Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Flood



Notes from today’s WALK (with help from A.A. Milne)…

It says something about me, though I’m not at all sure what, that the part of my Sunday newspaper I most look forward to is the Big 5 Sporting Goods advertising circular. (Actually, it says something about me that I still look forward to a newspaper at all, but that is another subject.) It is four full-color pages of ridiculous deals on everything from shoes to guns to barbells to tents to boogie boards; all from famous sounding brands like Adio, Columbus, Spenco, Rugged Exposure, and Kent. Every item looks so good and is priced so well that I find myself day dreaming of a garage full of off-brand and second run sporting goods; coolers with lids that don’t quite fit, dull hunting knives, and gas grills that may or may not be missing a crucial valve. Of course, I have never purchased a single thing. 

The one item I do come close to buying every week is whichever inflatable raft is being advertised. This week there are two:

1.       Intex Seahawk 2. Includes 48 inch French oars & high output pump. 3 air chambers. Reg. $89.99. Sale price $69.99. (Discontinued style.)

2.        Intex Challenger 3. 3-person inflatable boat. 3 air chambers. Seats up to 3. Reg. $99.99. Sale price $69.99. (Oars not included.)

I believe no household should ever be without an inflatable raft and I feel that it is one of my great failures as a father and a husband that I have not purchased one yet. (I do have a sit-on-top kayak, but it only sits one-person-on-top, so my guilt is hardly assuaged.) 

My compulsion to provide my family with emergency and/or recreational flotation is well founded in one of my most crystalline childhood memories.

It rained and it rained and it rained. Piglet told himself that never in all his life, and he was goodness old how oldthree, was it, or four?never had he seen so much rain. Days and days and days.

The water began rising around my father’s new house on Oxford Avenue. There was a nearly dry creek bed about a block and half away from the house. In the summer and fall, it was hardly a trickle. But when the rains started, it became an entirely different waterway. 

The little dry ditches in which Piglet had nosed about so often had become streams, and the streams across which he had splashed were rivers, and the river, between whose banks they had played so happily, had sprawled out of its own bed and was taking up so much room everywhere, that Piglet was beginning to wonder whether it would be coming into his bed soon.

I sat on our front porch, watching the street fill with water. It looked like slow motion. Inch by inch, the water in the gutters crept across the crown of the street. Within an hour, the two enormous puddles had become one. The pavement disappeared under a great rippling sheet of water. My father and step-mother were inside the house, wondering aloud, in very concerned voices, how high the water would get. I sat on the porch wondering the same thing. But I was not the least bit concerned. I was beside myself with excitement. As far as I was concerned, the water could not rise high enough or fast enough. 

“The atmospheric conditions have been very unfavourable lately,” said Owl.
“The what?”
“It has been raining.”
“Yes,” said Christopher Robin, “It has.”
“The flood level has reached an unprecedented height.”
“The who?”
“There’s a lot of water about,” explained Owl.
“Yes,” said Christopher Robin, “There is.”
Hours passed. The rain-darkened day turned to storm-swept dusk. Amazingly, our power stayed on and the streetlamp cast an ochre glow over the shimmering water. The flood waters had risen over the curb and were slowly engulfing the sidewalk and creeping up our driveway like ooze from a B horror movie. Inside, my father was saying something about sandbags, as my step-mother worked to get books and records and other valuables off the floor.

“It’s a little anxious,” he said to himself, “to be a Very Small Animal Entirely Surrounded by Water.”

Soon the water rose over the grass in our front yard. The green blades receded like some closely cropped kelp bed. I remained on the porch, hoping and praying that the rain wouldn’t stop. At this rate, I thought, it could reach the front steps before it got really dark. Our concrete porch sat only two steps above our yard. When the water finally reached the first step, my father came outside. He looked across our flooded street in the fading light of the evening.

“Still got about two more feet,” he said, his voice sounding both resolute and resigned.

“I don’t think it’ll come in the house, Dad.” 

“I hope not.” Though he didn’t sound hopeful.

“But I kind of want it to come up a little more.”

On the morning of the fifth day he saw the water all around him, and knew that for the first time in his life he was on a real island. Which was very exciting.

The water did keep rising. Soon our first step disappeared. My father came out to the porch again with my rain boots and yellow slicker. His wore an expression of pure exhaustion; the magnetic opposite of the anticipation he must have seen on my face. I put on the boots and slicker as he went back inside. I turned back to see if the water had risen any more.

Every morning he went out with his umbrella and put a stick in the place where the water came up to, and every next morning he went out and he couldn’t see his stick anymore…

And then the rain stopped. It turned to sprinkles at first. Then mist. But in five minutes, it was done. I ran into the house.

“The rain’s stopped! It’s stopped raining!”

My father came back out on the porch. He reached his palm out from under the eave, as if his fatigued eyes might have deceived him in the half-light.
“I think you’re right.”

He went back inside. I stared at the water that was halfway up our second step. It didn’t look like it was rising anymore. It didn’t look like it was going anywhere. From inside the house, I could hear a hissing noise, like someone repeatedly and rhythmically shushing a crying baby. The sound continued for so long that I soon tuned it out, wondering instead whether the rain had really stopped for good.

The rain did not start again. Another five minutes passed and my father appeared on the front porch holding a bright orange inflatable raft, one paddle, and a flashlight. 

“You want to take it out?” he asked.

“By myself?”

“Sure. Just stay where I can see you.”

So he took his biggest jar and corked it up. “All boats have to have a name,” he said, “so I shall call mine The Floating Bear.” And with these words he dropped his boat into the water and jumped in after it.

I struck out right from our top step and paddled up and down our block, which was now more river than street, feeling braver and freer and happier than I could ever remember feeling in my life, all the while wishing the water would never recede and hoping that Oxford Avenue was a magical street that  flooded every year, even if that meant that my father would spend winter after winter holding his breath for days at a time, wishing he’d remembered to get sandbags, and inflating rafts for me only when he knew for sure that the danger was behind us.

And that is really the end of the story, and I am very tired after that last sentence, I think I shall stop here.

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