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Flood on the McKenzie.

It's been a wet year, here. Most farmers got their crops in late, and many fields weren't planted at all. Much of the first-crop hay was lost. Gardens are fewer and smaller than usual.

The rain was seldom heavy, but it was regular, day-after-day, for weeks.

Then a real gully-washer hit. The ground was already saturated, and there was nowhere for the water to go.

There is a small stream on our place - McKenzie Creek - that originates in a small lake about a mile north of us. Ordinarily at this time of the year you can wade across it and the water won't come to the tops of your boots, and at one place, just below the old beaver dam, you can cross on the big black rocks and not get your feet wet at all.

Normally you can't hear the gurgling brook from a hundred yards away: now I could hear it from the house, more than a quarter of a mile east.

As I walked the path through the woods under still-dripping maples and popples, the roar grew louder and louder, until I rounded the last bend around the small pine grove. Then it became deafening.

But the sight was even more over-whelming than the sound.

There was no "falls" below the beaver dam: the water was the same level on the pond above as on the stream below. But flowing over the dam it looked like molten lava.

Then it turned into a churning, frothing, tidal wave, tearing at the banks and bulldozing tree roots and sending spray high into the already misty forest air.

It stampeded past with the mindless unstoppable power of a herd of buffalo.

It was awesome.

As the shock wore off and I stood entranced by the gushing water, I thought of how it would course through the marsh, meet Diamond Creek, join the Black River, then combine with the Mississippi, and eventually become part of the Gulf of Mexico. Thinking of that, I tossed a stick into the churning waters, wondering if it would reach the Gulf and how long it would take.

I was stunned when a black shape shot past me and hit the water almost in unison with the stick. Smoky, the indomitable black lab who will fetch anything anywhere any time (especially in water) had plunged into the raging creek!

Smoky is a strong swimmer: she delights in following the canoe clear across the lake, and she begs to fetch sticks even amongst the ice floes of spring breakup, but she was no match for this.

As she surfaced and discovered that swimming was impossible, I could see the surprise in her eyes... but only for a moment. That's all it took before she was swept downstream, around the bend, and out of sight.

The McKenzie broadens out at that point, and its normal 10-12 foot width was now more like 2-300 feet. The current slowed considerably. That's where Smoky struggled to shore - which was now well away from the channel and far into the woods - limping only slightly even though a large patch of skin was missing from her left hind leg.

It didn't seem to bother her, but I took her home, forgetting about the Gulf of Mexico for awhile.

A day or so later the Black River overflowed its banks. As people spoke of the Black, I couldn't help but think of the McKenzie... and all the other small streams that in some curious way became the Black. More wondrous yet, it all started with a single raindrop - perhaps one that dripped from the brim of my hat as I passed under the trees in my woods. And another, and another.

It was later yet when the news reports - gaining mass and velocity almost like the rivers themselves - concentrated on cities along the Mississippi. I could envision my stick, and my drops of water - and, hearing reports of floating dead deer and cattle, my almost-dead dog! - working their way south, day by day. LaCrosse. Dubuque. Davenport, Des Moines, St. Louis.

People marveled at, railed against, and feared the Mississippi. But what is the Mississippi but a thousand McKenzies? And what is the McKenzie but a few trillion drops of rain?

The analogies to life are apparent: what surprised me was that there are so many of them. Life, indeed, is like a river.

You and I, and small events and happenings, are like those drops of rain.

Many raindrops together form a creek... perhaps one so small or seasonal it isn't even named. That creek joins another, perhaps like the McKenzie, that runs for less than 25 miles before joining another, which then meets a river like the Black that, while made up of hundreds of small streams, is itself relatively unknown and insignificant to most people beyond its banks.

The Wisconsin, the Missouri, and the Ohio become part of the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean...

Just as you and I are swept along to become "humanity."

A spoonful of pesticide, a puff of auto exhaust, and a discarded hearing aid battery are swept along to become pollution.

Here's another angle. The day the McKenzie was raging, how many people downstream knew what lay in store for them? How many people can see ahead, to what will happen when those other "raindrops" - individual people and seemingly insignificant actions and events - arrive downstream at the chronological equivalents of Des Moines and St. Louis?

No one could stop the rain or change nature. But as rampaging as the McKenzie was and as many small streams as were involved, technically it would have been much easier to control them than to confine the Mississippi. While it might seem more overwhelming to stem a few hundred smaller problems at their source, that's still more reasonable than hoping to gain control of one massive, hopeless problem further downstream.

All of us live on a personal McKenzie... and a personal Mississippi at the same time. We are both sowers and reapers. But few can see the raindrops here in Perkinstown and imagine the calamity in Des Moines... just as few can see the destruction in Des Moines and connect it with a raindrop in Perkinstown.

I suspect that seeing those connections is essential for surviving on Spaceship Earth. I know that seeing them is a big part of living beyond the sidewalks.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Mid-Western floods
Author:Belanger, Jd
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:1067
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