I was at the cabin this week when the skies dumped at least nine inches of rain in two days. Going out to check the damage in the morning, I found that the two creeks on either side of me had been transformed from small, friendly brooks three feet wide to turbulent, get-out-of-the-way-or I’ll-take-you-with-me brown rivers 30 feet across, spilling into the valley, up the hillside, taking out huge trees and many bushes (Cabin Creek, right, and Tahosa Creek, below). More devastating to the community here, the floods had removed the culvert over the main road, leaving a torrent of water that was uncrossable (two bottom photos). We were now effectively separated from those on the other side of the valley.
It rained again all night, while the ground grew more saturated, the water poured down the face of Mount Meeker and formed a hundred small rivulets down the hillsides, loosening whole forests and bringing down trees and boulders onto the highway.
After the phones stopped working those of us left in this small community—about 10 at that point, were effectively cut off from the rest of the world (there is no cell phone service, although those who had satellites could use email). When the sun came out on Friday, some of us ventured out and found that the only other road out of here was blocked, so we were effectively, maybe even officially, stranded.
At first, I had been annoyed. I had made careful plans to just come up here for a day and a half, check to see everything was OK (and, in fact, water was leaking into my ceiling and down into the living area). I had planned to be back by the next night, had work to do for the rest of the week. Maybe that was my first bump up against the realization that you can’t control life, no matter how hard you try to schedule everything just perfectly.
Most of the time I love being alone up here, but now it was forced. I couldn’t just get up and leave if I got depressed or anxious. Worse, most of the valley, with my favorite places to hike, was now closed off to me, because of the now uncrossable creeks.
I had brought drinking water up only to last a few days, thinking that if I did run out, I could drive down to Allenspark, some five miles down the road, and fill up at the public springs. But I could no more get to Allenspark than across the country. Suddenly, my whole world had shrunk, with no escape. Always restless, I was now hemmed in by the forces of nature. Always my ally and refuge, it felt like nature had turned against me.
Of course, not just against me, but the whole Front Range of Colorado. It was only after I got home that I realized the extent of the disaster. We were “rescued” by the kindness of a nearby resident, who used his Bobcat to temporarily fix one of our closed roads, giving us access to the main road and a long route back home.
Back home, with access once again to newspapers, email and TV, I found out that a lot of people were still stranded, in towns like Jamestown and Lyons, where 15 inches of rain had torn apart homes and towns, left hundreds homeless with all roads blocked into town. I saw photos of people being evacuated by helicopter, able only to take what they could fit in backpacks, leaving their homes for who knows how long and for uncertain futures.
All the roads to the west, in the canyons that connect the plains to the mountains, that brought me to my cabin every week, are damaged, and it’s unclear when they will be reopened, probably months, maybe a year. It feels like a shift in the world, like something has broken.
The headline in the Denver Post said it perfectly: “Normal has changed.”
It’s too early to know whether this extreme weather was an “accident” of nature or related to climate change. But seeing whole landscapes gone or forever altered, I can’t help but wonder if the forces of nature have been unleashed by our extreme recklesness in using the resources of this planet.
My heart breaks. Over and over.