Sunday, September 19, 2004

It is a paddler's dream to have days like Saturday. Seventy degrees, sunny, high water, and my kids to show me up for the old man I have become. Gotta love it!

We have watched an immature bald eagle get his color over the summer. In the strong winds of Ivan's aftermath, we watched as the freshly decorated bird worked its way along the ridge line against the wind. They are masterful aviators and you could see it using the swirling eddies against the edge of the gorge to head up stream. I made a joke about the floods we've been through "drowning fish" and it seems like that is true to an extent. The Eagles have found easy meals as fish were left high and dry in the receding water.

There are downed trees everywhere, and the water got high enough to wash out the railroad that runs along Highway 27 headed toward Chattanooga. I was amused by the bass boat being used to evacuate folks from a mobile home resting crookedly in the flood plain of the Piney River in Spring City. It was about a half a mile from the normal banks of the lake. Let's see, you put a trailer next to a river and wait for the ten year high water mark. Sounds like good judgement to me. These folks just might be the strategists the Bush administration is looking for to finish the job in Fallujah. At least they are positive there will be a disaster, the only question is when?

I keep getting new insight into human judgement. Our house sits part way up the gorge, 250 feet above the water in White's Creek. As we were buying the land back in the winter of 92-93 there was a pretty good flood that wash our neighbor's mobile home of its blocks. They were inside at the time and the water eventually rose to leave them about three feet of air near the ceiling to breathe. Four adults and a baby in its mother's arms waited to possibly die as the trailer floated around in the current, held from washing downstream by the electric cable attached to the power pole in the yard, and absolutely nothing else except a telephone wire. They talked on the phone with the folks who were trying to get to them during the night. Not a cell phone but the normal old phone connected by an old fashioned cord. It never went out through the whole ordeal. Rescuers waited in the rain watching the current crash through the trees in the direction of the trailer and its occupants and waited for dawn's light to see how bad the situation was.

I think about what would have happened if the power cable had come loose. There are only three 3/8 inch bolts that pinch the wires in place in the electrical box. This is plenty to protect against squirrels but not the force of a flood. If one of these friction connections had given up, the others would have gone too. The trailer would have rolled over and over in the flood water until it hit something big enough to stop it. There are lots of trees along the bank but the tralier was only 20 yards from a main channel. Suppose it made it that far? It would have washed past the remains of one of the old bridges that washed away in the flood back in the forties. Then it would have washed past the carcass of the Studebaker Commander that sits in the woods where it washed in high water during the 70's. If every thing worked out just right, the mobile home could have floated right by the monument they put up that has the names of twenty seven or eight boy scouts, scout masters and other folks who died in 1929 in that flood...the one that erased the town of Glen Alice, Tennessee from the face of the earth, if not from the Rand McNally map lying next to me on the table. There is still a five by five slab of concrete that is all that is left of the Glen Alice Post Office which was essentially the town back then. Everything else went down the Tennessee river.

Well does any body ever learn anything? Maybe not.

The folks who were getting rescued by the bass boat, didn't learn. The folks who were talking on the phone through the longest night of their lives were saved at first light the next morning. As I write this, their son and his family are getting ready for church inside a trailer that sits in exactly the same spot as the one that washed away twelve years ago.

I will go down sometime and check on the Studebaker and see how it is doing.

We never learn, it appears.



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