Stubborn as a Sunflower

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

Growing up in South Florida, I always hated hurricane season. The preparation and anticipation for each storm, watching them move slowly across the ocean, listening each night to the weather man project its course, was often an exercise in futility. Sometimes the storm came, sometimes it veered off course, sometimes it came and was nothing like they thought it would be, better or worse. I always thought I would prefer a tornado. Instead of a week of yimmer–yammering about possible trajectories, there was a siren, a whoosh, and then you got to move on. (This is what I imagined. Clearly I hadn’t lived in tornado country yet. Our first summer in North Dakota every other storm carried a threat with it, and I decided I didn’t actually like that any better.)

In June 2011, Minot, North Dakota, took a collective deep breath awaiting news of an impending flood. We all held our breath, for weeks, watching the waters of the Souris River rise. Evacuations were called for, flood day came and went without harm, and people went back to their homes. Then on Father’s Day the news came. We weren’t past the threat yet. In fact, now it was looking much worse.

We were still living in Minot when all of this was going down. When the first threat was coming through, I decided to take the kids (and the dog) down to Denver to stay with my sister. Sean was deployed to Afghanistan at the time. I felt helpless sitting at home relentlessly checking Facebook updates and local news websites, looking for news, looking for clues, and wondering how I could help. Sandbagging was happening all over the town, but with two kids in tow I couldn’t quite figure out how I fit in to the picture. Our house was in shambles because of a basement flood that had happened in May, and our garage flooded consistently, so I couldn’t even offer a place for someone to stay or store their stuff. I had already been holding my breath for seven months with Sean gone. (That’s what spouses of deployed military do, by the way. We carry on. But we do so with a limited amount of oxygen.)

I was hoping that going to to Denver would help me to breathe at least a little easier. I suppose it did to some degree, but I was still glued to Facebook and news websites. I was, in our absence, at least able to offer what was left of our house to a family that had been evacuated.

The flood was such a slow-moving disaster. We watched it coming for weeks, knowing just how devastating it would be. I have never witnessed anything like it. People would post on the local news Facebook page that they needed help emptying their house, and strangers would pop up in reply: “I’ve got a truck and trailer, I’ll be there by noon.” It was unreal.  Ultimately, the waters rose to take over four thousand houses, many up to their roof in water. I saw pictures posted of the grocery store I shopped at, the gas station I frequented, the Burger King my son consistently begged to go to, all under water.

Before I sat down to write tonight I looked up pictures of the flood. They still make me feel the way I did then, and I had to look though them with a box of tissues nearby. (I highly recommend you do some looking on your own. Not enough national coverage was given to the flood. Google “Minot flood 2011, images.”)

How can anyone recover from something like that? Well. I was there for the start of the recovery. So I will tell you.

We ended up staying in Denver longer than expected. The devastation in Minot was enough that roads were closed down, water was scarce, and they didn’t need three more people to worry about. When we finally did leave Denver I chose to drive straight through. A long drive with two kids and a dog, but we made it. We pulled into Minot at about one in the morning, and it was hard to see much of anything. Many roads were still closed.

The next day we drove through what parts of town we could make it through, and it was a wrenching tour of what starts to happen when a town that had been holding its breath for so long begins to exhale. Piles of trash, lumber, carpet, toys, tools, piled up along neighborhood roads, piled higher than some of the houses they came from. That’s a picture you don’t often see. The post-flood picture. Because its really the water that is devastating, isn’t it? That’s the disaster? Not the piles of rubble pulled from a home and placed at the curb.

After the rubble comes the dirt. Who knew water could be so dirty. You see, the flood waters don’t politely take the mud with them when they recede. They leave mud and dirt and all manner of filth in your house, in your kitchen where you once cooked, in your bedroom where you once slept. Layers of it. A flood is nothing like a baptism, but more like what that baptism represents. Death. And after a lot of time and hard work, resurrection. Thank God salvation doesn’t work that way.

It was only a couple of months after the flood that we moved away. Before we left I went around the town, taking pictures of things that had meant a lot to me. A view from North Hill, our church, some sunflowers.

Notice the water line on the house behind this stubborn ol' sunflower.
Notice the water line on the house behind this stubborn ol’ sunflower.

Did you know they grow sunflowers in North Dakota? Fields and fields, stretching for miles, of sunflowers. And with that drive through town taking pictures I kept finding sunflowers. Not in fields, but in yards of flooded homes. They had probably been planted there by the owners in years past, but the fact that they were growing so fervently in these flood-weary ghost towns that months earlier were thriving neighborhoods was compelling to me. How stubborn must you be to survive a flood, and just keep growing?


Have you ever been called upon to be stubborn? What would you say to someone who has faced a flood and needs some encouragement to just keep growing?


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