The River is a Strong Brown God

J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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17 Responses

  1. Mike Dwyer says:

    “When I was nine, she flooded again, almost matching it. But by the 90s, Louisville had become suburban, and my neighborhood, unlike the old downtown, sprawls along hills well above the water line.”

    I assume you are talking about the ’97 flood? And you were only 9? Dang, I thought you were older than that! I was 22 at the time and remember it well. We were at a friend’s cabin on the Salt River and (true story!) one of the guys had dropped acid and was up all night. At 6am he woke us up to tell us the river was getting ready to come over the bank. We hustled to our cars and drove back to Louisville, realizing when we got there just how bad it was. But, as you say, it wasn’t like Louisiana. It was a spectator flood. We just went downtown to gawk at the flooded parking garages.

    I was rendered weepy the other night when I saw a young black man in a Bob Marley shirt helping an elderly white man to safety. And seeing people of all races filling sandbags and helping their neighbors. Why is it that Americans are at our best in the face of adversity?Report

    • Anne in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      @mike-dwyer I moved to Louisville in Aug of ’97 and I remember everyone still talking about it I had just turned 21. Going to be in Louisville over Labor day to celebrate our milestone birthday this year with my sister. Staying on her boat on the river.

      I feel for everyone in LouisianaReport

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Anne says:

        The ’94 blizzard and the ’97 flood were the biggest events of my 20s I think. We are fortunate that we get to look back on them fondly.Report

        • J.L. Wall in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          If you’re shocked I was only 9 for the flood, you don’t even want to think about where I was in life for the ’94 blizzard — which I remember only as a glorious two weeks off from school, and that when my younger brother stepped off the front porch when we went out to play in the snow (supervised!), he was completely covered by it.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Anne says:

        If you were in 21 in 1997, we were right about the same age (I turned 22 that year). We’ll have to play acquaintance bingo sometime.Report

  2. Stillwater says:

    What do you even do with that?


    “Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state.

    To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances, is one of the privileges and the prime conceits of being human and especially of being youthfully human, but a privilege that must be surrendered with that same youth, with ill health, with accident, with the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers; powers eventually and most emphatically given up, as we approach our last breath.” (Quote from David Whyte)

    Seems to me the final residue of our humanity, of our human-ness, is what’s left of our selves and our journey after we experience significant loss, which can and will afflict us all in the end.Report

  3. dexter says:

    I am sure glad you have the time to sit around and discuss your age while Louisiana is basically getting stomped by a slow moving disaster. My mother in law has aged five years since Saturday. Three of her daughters, one granddaughter and I spent they day cleaning out my mother in law’s house. Tomorrow there will be more help, but we are at least two months from having her back home.
    I spent two hours working on a fantastic roll top desk made by her deceased husband today and hopefully will be able to get it back to its before the flood condition.
    I hope I did not come off too harsh, but, your age bash sorta pissed me off. There has been an estimated 40,000 houses hit by this flood and lots of them did not have insurance while you sit at your air conditioned computer and go “Oh, you are such a puppy.” You do not have a fucking clue.Report

    • Maribou in reply to dexter says:

      @dexter Many of us have been through natural disasters, and I’m sorry for all that you and your family are going through in this one. In addition to donating to Red Cross, as J. L. suggested, are there other things you’d like to see us doing to contribute?

      In my experience, it’s fairly normal for people to josh each other about unrelated things when a tragedy is occurring. It’s a way of catching one’s breath, almost? I’m sure Mike wasn’t trying to blow off the seriousness of what’s happening, or disrespect your family.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to dexter says:


      Offense was certainly the last thing I meant to give. I wrote this post precisely because I’ve been pacing around our apartment in a fury for the last few days because it hasn’t been considered national news. (That seems to be changing — the NYT appears to have finally realized it’s a big deal this morning.) Mike and I tend to shift pretty quickly toward Louisville memory/nostalgia/chat whenever we interact — it’s just a natural part of our online conversation by now, something that’s almost muscle memory (at least on my end). I think the age talk was part of that. But you’ve got every right to be a little pissed, in general and at a comment thread that could understandably be read as undermining the seriousness of the event, given that it was the bulk of the comments at the time. I’m sure I speak for Mike when I say that doing so was the last thing either of us intended.

      And thank you for the correction on the nature of the flood. You’ll see it reflected in the post above shortly.

      I’m relieved to hear that, all other things considered, you and your family are at least physically safe.Report

      • dexter in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        @j-l-wall, Once again sorry for the rant. I do have the same problem as you about the lack of coverage on this flood. This is a big deal. The local news were carrying nothing but flood so when I went to CNN and MSNBC all they would talk about was the Yammering Yam’s latest fleck of effluvia.
        Another problem is that, instead of us dealing with our usual insurance guy, everything has been shifted to Fema and, as of now and after three days of trying, all we can get is a busy signal. We have known our insurance guy for over thirty years and after Gustav he was there the next day. I had zero problems with his estimates.Report

        • J_A in reply to dexter says:

          A technical aside, I doubt Gustav could be answering the calls from 40,000 households with his customary speed.

          FEMA and federal disaster assistance is available also for those without flood insurance, which apparently is the majority of affected people. Plus, no matter who fronts it, flood insurance is a federal program. Gustav would be sending the paperwork back to the federals.

          I understand it’s frustrating that FEMA doesn’t have the manpower to man the phone lines in an emergency like this (and perhaps some charity should look at helping FEMA in that respect; it’s a very useful thing for victims, and could be set up anywhere in the country), but having FEMA coordinate the federal monetary aid seems the logical way to go.Report

          • dexter in reply to J_A says:

            @j-l-wall, Oh, I am in the least angry at Fema. When you go from zero calls a day to 60,000 there is going to be some problems. I am just be bitchy because I am no longer one of the cool kidsReport

            • dexter in reply to dexter says:

              @j-l-wall, Argh, I am not in the least bit angry at Fema. One of the ancients had a minor break down and I had to go retrieve her before I did my usual rereads. The octogenarians are having the hardest time dealing with this.Report

  4. dexter says:

    @marabou, Like I said I hope I did not come off too harsh, but this is a very serious disaster. Plus, while the water did not get in our house, it got high enough that it trashed all the duct work, so we have been with no ac since Friday night and while it is not as hot as after Katrina, it is summer in Lousy Sauna. Again, sorry for the rant.
    A side note. The Mississippi did not have anything to do with this flood. It is basically a 1000 year rain event that overwhelmed the Comite, Amite, and the Tickfaw with those rivers back washing the bayous that fed them.
    If you feel like donating I would recommend Red Cross because they are on the ground. Mostly what is needed are diapers, water and food.Report

  5. North says:

    I feel for Louisiana and am keenly reminded of how fortunate I am to not have grown up in a region that’s prone to flooding.Report