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.