[R-G] Red River
hunterbadbear at hunterbear.org
Fri Mar 27 15:02:51 MDT 2009
THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS [HUNTER BEAR] MARCH 27 2009
Amidst the array of profoundly disturbing global news -- including the not unexpected deepening U.S. involvement in Afghanistan -- is, of course, the Weather and its ramifications. In the past few days, no one, at least in this country, can escape the countless reports of catastrophic flooding in the Red River country of North Dakota and Minnesota.
The prognosis for Fargo and its Minnesota sister city of Moorhead is extremely grim -- with hopes now that overflow might be at least partially contained vis-a-vis local neighborhoods. Both cities have begun evacuations which will undoubtedly increase today and tomorrow -- as the Red begins its ultimate crest in that setting. This is set in the crisis context of flooding and probable flooding not only via the Red itself, but in much of North Dakota generally, and in western Minnesota.
We lived in proximity to the Red River for sixteen years -- at the down river town of Grand Forks. [One goes "up" the map from Fargo to the Forks, but the Red flows north and down into Lake Winnipeg.] The entire region is a land of extreme temperatures -- 90 degrees and higher in the summers; often 30 or 40 below in the winters -- with wind-chills sometimes dropping to 90 below zero. Snows and ice-storms can be very heavy. And things generally are wildly unpredictable.
We -- Eldri and I -- have four children: Maria, John, Peter, Josie. And there are, so far, eight grandchildren [with a ninth on the way via Josie and Cameron who live near us here in Idaho.] Although only one now, John, lives with his kids in the Red country [and a good ways from the river, fortunately], you can bet all of us in our family, wherever we are presently located, are watching the current situation -- surrounded and invaded by our vivid memories of the catastrophic flood of 1997.
The Red River Valley is, in a word, an archaic swamp. And it's as flat as the Mississippi Delta or one's table-top. Historically, until the Europeans came, there were no known permanent settlements there. [Well to the east in Minnesota are the timbered forests and lakes; to the west, the land becomes broken, eventually shifting to the vast North Dakota Badlands.]
But towns like Fargo and Grand Forks should never have been built in that setting. In the 1840s, fur entrepreneur, Alexander Ross of the Hudson's Bay Company, noted in his diary that the then flooding Red River had produced a lake 40 miles wide.
[I cannot resist adding this: Ross, of course, was a sworn antagonist of our direct ancestor, John Gray [Ignace Hatchiorauquasha] who in 1824, with the other Iroquois and some Abenaki fur hunters, forced Ross to cut the price of company trade goods in half and re-do his books to reflect the change. That was out here in our Columbia and Snake river country. Ross referred to John Gray as a "turbulent blackguard" and a "damned rascal." The next year, Gray and his band successfully took on Peter Skene Ogden, another HBC antagonist, on pricing issues just south of here in the Bear Lake setting.
We often recall the late summer period in Grand Forks where, in the evenings, the mosquitoes were so thick on our windows we could scarcely see out.
And we well recall, too, that -- even a few days before the '97 flood hit and subsequently wrecked the Grand Forks area [there were also, in conjunction, serious fires], many people remained convinced that it could never happen. For whatever reason or reasons, I had never trusted the Red River and, a few years before, relocated our family far to the west of town. We also spent the month immediately preceding the horrific flood stockpiling food and water. The flood stopped 300 yards short of us. We shared food and water with others, served as one of several command posts, helped as best we could.
Following all of that, Grand Forks and neighboring East Grand Forks [across the river] erected huge dikes -- which are a bit more than sixty feet high. Essentially, they are modeled after those at Winnipeg [and that's good] but built by builders and contractors from this country [which makes one thoughtful.]
They were costly and Fargo now blames Grand Forks for using up all of the available Federal monies in that genre -- leaving Fargo et al. to their own devices and luck.
As the Red proceeds toward Grand Forks, other towns, and ultimately the Winnipeg area, it will swell much, much larger. Expected to crest at Fargo around 43-44 feet, it will be, at the minimum, about ten feet above that when it hits the Forks.
But it could be higher. And the dikes, whatever the quality of their construction, have been subjected to more than a decade of extreme temperatures and some heavy river pressures.
And the river pressures are now going to be tremendous. I understand that many people -- maybe most -- in the Grand Forks setting remain pretty sanguine about "things holding." Rightly or wrongly, they trust the dikes.
Well, we can hope. And hope hard. But if we were still there, we'd have started stockpiling food and water weeks ago.
When the realization about this crisis struck the people in Fargo something more than a fortnight ago, people rallied -- people from far and away -- and they've been working like hell right to this present moment. That tremendous outpouring of human solidarity has been noted around the world -- and quite rightly so.
This is not unusual in any rural/small town/ small city setting -- when Disaster is involved. It occurred very commendably at Grand Forks a few days before that horrific flood of twelve years ago -- but too late.
And it has to be noted that, in the weeks following these disasters, there is inevitably some significant social disorganization -- characterized, among other things, by personal depression, crime, violence, departures, even suicide. [We ourselves left Grand Forks in July 1997 for a very high hill here in Eastern Idaho.]
And in all of these situations, then and now, there are many, many indeed who never take out the relatively inexpensive flood insurance. [Floods, as a rule, are not covered by conventional homeowners' policies.] Son John reported earlier this morning that, despite several weeks of a veritable flood of advertisements, commercial and not-for-profit, pleading for folks to get that insurance in timely fashion -- it has to be gotten at least 30 days in advance -- a very, very large number have not.
They're demanding a kind of Federal bailout -- a waiver of the 30 day time limit. It doesn't look, at least at this point, that they'll get it. [FEMA could possibly be of some help later on in covering some property damage losses.]
But when one cuts to the bone, and you and your family and your community face life and its challenges -- big and small -- you do have to be prepared and willing to "kill your own snakes."
As I've said, we were there in that country of wild weather, natural disasters, mostly friendly people, for sixteen years. And then we returned to my native Mountain West.
Now, when I see on television the unfolding tragedies encompassing our former region, I occasionally look out our window to the reassuring view of close-by Idaho mountains. No flood can reach us up where we live; we can handle any brush or timber fires. Crime is minimal up here [but I have firearms] -- and the creatures of the wild [even rattlesnakes] are seen by us as friends.
[And that's likely mutual.]
But we do keep our earthquake insurance paid up faithfully. And we always, always stockpile food and water.
Hunter [Hunter Bear]
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
I have always lived and worked in the Borderlands.
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