Come Again Another Day

There have been July’s we would have been overjoyed to get a single inch of rain twice during the month. This is not one of those. On the 5th we’ve already exceeded the “normal” average for the month by a good bit.

We’ve had somewhere between six and seven inches just this week, and most of it came too fast. (Roanoke is 12″ over the norm for this time of year.)

And it came on top of soil already saturated. And in our topography, that means flash floods. We stood on the front porch and watched the edge of the creek creep closer to the road in front of the barn. A stone’s throw from the front steps, Goose Creek carved back the standing four foot wall of sand, soil and alluvial rock that has laid in this valley undisturbed for a thousand years.

Huge chunks of the bank fell into the roiling muddy water and disappeared. The low-frequency rumble of boulders tumbling unseen in the muddy water was felt as much as heard as they crashed against each other, propelled by the alarming force of so much water.

As we watched sheltered by the porch roof, mostly, from the driving rain–and seconds before my HandyCam began to record the scene–a good sized cherry fell from the pasture side, forming a bridge under which the runaway-train of coffee-colored water rushed towards Roanoke.

This was more water than we’ve seen in our 13 years here (most such storms seem to come in the dark) and it was, frankly, a little terrifying. We figured that, when it was over, we’d have road issues. We were right.

VDOT finally sent the Volvo road grader late yesterday, because their trucks couldn’t get across the second low water bridge to cut a downed large tree blocking the road in that direction. As of last night, the water level was still too high to risk Ann getting out of here that direction this morning (leaving at 530–twenty minutes from now. I’ll have to stop typing and get her to the hardtop the other direction. But…)

Going the Shawsville Pike direction, because VDOT was prohibited from clearing the tree trunks and piled-up flotsam from the creek from the January storm that took our road out in a major way, we had a repeat performance, though thankfully not quite as damaging.

I give you, for comparison purposes, Exhibit A–same exact condition of the dam creek back in January.

creek2130131-1Seems there are some watershed or creek bed regulations that prevent even pragmatic prophylactic maintenance. I’m all for low intervention for natural bodies of water–up to the point where their conditions degrade the health, safety or livelihood of those who live and pay taxes in the area.

I’ll be calling this morning to give a piece of my mind to various federal agency answering machines.

Surely (he said) there’s a way to adjust the “standard interpretation” of whatever regulations are in place that, if unchanged, will continue to cause our road to become impassable in future storms (can you say HURRICANE SEASON?). Repairing this road damage is drop-dead simple and way cheaper than repeatedly patching rather than fixing the problem.

6:05 ~ I took Ann in the truck to her car, parked yesterday late at a neighbor’s, beyond the rubble field that once was our road. She called from Shawsville just now, and should make it fine from there. I’ll stay home and wait for the next domestic adventure. What a week!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. VDOT has considerable power to maintain the Right of Way. While there are environmental constraints on ditching and casting (placing soils on wetlands) these can be managed by capable staff. I hope the blame for failure to maintain the ROW is placed where it belongs rather than where it most easily lays to rest. We also need to recognize that a County with over 120 miles of rural roads needs a managerial structure and staff which is responsive to citizens. In my experience a well placed conversation still has the means to resolve most issues, sometimes it takes a repeat- as mother nature is never satisfied until all her waters have found the weakest link. Undersized or clogged culverts, discharging ditches, steep grades, pumping soils, displaced or eroded aggregate, stream banks and vegetation all create hazards. Patience is a virtue, but sometimes we gotta step in and take care of our road-frontage like folks used to do- or call for help. I sure like your illustration of the creek meandering across the road bed, hope it goes home soon.

  2. We’ve had a good bit of rain here in S. Florida in the last week or so, too – perhaps as much as 6″. It’s been a very wet year, so far. I hope you had a productive conversation with the powers that be …

  3. You’ve had quite a challenging time recently. Your comment on the rolling boulders reminds me of canoeing an arctic river where you can here the rocks moving as you fly downstream.

  4. It’s been raining steadily here in southern Virginia for months, making gardening this year an adventure, to say the least. But as bad as we’ve had it, we’re fortunate compared to what you and the folks in the Roanoke area have gotten. While all this was happening to you we got yet another 2 1/2 inches on our farm, on top of already saturated soil. That was damaging of course. But nearby communities got 5 inches. So we’re counting our blessings.

    Let’s hope things return to something like normal soon.