Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Lucky Times Three

For anyone who watches the news, it isn't news that Mid-Michigan, where I live, has had its share of troubles lately.   First, we are surrounded by gun-toting, mask-less extremists who insist that being asked not to contract and spread Covid-19 is a violation of their Personal Liberty. Although they are reportedly a minority, they include people we know. People we used to trust.  People I have no interest in ever seeing again.  Besides being surrounded by idiots, we are also surrounded by water.   

Michigan has about 2000 dams, I have read, and most of them are privately owned.   Most of them were built to create recreational areas, and most of them could not be built today under modern regulations.   Two dams northwest of us have been in the news for years because they were old and they were failing, but, as is true for most of this country's old dams, no one wanted to pay for their repair.   

Just last year, a FEMA report concluded that the southern towns -- like Midland, where I like -- would  be seriously damaged if those dams failed and also concluded that the dams were increasingly likely to fail.   Much of the Midland area borders rivers and creeks, and much of it is low lying.  Our house is on a creek that runs off of the Tittabawassee River, into which the floodwaters are released as needed to control the lake levels in Wixom and Sanford Lakes, so that people could enjoy their lovely lakefront properties.  Dow Chemical plant is also downriver from those dams.   That water from the river eventually runs down to the Saginaw Bay and into Lake Huron.  

The Four Lakes Task Force was formed in July 2019 to try to figure out how to protect the dams, but the local people objected at public meetings to anything that would cost them money.  Many (many) people lived on the lakes created by the dams, and they did not want their taxes to go up, and also did not want the water levels to go down, not even a foot or two, because the higher lake levels meant that they could have bigger boats and better fishing.   

Which brings us to this week.

We had several days of persistent rain.   The water levels were rising, but neither dam operator decided to release any water.   We received 911 texts telling us that the dams were structurally sound but that there could be some  localized flooding.   We kept a close eye on the creek in our back yard, and although the levels raised quite a bit, it didn't look dangerous.

And then the fire trucks arrived on our street, lights flashing.  We were alerted that the dam breakage was imminent and that we had to leave.  This is our first year here, and obviously the area has no history of breaking dams, so we didn't know what to expect.   We are not in a flood plain, we were careful about that when we bought the house, but we could see that the creek levels were much higher than usual.  So we moved a few things in the basement to a higher shelf -- I brought up the goose decoy that my brother made, but didn't even think to move my box of quilts upstairs since they were on a shelf.     I was woefully unprepared to leave.  For one thing, between my surgery and the quarantine, I had only driven away from the house a couple of times this year and no longer have any real memory of what I might need when I am away.   For another, I have just gotten so lazy.   For years, when I lived alone, I always kept a "go bag," with medications, clothing, flashlight and copies of insurance and identification, among other things.   I took that bag apart when I got married so that I could replace the documents, and I never got it together again.   We grabbed what we could think of and left, each of us driving a different car.  Almost immediately I realized that I didn't even have my wallet.   I turned around to get it, but the police wouldn't let me back into our street.  It was then that I remembered the quilts, and realized that there were a million things we should have brought with us, but too late to do anything about it.

I have read that, at the peak of the rainfall, the dams were over-topped and were releasing 5000 cubic feet of water a second.  That was when we were home and the creek was high.  When the dams broke, they released 60,000 cubic feet per second.  

In Sanford, up river nine miles northwest of us, whole houses were swept away  Every single business in that small town was destroyed.  The lakes where people lived are now empty, with boats and docks and household debris swept into huge piles.  Whole neighborhoods have disappeared.    Amazingly, no one was killed.

When we were evacuated, we went to Jack's old house, which is in a dry zone.   It was the first time that we were happy he hadn't gotten it ready yet to sell.  Within a few hours we saw a Facebook notice that the sewer system had been shut down, so we drove north to my brother's house.  He was delighted to have us, and we were able to pick up a birthday cake along the way to unexpectedly celebrate his 80th birthday, which normally we would have skipped because of the quarantine.   Our time there was a silver lining in a stressful time as we watched the news and realized how serious this event was going to be.   When we were finally allowed to go home, I arrived first and found that Jack had ordered a bouquet of flowers, which was standing on our front porch.   He didn't know what I would find inside, and he wanted me to remember that we would be okay.

I am still amazed to say that our house was not damaged.   I keep double checking because I still can't believe that it's true.   We can see on the outside of the door frame where the water lapped against the doorwall that leads out of our basement, and there was a little seepage on the carpet inside.   There was no standing water, but a small section of the carpet was damp.   Not wet, merely damp.   The basement has an unpleasant odor, but there was no sewage back up.   We will have the carpet cleaned and sanitized and, if that does not fix the smell, we will have it replaced, but as far as we can tell, nothing else is wrong.  When things settle down and workmen are available, we will investigate what we can do to further protect our property in the event of future flooding.


Our community continues to play on the national news.  Volunteers have poured in from all over the country, as far south as Louisiana, we're told.  Local churches, including a yellow shirt team from the Latter Day Saints and a non-denominational group called Samaritan's Purse, are helping to clean out basements and remove debris, working up to twelve hours a day, in nearly 90 degree heat, on houses they don't own, for people they don't know.   

Our neighborhood is southeast of the dam area so the destruction is less dramatic, but it has been affected.    The people in the house immediately to the left of ours have piles of wet carpet and furniture and dry wall on the curb for pick up.   

The people down the street had five feet of sewage in their basement, and another had 7 feet of floodwater and dozens of dead fish in their daughter's bedroom.   

But the neighbor to the right of us says they did not have a single drop of water in their house.    And we have a few inches of damp carpet.   The undamaged among us feel guilty.   The young ones are going out to help the neighbors.   I have volunteered my whole life but, at 70, I don't seem to have the energy to offer much assistance.  As became true in the Search and Rescue group, I am more likely to be a liability than an aid, so I stand back, send money, and feel guilty.  Guilty and very, very lucky.

Addendum:
Today the Four Lakes Task Force released this statement:
       Recent events related to the Edenville dam failure were terrible and tragic for our community. All of us on the Four Lakes Task Force are devastated by our individual and collective losses, and our hearts go out to everyone who is impacted. The Lake Associations and Counties were in the process of acquiring the dams, with a closing expected, and then to improve the dams to survive historic floods. The acquisition has not and will not take place under the terms that were negotiated with Boyce Hydro this past winter.
       We are reassessing the path forward to acquire the Boyce property and rebuild our dams and lakes. The Four Lakes Task Force is collaborating with the Counties, lake communities and regulatory authorities on the best path forward as we assess the issues and work toward recovery.
Class Action lawsuits have already been filed, blaming everyone and everything.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Beginning Phase One

We had another hard freeze the other night.  Our roof was blanketed in a thick coating of ice.   I had been primed to report in this post about a robin who built a nest outside our windows and was sitting on 5 little blue eggs.  We were looking forward to watching them hatch and fledge.   But sometime over the weekend she froze to death, bravely sitting on her nest.   Although the department of natural resources promises me that this is not uncommon, no one I know has ever seen or heard of such a thing.   It was a pitiful sight, but I've decided that our poor dead robin is my new mental symbol for 2020.   Yes, I've been in that cheery sort of mood lately.

Our Governor is beginning Phase I of trying to open a few more businesses.  I know the business owners are eager.   My dentist called and left a message saying that his office could keep me safe for my regular check up.   I called him back and said I am not ready.  After the armed protests in the Michigan Capital, I don't feel much trust for my fellow citizens.   I will hold back and watch to see how it goes.

Last Sunday was mother's day, most often a difficult day for me.   I was a single mom when my kids were young, and I didn't want them to feel pressured about mother's day.  I told them truly and would still say today, that it is only a Hallmark holiday and that it was enough to know they loved me.   But in those days, after all, they were home and I felt useful and busy and loved.   In my elder years, it is a day often overlooked, and I feel nostalgic for the days when they were young, and lonely for them.  In this quarantine year, it was a moody day for sure.   But Jack bought me flowers, and my son and his family arranged a "drive by" mother's day; my granddaughter RenĂ©e and her mom made delicious lemon squares for me, and they all stood at the end of my driveway so we could talk and just see one another.   I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry, so I did a little of both.    I asked the kids if they could feel me hugging them with my mind.   I hope they could.  I miss them all so much.


Fortunately the hummingbirds survived the latest cold snap, now we just hope that there won't be another.  It is still mostly dreary and cold, with more dreary on the way.   It is still too early to plant tender crops, but there are no predictions of dangerous temperatures today.  In fact, for a brief time today, as a break from all the rain and cold, it was actually hot!   When I went for a short walk, it was 72 degrees, and I was worn out nearly before I started.  I did manage to anonymously deliver three of my pay-it-forward mini-quilts, though.   I will watch for the fourth graduation sign on my next walk and hopefully finish my deliveries.

I've used the rainy weather to make more  of the little house "coaster/quilts" and more masks.   I made masks with a trout pattern for my fly-fishing brother and masks with chemistry and math patterns for my grands.   I expect they will go back to school sometime over the fall and winter, and I think they will still need masks then, so I am getting ready.   I think my next fast and easy "break" project will be to make sets of coasters for a few relatives.   They are easy to mail and will be useful as we finally move into the season of cool drinks that tend to sweat onto the table top!

The afternoon was pleasant, though, and Jack and I took advantage to sit out on our deck for practically the first time since we bought the house.   We watched the newest batch of teeny tiney baby chipmunks -- a scourge, really, but oh so cute -- and were visited by blue jays, cardinals, orioles and woodpeckers.  An oriole visited the hummingbird feeder and spent time drinking the sweet nectar.  In the background, amid the chattering chippers and birdsong, we could hear an occasional chorus of frogs.   It only takes a minute of listening to national of state news to stress us both out, but this time spent listening to nature and each other made it truly an idyllic afternoon.  Jack made me a gin and tonic as a surprise, and I cannot remember being more relaxed and content.

Jack remarked last night that, if things get as bad as the worst-case-predictors think they will, we could spend the rest of our lives with only each other as company.   I hope that won't happen, I treasure seeing my family  and especially my grands.   But I am truly fortunate to know that, if that's the way things shake out, I wouldn't want it any other way.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

May Flowers -- And Birds

I am glad that I posted a photo of our tulip in my last entry, because someone -- squirrels? -- at the flowers clean off the stems within a day or two after I took the picture.   I can hardly blame them, they DID look good enough to eat!  

I decided to test my arm when we had our first warm day, and raked a small area -- perhaps a ten foot square -- that was matted with autumn leaves.   There were a lot of them, and they created a large pile, filling one of the large yard waste bins that our city provides.   The next day my arm felt fine and I was pretty happy with the experiment, but my arm has been painful ever since, which might or might not be connected.   It is annoyingly hard to tell, especially since I've been lax with my exercises lately.   To be safe, I called a landscape company and they have promised to come out when they can and rake up the rest of last autumn's mess.  They were supposed to clean the yard before my surgery, but first the snow and then the quarantine prevented it.   I hope they are able to get it done now,  if they are able to do it safely.  Our roofer called today, too, to say that they will be starting construction soon.   They and other workers are being told by our Governor that they can begin work again, but none of us know whether it is safe for them to do so. It is, at its core, a social experiment.   I think they need to stay home, but they think they need the work.  Selfishly I have to admit that I would be glad to have the work done although if, as we fear, another wave of illness hits, our roof and leaves won't really matter.

We feel so grateful these days.   We do not like being told to stay home (and away from family) any more than anyone else.  But we have a lovely place to stay home in.  We continue to discover the plants in our yard.  We have several large bleeding heart plants, which I expect will be huge before the summer is over.   We have a nice bed of trillium, and a scattering of forget-me-nots and spring beauties.    I love finding woodsy little surprises in our lawn.   I cannot imagine why so many people around here use weed killer to prevent them.




We are still seeing deer almost daily, although the trees are beginning to leaf out and that will make them harder to see.  And we have a raccoon who saunters down our fence line,  using it as a highway, every few days.

I saw a female wood duck up in a tree this week, at least 30 feet up, and was surprised to learn that she could be nesting there.   I cannot imagine how chicks survive the trip down, but apparently they do, so we are hoping that she will decide to raise her family here.  She and her fella have been frequent visitors this spring, along with mallards and Canada geese.    We've watched a Robin setting up housekeeping in one of our clematis plants, and look forward to seeing her family progress.  And we've already had a hummingbird checking out our nectar feeder, the earliest we've ever seen one!

I am finally sewing a little more regularly, and finished a star mat, about 21" across, to send to my husband's twin.  They are a (retired) career military family, so I was happy to find the Navy fabric.  I'm telling myself that quarantined hands should be busy hands so I hope to get a few more gifts done as time goes on.  My plan is to send them out as they are finished, for no particular reason.


Speaking of gifts, I was delighted to receive a "pay it forward" gift from my friend Barbara, and especially love that it has a little house in the embroidery!   I have been obsessed with house motifs during this quarantine time and have worked on little else.   It came with a "hug" token, which I love!  What a sweet addition.



In exchange for Barb's gift, I promised to make and give four 'pay it forward' gifts myself.   I noticed, from signs on their front lawns, that (at least) four neighborhood kids are graduating from high school during the quarantine, so I decided to gift them with little coasters and a note reminding them to stay home and stay safe.   I don't know any of them so I am not likely to ever hear whether they enjoyed their surprises, but at least my conscience is clear and I can enjoy Barb's gift without guilt!