A Memory of Water

The surging water quickly filled the gutter, cascading down the nearby grating in ripples and bubbles.

I watched in the dark, hypnotized for a few seconds.

Part of it, in all honesty, was probably fatigue. Normal people sleep at 1 o’clock in the morning. Even crazy ones will sleep at 1 a.m. when it’s snowing outside. But as a reporter, I’m a special breed of crazy, so I was out in the snow showers, trying to get a halfway-decent picture that could run on our website come morning.

But lack of sleep only goes so far, especially for a night owl. The larger part of my mind, the part that couldn’t look away, was hearing an echo. One that was six months old.

A memory of a river that would not stop rising.


I doubt I’m alone here, either in my reflex or in my embarrassment at it.

I mean, water is the treasure of the West. It’s what starts small towns and big fights. It’s the heart of everything we do in Colorado, from farms to breweries to ski lodges.

What’s more, I love water from the sky. I glory in rainstorms (especially since their arrival means my early-warning pressure headaches can go away). And snow has been a special treat for me since childhood, a chance to see the world transformed and the California drivers at a loss.

It’s beautiful. Marvelous. Powerful.

And last September, we all got a reminder of the other side of that power.

I was one of the lucky ones. The flood didn’t reach my home, didn’t harm my family, didn’t turn my life upside down. Even so, I still have memories from the first day, reporting from the south side of Longmont and not sure how I was going to get back to the north.

I remember the “Missouri river” created when Left Hand Creek emptied into the nearby street. And the sea that had been Boston Avenue, stranding those who lingered even a moment. I can still see water slowly filling neighborhoods or quickly roaring under bridges or ripping away railway beds. And I doubt I’ll ever forget the sight of people walking across a flooded-out Hover Street, desperate for any way to get back home.

That’s from someone for whom the flood was a job. How much stronger still for those whose lives passed through the current?

And no one emerges from a trauma unmarked.

It’s like having a death in the family: the smallest things will trigger the most powerful memories. And so we sometimes wince to see gray clouds in the sky, or to hear rain on the roof, or to even think of what spring’s runoff may bring down the St. Vrain’s channel.

It’s a natural reflex. And not an entirely bad one.

When a relative passes, the unexpected memories help preserve a loving tie even beyond death. When a flood passes, the memories can keep us alert and watchful — a useful thing, so long as it doesn’t degrade into a fear and panic that paralyzes instead of primes.

We know what can happen now. We can be ready. Even if we don’t anticipate everything, we can prepare for enough.

And someday, down the road, we’ll be able to hear the rumble of thunder without anxiety.

Maybe not yet. Maybe not now. But someday, when watchfulness has built security, the time will come.

Until then, all we can do is navigate as best we can among a flood of memories.

One Reply to “A Memory of Water”

  1. Well, I think I know why you stay up and write at like 1 a.m., Scott. You think better then; you’re more creative, get better words somehow. How do I know??

    Because I had this sight open last night just short of midnight. Had written you a pretty nice reply/comment on this water memory column, but I left it open and took a little “break” upstairs, thinking I’d think if there was anything else I wanted to add or change. Got busy with some other things and did not come back down here. Figured I’d come finish it up first thing in the morning. Thought of something to change on it, too, add a couple of words.

    But when I came down here, computer had been shut down and I lost all I had posted right here on this here comment box. And now I can’t think up the words like I thought ’em up last night. Sometimes I think the night is better for thinking up words. Then you sleep on them and add, subtract in the morning.

    But there was nothing to subtract from here in this box this morning. And nothing to add to, neither, unless adding to nothing and subtracting from nothing is something, and it is, but I wanted to add to something positive, not subtract from zero and make it negative, so I am just adding to nothing to make something at least, ’cause something’s better than nothin’, but it’s not as much as it would have been if someone hadn’t a closed the whole thing down to zero.

    Which there’s a lesson in itself: Don’t leave work open. Save it, at least, because somehow the night, like water, can magically wash away all the words. And you cain’t find ’em no more. One here, one there, but not altogether like they were at 1 a.m.!

    As they come floating back to me, all those washed away words, wonderful, colorful, vibrant and brilliant(?) (your columns are brilliant) in bottles, on logs or riding the crest of the foamy wind-swept waves I will catch on to them and rearrange them back into the nice formation they once were.

    One a.m. is word-writing time, I tell you, I think it is!

    Daytime is for cooking. And cleaning. And living. And all the other stuff we have to do. Unless you get paid for it….then anytime is good for word-writing, but probably 1 a.m. has it’s benefits.



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