Jewish World Review May 5, 2011 / 1 Iyar, 5771
And Now the Deluge
By Paul Greenberg
How high's the water,
Two feet high and risin'
How high's the water, Papa?
She said, "Two feet high and risin' "
It took someone with country in his bones,
They're already saying this year's deluge, as all that water comes pouring down the
We can make it to the road in a homemade boat
'Cause that's the only thing we got that'll float
It's already over all the wheat and the oats
Two feet high and risin' . . .
The 1927 flood inspired not just song and story but a network of relief programs and flood-control projects of various effectiveness and sanity. The floods came and went, but this truth should have stayed with us in these drenched latitudes:
If there's one law Mother Nature never repeals, it's that water will go where it wants to go, underground or over land. It will stay in a river's banks or overflow them, sink into the swamps or come bearing down like a tidal wave. And when it does, watch out!
It's an old story that comes with an old lesson: The safest course when told to go is to go. Fast. Yet some will not learn it.
Well, the hives are gone, I've lost my bees
The chickens are sleepin' in the willow trees
Cow's in water up past her knees
Three feet high and risin' . . ."
This much you'd think we would have learned by now: When it's time to head for the high ground, it's time to head for the high ground. Get out while there's still time. But some of us are slow to learn. Especially when what was dry land a moment ago turns soggy, then into a lake. In record time. It's hard to believe, so there are always a few of us who won't.
Hey, come look through the window pane
The bus is comin', gonna take us to the train
Looks like we'll be blessed with a little more rain
Four feet high and risin' . . .
This flood season, the floodwaters struck little
To quote the town's beleaguered mayor,
"Five miles south of town," the mayor noted, "water's two to three feet over the road. It came up so sudden.''
It's hard to believe, it happens so fast. It's also hard to leave familiar territory, even as it turns into a lake. Why rush off and leave everything behind? It's easier to distrust the evidence of your eyes, and tell yourself you can wait this thing out. Even as the levees are turning into a sieve, springing leaks all along the line.
"You couldn't count the number of breaks," said Mayor Bigger after a helicopter tour with the governor,
Yet some folks will stay put not just till the last minute but beyond the last minute, hoping against hope.
A lot more than his toes were about to get wet when the levee broke soon afterward and sent eight feet of water gushing through his neighborhood. That convinced him. There's nothing like two, three, four feet of water and risin' moving down your street to restore that old instinct for self-preservation, otherwise known as good sense.
When sheriff's deputies boated in to rescue the holdouts, the reluctant refugee climbed aboard. It could have been Noah's Ark arriving in the nick of time. To quote another resident of the town, who lives along the southern reaches of the Black River, "My bed was about to get wet. I knew it was time to leave."
When your bed starts to turn into a boat, the message is undeniable: Go. And he went, wise man.
Well, the rails are washed out north of town
We gotta head for higher ground
We can't come back till the water goes down
Five feet high and risin'
Well, it's five feet high and risin' . . .
The moral of this all too familiar story: When told to head out because the old homestead is about to become a place not just on a lake but in it, Go!
You can always come back. If you leave while you still can.
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.