Update on photos: Minnesota Public Radio has demanded I remove the lovely Derek Montgomery photos from this post, and so of course I have. I had gotten them not from the MPR site, but from a different site that had put up several dozen storm photos. But they are right that I did not have permission to use them, and so I have taken them down.
Star Tribune staff photo by Brian Peterson
We have had some rain lately, and this morning's walk was beautiful--the lake calm, the sky baby-blue, an egret flying in overhead. The grass is lush and green, and my feet grew wet as I cut across the park. Yes, we have had some rain lately, and it has been lovely, but 150 miles to the north my home town, Duluth, has had some RAIN.
Not just rain, not just thunderstorms, but torrents of rain, sheets of rain, rain that pounded away for hours and hours and hours at the sidewalks and the streets and the yards, breaking them down, crumbling them into chunks of asphalt and concrete and mud and rock, and then washing it all away--no, not washing it away, but sweeping it away, pushing it down the hill with the force of tons of brown foaming water shooting through yards and roadways and pelting, roiling, cascading, foaming... verbs fail me. Words fail me. I was not there. I have not seen it. I am trying to imagine.
Ten inches of unrelenting, pounding rain. Parts of my city are in ruins, from the East End to Fond du Lac, from the top of the hill to the shore of the lake.
I have not been up there, have not seen this with my own two eyes, but yesterday I was riveted for hours, trolling the Web, staring at pictures, trying to recognize my city. Vermilion Road, where I once walked every day, is buckled and broken and lying in chunks. The wall behind the food co-op, which I think is in the old Casa de Roma restaurant building, has fallen into the parking lot, which is now a river; I look at the picture and I don't recognize everything, there is so much destruction, so much water. So much water!
The sleepy, lovely creeks where I once hiked are raging, foaming, wild rivers. Verbs are failing me again, and I am lapsing into cliches. Hillsides have collapsed, basements and first floors have flooded. The bridges at Chester Bowl, the park where I hiked winter and summer, the park where my California aunt came every year to view the bright autumn leaves--those bridges are gone. The picnic area has drowned, the green wooden tables floating.
The swinging bridge that hangs high over the St. Louis River in Jay Cooke Park--that scary bridge that sways when you walk, that connects one side of the gorge to the other--swept away! How is this possible? The river is ten, twenty, maybe thirty feet below. But not yesterday. Yesterday the wild river rose and rose and rose, rose over the deck of the bridge, impossibly, and kept rising and now the bridge is gone.
The swinging bridge at Jay Cooke. Photo from Facebook.
Here's the bridge before it--along with one of those stone supports--was swept away.
Campers were evacuated, a boy was swept through culverts, to be spat out a half-mile away, cut and bleeding and crying, but alive. Stories are everywhere. People kayak through town, looking at the mess. College boys seize the moment, and fire up their jet skis and zoom through flooded parking lots, making waves, spraying up rooster tails, laughing. Cars are flooded, stranded, sunk into holes, bobbing on avenues, submerged.
Photo by Dennis O'Hara (I think)
The old WPA-era zoo, with its lovely stone walls and grassy picnic area and that steep hill where, in the winter, we used to toboggan, is deep, deep in water. Overnight, animals--panicking, perhaps--escaped: a polar bear and two seals made a break for it, the seal swimming over the wall and out onto Grand Avenue, where it was rescued in the dark by a man who first thought it was a dog. The bear was hit with a tranquilizer dart and locked up again somewhere safer.
A dozen other animals drowned in their cages, in their pens.
I am astounded at the pictures--so beautiful, breathtaking in the power and the force and the motion and the light. Words fail me again, and I start piling up the adjectives. But my city! In these pictures, it is unrecognizable: I do not recognize it.
Duluth, of course, is all about the wild places; it's a city that sort of fits itself in to nature. This is why I love it. It was built on the edge of the big lake, in the Great North Woods. Its rivers and creeks and streams flow into Superior; its neighborhoods are studded with parks and gullies and hiking paths and wild animals; the North Shore will take you through the woods all the way to Canada.
But here's the thing about nature: It can take everything back. Build that house on the hill, live there a lifetime; but know that nature will carve the hill out from underneath any time it wants to, and your house will collapse. Reroute that creek; dam that river; nature will put them back whenever she chooses.
Duluthians are tough, and they love violent weather--thunderstorms and blizzards and snowstorms. We used to go outside and play during thunderstorms when I was a kid; we found them exciting, not scary. And that great Halloween Blizzard, when the Twin Cities got 28 inches and bragged and swaggered about it--Duluth of course, got ten inches more than that and stoically went about digging itself out from all of the mess without much fuss.
But rain? Yes, it rains a lot in June, but ten inches in a day? The only way this makes sense to Duluthians is for people to translate it into snowfall: how much snow this would have been, had it been cold. Ah. Sixty inches. Now I get it. Wow. That's a lot of snow! I mean, rain.
This is not Katrina. This is not hurricanes and dikes breaking, houses filling up, people trapped in attics, people dying. This was rain. Just rain. And yet I keep hearing the mournful voice of Steve Earle in my head, singing his ode to New Orleans: "This city won't wash away, this city won't ever drown."
None of these pictures are by me; as I said, I haven't been up there to see it for myself. But look at them. You see what I mean: it's destruction, but it's beautiful, so beautiful.