The Flood This Time

It happened two years ago on Halloween. And then it happened again this Memorial Day. And now it was happening once more — Halloween 2 and another cruel trick from nature gone mad.

River viewed from farmer's barn. Crested just five feet below 500-year floodplain
River viewed from farmer’s barn. Crested just five feet below 500-year floodplain

Frankly, I’m tired of breaking records. Worst drought. Worst wild fire. Most rain. Highest river levels. These aren’t the kind of records a farmer wants his land to be breaking.

It begs the obvious question. Central Texas is ground zero for unbridled growth in this country. Could the same be true for climate change?

Two weeks ago, after four months without rain, our farm was a dust bin. Here in Bastrop we were caught up in wild fires – another perverse replay of the state’s most disastrous wildfire four years ago. Today the Colorado River is lapping at our back door and we’re watching crops and top soil wash downstream.

Is nature trying to tell us something? Or is nature just acting itself — indifferently following its immutable laws?  Yet here is the difference. Humans have entered into the equation big time. Both in numbers and behaviors, we have become a force to be reckoned with; we, too, have a hand in all these broken records.

The farmer knows this better than most. He watches in horror as soil runs off the dirt roads he travels day after day. Dust in the wind. Mud in the river. Undisturbed land doesn’t have this problem.

The farmer living on the river sees the big picture up close. The river doesn’t hide or lie. Like an obedient pack mule, it quietly hauls off all the man-made mess of stuff; here and there it leaves evidence at the farmer’s footstep: a hoolahoop dangling from a banch, a plastic tarp wrapped around a stump, plastic bottles littered like stepping stones across his flattened fields.

Hoolahoop snagged in treetops. River crested at 37 feet.
Hoolahoop snagged in treetops. River crested at 37 feet.

Once again, the farmer feels lucky. He didn’t lose his home or his livestock. What he did lose is another layer of confidence in  human nature’s ability or willingness to slow down and ask the hard questions.

If, indeed, we are entering a new Age of Extremes, perhaps it’s not unreasonable to expect the unexpected. Yet how can one reason with the tricks of nature in distress; if recent history is no longer our guide, where is that solid ground we consider “normal” and base future decisions?

What do you say to one of your employees who lost her house the first Halloween flood, only to watch it happen all over again exactly two years later? Or to another employee whose family business was flooded in the Memorial Day flood. The store finally opened a few weeks ago and there they were throwing sand bags around it as the waters rose on Lamar Blvd in a perverse trick of déjà vu.

People are getting more than tired. They are getting scared.

A Bastrop friend canceled a long-awaited vacation overseas because she expended so much psychic energy watching the Hidden Pines fire attempt to repeat history. She had rebuilt her home after the 2011 Labor Day fire and wasn’t about to watch it burn down again. The fire may have succeeded if the winds were blowing a little stronger.

Closer to home, the farmer’s neighbor watched his newly expanded corn maze business get swallowed by the river. This spring’s Memorial Day flood grabbed half his goat herd. Yesterday it came back for the rest.

Barlett Hill Farm's corn maze and buildings under water.
Barlett Hill Farm’s corn maze and buildings under water.

“You just keep going on. One step ahead of the other,” he told the television reporter.

But what if those steps are headed in the wrong direction?

Maybe broken records is what you get from a broken system.

If so, fixin’ time is running out.