04 January 2008

Lac d'Elk

Winters in western Sonoma County could be exciting. I remember, growing up in Camp Meeker, how the Russian River would crest its banks, and we’d (foolishly) drive out to Monte Rio and toward Guerneville to see the flood. It seemed magnificent, exhilarating. Except of course for the poor folks who actually lived along the riverbanks. Silly people, I judged – why would they live so close to a river they knew flooded regularly?

Thirty years later, I must turn the same judgment on myself. As it has every year that I’ve lived here, the Elk River is rising. It crested its banks this afternoon, and I watched it crawl across Farmer John’s field toward my house.

It’s actually lovely, in a way. I can gaze across the pasture through my kitchen and bedroom windows. This time of year, the riparian willows are bare, so I can see through them to the river’s bank and beyond to Farmer John’s dairy barn. When the river rises to its bank, I see its shimmer through the trees. And when it crests, it forms pools in the pasture’s hollows. Eventually those pools grow until they join into one continuous, rippling brown flow. Then the birds arrive, the blue herons and the crows, maybe a turkey vulture or two.

Usually the river stays there, about one-third of the way across the pasture toward my house. About once a year, though, it gets bad. Elk River becomes Lac d’Elk, a wide, mucky current sprawling from Larry’s fields, through the Franceschi’s back property, across the road to my back yard. The river makes a big U right at my place, and Farmer’s John pasture is the space inside the U. When we flood, the river fills the U-shaped pasture, joining banks right through my property.

And when the river REALLY floods, it rushes up around my house. My home becomes an island, with water gushing around and under the building.

This is where I thank my architect for suggesting that, as long as I had to put in a new foundation when I bought the place, why not raise the house 3 feet?

Had we not raised the house, it would have been destroyed by flood the first winter I lived here. As is, it came up 18 inches in the carport that year, literally ½ an inch from coming in the back door to the utility room. (I did not raise the little rooms that are at the back of the carport.) The house, thank God (and my architect), is out of harm’s way.

But the carport gets thrashed by the flood waters. It’s always an interesting call once the river’s risen. Is this the time it will flood all the way? Will it flood tonight, after I’ve gone to bed? How much more will it rain, and what’s going on with the tides?

Just in case, I drove the rider mower over to Marianne’s tonight and stored it in her shelter, high on her hill. I also parked my car up by the road. If I truly thought it would flood tonight (and none of the residents down Elk River Courts -- who become stranded back there because their bridge gets covered by water -- have moved their cars up to the road, so I guess the danger isn’t that high), I would move the bicycles and the push mower up onto my tenant’s back steps. (His house is on slightly higher ground and out of flood range.)

So why the hell did I buy a place on a river that floods, given how I used to scoff at people who did just this when I was younger? Well, other than karma… I honestly did not know it would flood. I was informed, during the purchasing process, that the property was zoned 100-year flood plain, and that it had flooded just a few years prior. Hey, I had another 100 years, right?

Well, if Pacific Lumber/Maxxam had not destroyed the river with sedimentary run-off from their rapacious logging upstream, I probably would have had that 100 years. Instead, I have a home that I love with an annual “lakeside” view.

* * * * *

Well, it's morning now and the Elk River is back within its banks. Evidently, last night was not the night for our annual flood. It was, however, quite a storm, with lightening brightly visible through closed eyes and long loud thunders and rain slamming into the bedroom windows. All at 2:00 a.m. Sleep? What's sleep?


Jeri Dansky said...

No flood danger here - but we had quite the winter storm down in my part of Northern California. My bedroom window faces the the incoming storms - so I awoke at 4 a.m. on Friday to wind-driven rain. I lost power around 7 a.m. and didn't get it back until around sunset - and my area hardly ever loses power.

It was a good day to slow down - to stay inside and read and cuddle with the cats. I rescheduled my one appointment; driving around in that storm made no sense if it could be avoided. The wind hit 70 mph on the Golden Gate Bridge. Police recommended you stay inside.

Here's hoping the remaining storms treat all our homes gently.

Claire Josefine said...

Hi Jeri --

70 mph on the GG Bridge? That would be terrifying to drive... I heard that the Richmond/San Rafael bridge was closed for a while.

Amazingly, the storms have been easy on us. Even more amazing, I almost never lose power in the storms, even when all of Arcata and huge sections of Eureka are down (knock on wood!).

Right now there's a bit of a break, and Zachy (the black cat) is outside, watching a gopher hole.

We've got a fire going in the stove, trying to take the chill off the house. (We were at Ant's last night, so my cats had to keep warm by burrowing under my blankets. His cats had our warm bodies and a fire.)

Glad you had a chance to snuggle with your gatos!

Reading anything worth recommending?