us would know a way out. Listening to the radio we heard that the National Guard had been mobilized, the county was being declared a federal disaster area.
04 Wednesday morning dawned chilly and foggy. We still had the essentials; water, food, firewood, livestock feed — but the temperature was forecasted to plummet in the days ahead to below freezing. Em and I fed early and were packed with emergency supplies for the trip out. Since we still did not have power, a generator was topping the list of supplies we were determined to get. Since the interstate was still closed as far north as the Hwy 12 junction, it was determined to travel north to Rochester then climb onto Hwy 12 there, then on to Olympia (I knew it would be a lost cause to try and buy a generator any closer to home) We took a few photos on the way out, but did not linger long — it was absolutely necessary to be back home by dark — and being December that would be early, about 4:30 — 5:00. We followed the map along eerily deserted roads and only had to turn back once — the way to Rochester was blocked by a massive washout, we were forced to travel first to the back of Centralia but allowed to take I-5 north from there to Tumwater, where we found a Costco that had a precious generator. For the first time we encountered the outside world — we felt completely incongruous — two filthy bedraggled women climbing out of a mud covered small pickup amidst crowds of shiny clean people. All we had to say was that we were from the flood zone and enthusiastic, helpful folk rushed to help find what we came to get. We loaded the Costco supplies, filled gas containers then went further north to get marine batteries, lamp oil, flashlight and radio batteries, candles, food. We met a few angels along the way — a good ol boy who redirected us when we made a wrong turn on the trip back home, two other scruffy folk (instinctively we knew THEY could not be of the shiny peoples) who kindly shared their knowledge of the back roads — these two guys, interestingly enough, we kept running into during our all-day shopping trip.
We made it back home just as dark was falling and Red got the generator up and running almost right away, the precious stream of power sent first to the main freezer full of our winter supply of venison, elk and goat meat, vegetables and breads, milk, etc.

Flood, part 1
December 16, 2007, 3:59 am
Filed under: Community On The Earth

00 Saturday I worked at my shop, came home an hour early, stopping for supplies — there was a storm coming and we needed to be stocked up and I wanted to be home. All that night it rained HARD. It was a warm rain, the snow level suddenly spiked from 2500 to 8500 ft.

01 By morning the streams were all full and rushing fast — water over our upper driveway (not unusual) but also over the south end of our lower driveway — NOT usual. During a break in the rain, Em and I walked down the south driveway (at the lowest part it was just over boot top deep) and I picked up my mail — Leudinghaus Rd was dry at that point, but we could see down the road (west) was underwater, how much we couldn’t tell — but there was an emergency vehicle on the other side, parked and lights flashing. We were intensely curious about what they’d have to say, but we decided not to walk on down — too far (it turned out that what I thought was standing water was the bridge over the feeder creek was underwater — and it was very fast water at that). It was when we started into the park through the back that we stopped short — the immense pool of brown water reached almost to the back edge of the park, and we couldn’t see the other side. Were we looking at the new edge of the Chehalis? Time to go back up the drive and uphill again!

We still had power, but the storm wasn’t over yet — the wind wasn’t supposed to start picking up until later that afternoon. Ten a.m. I decided to saddle up the horse and ride the trail west to the Doty General store (Em was out of cigarettes). Chance was willing enough to be caught and lead up to the barn, even tacked up. But when we headed out the barn door the wind started gusting up and both of us reconsidered. But I figured that if there was ANY trouble or problem we’d head back — and the experience would be good for him, we were both getting rusty (we used to do mounted Search and Rescue years ago).

On the traIl we encountered our neighbor to the south on his motorbike — something Chance did not like at all. After an initial balk, he followed through with my order and while Joe stopped and waited, bike idling as we passed him, Chance immediately settling down after that. When Joe rode past us (from behind on our right, I had waved him through) Chance merely flinched but did not break stride from his relaxed walk. GOOD BOY!

We crossed Chandler road, noting that the water was a foot from the top of the street sign and over the bridge, hmm not good. The homes along the way were threatened with water or already being flooded. From our elevated place we could see far down the Dryad-Doty road — was it clear enough to try that way? I was loathe to leave the trail and choose the longer road — if clear we’d have to share with traffic. We continued down the trail and entered the bend before the 80 ft. trestle bridge — it used to be a railroad but had been converted to a bridge for horse and foot traffic as well as non motorized cyclists.

Coming closer, I did a Winny the goat thing — one of our goat babies turns her head sideways when she looks and bleats at us, and I was turning my head this way and that trying to figure out what I was seeing — or rather, NOT seeing — the trestle! We advanced cautiously and I was stunned to realize (as a HUGE tree floated past, eye level) that the bridge was completely gone — ripped from the other side and laid out flat along the bank. Enormous trees and debris continued to rush past — the water was only a few feet from the top, about twenty feet or so above its usual level. There was nothing to do but turn and go back.

The wind continued to gust and I eyed the trees nervously, Em would not get her cigarettes today. Closer to home Chance and I helped a neighbor herd up a trio of escaping goats before heading on home. From our vantage point of the trail I could see the extent of water over our neighbor’s property, south of us — fields were flooded but houses might be spared. We headed on home, Chance was happy to be put away and I was happy to be home too. Nothing to do but wait for the waters to recede.

Mom had been given her lunch and Em, Red and I were up in the yurt when we became aware of a new sound — a rushing, roaring sound. Was it the forecasted windstorm? I went to the door and looked towards my left to the trees there — they were still and quiet. The noise continued, on my right. It was hard to grasp the obvious, I didn’t want to believe what I was clearly hearing — we could now hear the river from where we were standing — almost a quarter mile away! We could hear the river it sounded like the pounding crashing surf of the ocean — and it was so loud we had to speak up to be heard. It was about two p.m. when the crunching BOOM was heard — the Chandler bridge was ripped from the far end and like the trail trestle bridge, laid out flat along the river’s bank. And just as suddenly we lost power.

Em and I went for a walk as far as the trail crossing of our driveway — where we had earlier been standing at my mailbox was now chest deep and flowing fast. The new edge of the Chehalis was now two-thirds up my south (about 100 ft long) driveway. Em and I could hear my neighbors cattle crying in distress, but it was impossible to cross the raging river across the fields to save them. Every house below the trail would be in the path of this new surge (we learned later that the upriver levees had given way, raising the waters an additional ten feet or so). I looked at Em, her face was ashen — I knew mine was too — as awful and destructive as this flow before us was here, we both knew that down the river it would be catastrophic.

The river raged on, churning noisily, taking tons and tons of debris with it. About three P.M. we could hear helicopters, passing back and forth — stopping over houses to begin rescue operations, plucking our downhill neighbors from the roofs of their submerged homes. As darkness began to fall the choppers continued their work. About 9 p.m. they made a pass over our place but we were not leaving. After they left I took a flashlight to walk down and check the horses — Chance and Jennifer were happy to see me, being buzzed by helicopters could not have been fun for them. It was still raining but not as hard as before and they were both warm, so I went back up to my candle-lit home to stoke the fire and wait until morning.