I bow down to you H2O.
There is one substance in this world that is amazingly so commonplace and normal, yet simultaneously so mysterious and powerful. It is a substance that gives life and takes life. Things go wrong when there's too much of it and things go wrong when there's not enough. We try to control it but eventually it tells us what it wants to do. And so much depends and is affected by what it does. I'm talking about water, that strange liquid that is nothing but everything at the same time.
Two weeks ago I experienced the power of water as it swept through Vermont and tormented its idyllic towns, farms, and scenic highways. No one was ready for the sheer volume of water as Irene passed directly over the entire state and blanketed the mountains with rain. Had it passed over non-mountainous terrain where the water would have pooled but been more dispersed this would have been manageable. But, here in Vermont, where "flatlander" is a derogatory term, the water rolled on down the slopes of the Green Mountains and furiously converged, turning streams into raging rivers. These raging rivers hurled downstream (which for the Mad River is counter-intuitively north, hence "Mad"), gaining speed and volume with each mile and each hour of deluge. Along the way, roads became rivers, houses became beaver dams, crops were made inedible, bridges were torn from their foundations and swept away, and livelihoods were sent through a whirlpool.
Through all of this I have been slowly sorting through our relationship with water and its power and importance. It is everywhere and it has its own force and spirit. And yet, we try to control it, forcing it through engineered channels. We want a certain amount of it, no more and no less but fail to realize that it constantly changes and brings about new realities. We take it for granted as it creeps by in a river or sits in a lake, yet take showers in it and cook with it on a daily basis. When water is not replenished, such as the current drought in the southwest, basic life essentials are put in jeopardy. Water is water and there's relatively very little of it. Our most precious resource is spiraling clockwise down our toilets. Every drop of water in various forms has been on the Earth since the Earth began. It cannot be created or destroyed, only sent through the water cycle over and over, clean or contaminated.
As I mucked out the basement of a Moretown home where I volunteered one day, I had trouble imagining how the river across the street, seemingly so low in a ravine could have possibly risen so high as to even touch the house I was working on, much less fill its basement to the brim and rise to 4 and a half feet of the first floor. The waterline was visible halfway up the old apple trees that shade the front yard. I mucked away from 10:30-5 and all the while the river across the way and the stream near the house ambled along innocently, like a dog who knows it did something wrong but is being cute to distract you (which usually works). Water seems to have a personality like that sometimes. It gets angry and rushes down waterfalls, it gets sad and fills up puddles, it gives the cold shoulder and doesn't show up for weeks. But mostly, it is powerful and extremely important. It can replenish, nourish, satiate, saturate, obliterate, and wreck the beings, places, and things that you love.
As you can see, I don't quite understand it still but as these thoughts flow through my head like a steady stream, the rain outside treads gently over the roof and into the soil below into its mysterious underworld. My house, being on a mountainside was unaffected but other places were less lucky. Two farms within a mile of here were covered in polluted flood waters and now cannot sell their produce. The historic Waitsfield Village was underwater, drowning two restaurants, lifting a tiny photography studio off its foundation, ruining the local TV station, and significantly impeding the structural integrity of the covered bridge. At American Flatbread down the road, the water in the field was up to the base of the flattened solar panels (they flatten out like a table at night). The pictures throughout this post show the nearby pond that became the river. This all happened over the course of 24 hours. When I left for a weekend at home everything was normal, when I came back 4 days later, everything was upside down. Water is a fantastic force that grows stronger with volume. It is the decider.
I bow down to you H2O.
I spent a year in Vermont taking classes at Yestermorrow Design/Build School. This blog is about my experiences in the snowy north.
Check out more of my photos on webshots here.