I wanted to look up this song by Peter Gabriel before using the title, to make sure it was appropriate. Then I did, and I cried. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0GcqYGv1AA. I’m not even quite sure what the song is about, but one site I came across suggested it was about World War II. Knowing that Peter Gabriel’s political conscience often enters into his music, it made sense to me.
Just to clarify, I’m not writing this post about World War II. But I am writing a larger work about the Vietnam War and the concurrent CIA operations in Laos, and war is war, and it pretty much sucks for everyone involved (except maybe those who have the power to send other people to war, but I digress). And for years later, it haunts people. In the case of the men who served in Laos, they’re also haunted by having to leave their mission and go home, abandoning the native Hmong fighters to hold off the North Vietnamese Army by themselves, without our air power or even our equipment.
It seems like a strange segue, but I’m really writing about an actual flood, here in my backyard. It happened nearly two months ago now, and I feel guilty admitting that for us, in our part of town, it was really a non-event. It rained for a few days, and our grass got really green (an unusual occurrence in Colorado). But around us, people were reeling. The local school district had students in the mountains on a retreat, and they had to get them out by helicopter. Farms were destroyed. The road up to Estes Park, one we’ve taken before, is gone — completely washed out — and isn’t expected to be drivable until spring, at the soonest.
Yesterday, I drove to Boulder to meet a mosaic artist whose work I love. (See her stuff here: Kasia Mosaics.) Her work was up in a gallery in downtown Boulder, but I had missed the show, so she generously invited me to her home studio to see the pieces I had missed at the gallery. Now, I don’t just love the work, I love her! It was a selfish errand, but I learned a lot along the way. Kasia lives about seven miles up a road called, ironically, Fourmile Canyon Road. It’s a side road off of Boulder Canyon, an area hit very hard by the September floods.
Kasia and her neighbors were forced from their homes by the flood and weren’t able to return until over a month later. And the work continues. On my slow journey up the canyon, I passed at least three crews hard at work, replacing the road bed with fresh dirt and gravel, clearing debris from the sides of the road. And by “debris,” I mean uprooted trees, furniture, tools, laundry baskets, and in some cases, homes. Two houses had fallen into the creek behind them, turned sideways and backward. And that’s just what I saw from the safety of my car. Kasia assures me that the area looked many times worse the first time she saw it. “I was walking (because we couldn’t drive in), and the pole of someone’s mailbox was nearly even with my head. That’s how much of the road was gone. It looked like a dinosaur had come and just eaten sections of the road.”
Boulder County is wealthy, and they can afford three or four crews to repair a damaged road and restore a sense of sanity to the people who live there. But I think of all the places in the world that can’t recover from a disaster like this. Too many to name. And even here, life changed in an instant. No amount of money can repair the inner damage that can do. And despite the strange connection, I can’t help but keep coming back to this idea of water and war. In either case, Gabriel’s lyrics ring true.
When the flood calls
You have no home, you have no walls
In the thunder crash
You’re a thousand minds, within a flash
Don’t be afraid to cry at what you see
The actors gone, there’s only you and me
And if we break before the dawn, they’ll
Use up what we used to be.