Wednesday, June 26, 2013

joy in mudville

The cleanup has begun. Although parts of the city remain in darkness and quite a few people, many of them seniors, remain out of their homes, the water levels are steadily receding. And with it, volunteers with strong backs and rubber boots are descending upon devastated neighbourhoods. The city's git er dun spirit is bursting forth from every mud-covered neighbour.

From the start, Mayor Nenshi has been a beacon of sensible leadership. Among the populace, the mayor's cache has reached almost godlike status. Flanked by a dedicated team, he has spearheaded the flood fighting efforts with unflagging energy, realistic optimism, and an undampened sense of humour. About three days into the flood, the twitterverse started a movement to force Mayor Nenshi to take a nap, and memes began popping up around the themes of Nenshi nouns or depicting the mayor with his face superimposed over a bus shelter ad for the new Superman movie. As thoughts naturally began turning to flood relief fundraising, local Bad Portraits artist Mandy Stobo designed what has already become an iconic symbol of the 2013 flood, a tee-shirt shirt depicting Nenshi in a scuba mask. I am pretty sure everybody in Calgary has already ordered at least one of these.
The city is doing an incredible job of repairing infrastructure. A major thoroughfare into downtown, that the flood waters had completely demolished, just reopened this morning. One of the lanes is now designated bus only, since the LTR tracks running through the adjacent tunnel are completely buckled and twisted into surreal shapes. Although not currently train-worthy, you know it won't take long to get that repaired.  

But it's not just a matter of great top-down leadership that is driving the reconstruction. Mostly, it's way more grassroots. When the city put out a call for 600 volunteers to muster at McMahon stadium to start cleaning out flood-ravaged houses, they weren't prepared for the 7,000 that turned up. Smaller centralized efforts immediately began springing up around the city, and many many people now simply show up at a house - any house - ready to pitch in. It continues day after day after day. You hear stories, of the homeless man who rides his bike daily to an area that needs assistance and just starts helping. It's one thing to pitch in and get mud-caked when you can go home to a shower and clean clothes, quite another when you call a shelter home.

Some of the stories emerging are heart-wrenching: an elderly woman who died in her flooded home, pictures of found dogs with captions asking do you know him?, irreplaceable mementos ravaged by water and mud. But mostly, the stories are of generosity: people offering homes, people showing up with food and coffee, people driving from house to house with pumps and shovels, people determined to keep getting sore and muddy day after day until the job is done.

The next step, the flood relief fundraising, is now beginning in earnest. And knowing Calgarians, I can guarantee that the matter of raising funds to help rebuild will become a great big party. Or, possibly a lot of little parties. But probably both. Because this is my Calgary.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

slow the churn

This picture of the Bow river in more tranquil times is such a drastic contrast to our current reality that it's difficult to believe that we are still in the same city. This is the new reality.

The sense of surrealism began on Thursday night, when people being evacuated from their homes were told to mark their doors with an X as they leave, so that firefighters knew that everyone was out. Today, with the evacuation orders lifted for a large area of the city, people returning home were told to place signs in their windows that can be seen from the street: gas needed, electricity needed, water pumping needed. It all feels somewhat biblical.

Along with the dramatic photos and videos, stories are emerging, of resilience and kindness, of generosity and determination. Despite the massive evacuation, emergency shelters were nowhere near capacity, most of the displaced people being taken in by friends and family. Shelters have begun broadcasting notices to please not donate any more food and blankets as they have no room. The Calgary Drop In Centre, Canada's largest homeless shelter, evacuated to a former hotel on Friday night. Last night they posted a plea to hold off on bringing in any more food, clothing and blankets, at least until the next day, as they had to make room amongst the donations for people to actually sleep.

Everyone, it seems, is desperate to help. 

With the cancellation of the Sled Island music festival over the weekend, Flood Island sprang up in its place. Stranded musicians played free street festivals and held concerts on balconies and in living rooms. The Calgary Stampede, whose grounds are completely engulfed a mere two weeks before the event, has adopted a new motto: Hell or High Water. The Kingsland Farmers' Market set out crates of food and urged anyone in need to come and take whatever they need. A Calgary Clean Up initiative quickly became a Facebook fixture, racking up 25,000 likes in couple of days. Updated information, requests for help and notices of free community meals are posted here, along with assurances to rest up, we will call on you to help when the time is right. The degree of organization is astounding, surpassed only by a widespread desire to help.

There have been a few instances of price gouging reported, a liquor store charging $20 for a bag of ice, a hardware store selling flats of water for $50. But then, as if by magic, you see signs in store windows offering free ice to anyone who needs it, and kids going door to door on my own untouched street, collecting donations and bottles to help flood victims.

The central icon of all this community spirit, this sensible approach and organization, is our beloved mayor. Still maintaining that killer sense of humour despite the sleepless nights and the incredible responsibility on his shoulders, he has proven that he is a leader for the worst of times. 

And that's exactly the kind of leader we need to lead us back to high ground. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

feet touched nothing

I got an oil change today, which is the natural thing to do when your city is flooding. As I drove over the bridge to the dealership, I was shocked to see the normally mild and gentle Fish creek, which I usually don't even notice, racing beneath me, far too close to the bridge for my comfort. The fact that there was a bridge separating me from home did not stray far from my thoughts the entire time I was having that oil change.

I've been heeding official pleas to stay the hell out of the way, so my only views of the devastation wrought by the raging Bow and Elbow rivers have been via a screen, on Twitter, on Facebook, on newsfeeds. Still even our safe and dry enclave has pockets of flooding. The normally docile Fish Creek, although not churning and roaring like its bigger, meaner brothers, has swollen to ten times its normal size. I don't imagine that bridge in Fish Creek Park will be there very long.

The rivers crested today. Still, 27 neighbourhoods in my city have been evacuated, close to 100,000 people displaced. This situation is not going to be cleared up overnight. 

The downtown core is in darkness tonight, the power having been turned off. Water lapped at the corners of the building in which I work and seeped into the basement, threatening the rare instruments housed there. Many of the animals at the zoo have been relocated and, in a bright note in an otherwise grim day, we learned that the contingency plan for the big cats is to relocate them to holding cells in the court house. The Stampede grounds, set to be filled with rides, fried everything and thousands of people in a mere two weeks, was instead filled with water. The iconic Saddledome has water up to the 10th row of seats. I watched a heartbreaking video of a giant tree along Memorial Drive bending over, slowly and gracefully, until it snapped and was washed away by the raging river. Bridges have been breached and road closures are too numerous to count.

But at least the rain finally stopped. Let's see what happens during Day 3 of the flood.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

wash over me

I'm having trouble keeping track, but at last count seventeen neighbourhoods in my city have been evacuated due to flood risks. All in a matter of about five hours. Floods sure move fast in these parts.

I grew up with floods. The flat topography and the heavy clay soils of Manitoba make spring floods a fairly common occurrence. But the floods of my childhood were slow moving behemoths, that you could see coming a week away. It's an entirely different story in the mountains.

It was startling to see the level of the river rise so rapidly. An hour makes a huge difference on a fast flowing mountain-fed river like the Bow. I am glad my city is being so prudent in issuing mandatory evacuation orders in low-lying neighbourhoods. It may be easy for me to say, since I am on relatively high ground far from the river, but I would rather we took too many precautions, instead of too few.

Hopefully in a couple of days we will look back on this and say we dodged a big one.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

sweet home Manitoba

Devil on the Wall 
- Manitoba Hal Brolund

Ukelele-meister Manitoba Hal has wasted no time since his 2012 release Flirting with the Mermaids in dropping another album of curiously infectious music upon the unsuspecting public. Devil on the Wall is somewhat less ukelele-centric than the previous release, showcasing instead his mastery of the slide and electric guitar.  

Devil on the Wall is a very bluesy album. A couple of fine covers of blues standards appear amongst the rollicking original tunes. Manitoba Hal may have set his ukelele aside for much of the album, but there is no denying that the man knows his way around a blues guitar. With a sweetly vulnerable cry in his naturally authoritative voice, the prairie boy turned blue-noser leaves no doubt that he has mastered the feel-good heartbreak that defines a really good blues tune.

Devil on the Wall is a fairly short album, only nine tracks, but it proves the adage that good things come in small packages.  Do yourself a favour and check this one out.

Friday, June 14, 2013

lake wild life

the hunter, with weapon
the resident caretaker couple

either Carl or Chachi, the local garter snake power couple

just visiting (hopefully), this black bear sauntered across the yard and swam across the lake like it was a kiddie pool

human animals, first sighting
human animals, sighting two

swallows: the next generation

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

texts from the road

- pulling into redcliff for a pee because we hate medicine hat
- in SK! smell ya later AB!
- kfc at swift current waaay better than a&w
- first llama sighting, just past regina!

- we're here and so is koodo evidently
- had appy supper on the deck under the poopy swallow nest
- using my new notebook that u gave me for christmas for the first time to make lake lists
- a garter snake followed dad around as he mowed the lawn. better than a cottage dog. now he's sunning himself beside the deck, the snake, not dad
- we have 2 garter snakes, carl & chachi!
- a black bear just walked across the yard and swam across the lake. so much wildlife happening!
- all the seniors are out in the yard at the rossburn senior centre!
- just bought a couch for the lake at rossburn thrift store. no sign of bedbugs yet, next challenge getting up those stairs
- chris hadfield talking to bob macdonald on quirks & quarks. geek love in!
- berni left us some rhubarb cake and guacamole. quality visit!
- made dad watch lars & the real girl. he had to admit it was charming. amazing what lack of network tv will do

- major fogbank from st lazare all the way to moosemin, like driving through hades
- just saw a fox trotting through a field!
- after the shit-covered bathroom at broadview I could barely stop washing my hands with the plenitude of soap & hot water at the new shell in moose jaw. bathroom nirvana!
- if this is swift current and we are heading west we must be at burger king
- enid luk has an awesome billboard! likely the only asian realtor in the greater medicine hat region
- hopefully last stop before home unless we stop at lakeside packers in brooks for a hot dog
- we can see the bow building! it's probs still about 900 miles away but we're getting there
- home! I owe ramona so many belly rubs in the grass

Thursday, June 06, 2013

turn around

With barely enough time to dump out the suitcase from the last trip, we're off again. First world problems, I know. This journey will be decidedly more unconnected and, once we put the 1,100 kms of blacktop behind us, definitely slower paced. Art supplies, books, fishing gear, and board games are already packed. One day, I will bring that old guitar along with me.  And then, watch me chill.

See you in a week or so.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

a place where nothing ever happens

It's odd how the same weather that feels so gloomy while you are traveling, feels cozy and comforting when you are at home. A lot of it, of course, has to do with the fact that at home you are not expected to traipse about outside for hours. And hotels don't generally have lap kitties that keep you trapped in a comfy chair, while watching the sheets of rain outside the window. Perhaps they should.

The weather wasn't a complete write-off during the recent we(s)t coast oddyssey. We enjoyed a couple of days of only intermittent spitting during which we met with friends for dinner (twice!) and during which the Offspring took me to visit some new haunts. She always takes me to a new neighbourhood when I visit, and we walk and explore for hours. It's a great way to really get to know the city.

This trip we visited a dog beach near her house when I first arrived, and the next day explored an industrial area turned art gallery. Next to the industrial park was a community garden that began at the edge of a baseball field and spilled over into the next block where it met up with yet another community garden. The gardens meandered through trees and bogs, winding wood chip pathways beckoning you around the next mysterious turn in the forest., whimsical garden art tucked in amongst the chives and raspberry canes. 

After that the rains moved in, in earnest. So much so that we bailed on an outdoor concert, which was the impetus behind the trip in the first place. I still carry residual guilt over that one, but the evening spent instead curled up on the hotel couch watching Arrested Development, Archer and Bob's Burgers with the Offspring was pretty glorious. I have come to the realization that I am too damned old to spend my nights standing in the pouring rain with thousands of strangers, the majority of them no doubt eight-feet tall.

Now back home, I watch the rains of June move in right on schedule. From my favourite perch, I can look out the massive front window and feel in the midst of all the unaccustomed green, everything freshly washed and bursting with buds. Perhaps that's another reason why the torrential rains feel so comforting when home. After an early winter and a cold and very late spring, the high plains desert is finally springing to life . After all, around here our motto is "it's good for the trees".