Last week, the South St. Vrain Canyon was open again, the last major road to reopen after our September floods. Going up to the cabin was the first time I’ve seen what 15 inches of rain will do to these narrow and steep canyon walls.
Since the road was closed, I’ve hungrily sought out any videos or photos, but pictures on a screen don’t begin to describe the damage I saw last week, because, when it really comes down to it, it’s all personal. What was famliar and what I loved has been changed into something else.
Across from Hall Ranch, one of my favorite places to hike, west of Lyons, was a cottonwood grove along the river, tall widespread trees that showered golden leaves on the road in the fall and lit up the red canyon walls with their lime green leaves in the spring. But the floods tore out the most of the trees, bushes and grasses, leaving behind a valley of tumbled rocks (above). What is left is blankness, an empty slate where there had been a complex web of life.
Driving up the canyon, it looked like something ferocious had scoured the river bed of all living things, leaving behind a jumble of multi-colored rocks and boulders. Up high on the hillside, maybe 50 feet, something had taken huge bites out of the layers of rock and soil. I could only imagine water that filled the width of the canyon, 50 feet high in places, roaring and speeding downhill toward Lyons, where it dumped everything it had on this small town.
Part of me wishes I could have seen it, experienced nature at its angriest and fullest. I can only see what it did: took the the old landscape of rocks, cottonwoods, pine trees, bushes and grasses, which had arranged themselves over decades, and obliterated it in one day.
Since the floods, I have a lot more sympathy for people around the world whose lives have been uprooted by natural disasters. It’s not that my mind doesn’t recoil in horror and sadness when hearing about thousands dying and losing their homes from the typhoon in the Philippines or seeing pictures of the people in New Jersey who still don’t have homes after Hurricane Sandy hit more than a year ago. Or whole neighborhoods gone in downstate Illinois after a tornado hit. But in some ways, it’s an abstract compassion.
What you get from the news media is : x amount of people killed and x amount displaced, x amount of homes destroyed. But when you live through it, what affects you is how your immediate landscape is altered, even small changes, like the nearby pond that is now a sand pit; the road near a friend's home that was ripped into slabs and deposited downstream, the aspen grove I hiked through now disappeared.
Aside from being temporarily stranded at my cabin, I suffered no personal loss. But if seeing how much the landscape is changed here is even a fraction of what people go through when their town is leveled by a tornado or they lose half their family to a typhoon, or your house is carried away by floodwaters, I can start to get a glimmer of what it feels like to lose your known world.