High Water

I’ve sort of been obsessed by all this flooding that’s been going on in the Northeast the past few days. Disasters of any kind have always grabbed my attention, but I think flooding is the specific type to which I was first exposed.

Growing up, we had a boat and a dock and a little weekend trailer on the Potomac River in Western Maryland. I remember quite a few times hauling the boat and dock out of the river and up to a high meadow to get themm out of the way of a coming flood. I have very clear memories of sometime in the mid-80’s when my Dad pulled me out of school so we could go look at the flooded Potomac. It was the highest it had been since hurricane Agnes in ’72. I remember that day we watched a house float by.

So, yeah, floods fascinate me. But it’s only been recently that that fascination has been seasoned with a pinch of terror.

Back in 2004 I was to drive up after work on a friday to spend the weekend at the family mountain cabin with my sister and brother-in-law and a cousin. We’d been planning the weekend for a while, so when it coincided with some absolutely horrible weather from the remnants of one of the ’04 hurricanes we decided to stick to the plans.

Let me just say again – horrible weather.

I’d made it to From Baltimere to Frederick when I realized that my cell was dying and that I’d forgotten a charger. No sweat; I was near a mall and needed a quick bite to eat anyway. As I was leaving the mall, management came on the PA system asking everyone to stay inside as tornados were currently passing through the parking lot.

Yup, tornados.

The immediate danger eventually passed and I spent the next 90 minutes or so heading west to Hagerstown and then north up into Pennsylvania. It was pouring. Lightning was falling all around me, like, i dunno. Some crazy analogy that isn’t coming to mind right now.

I listened to weather radio the whole way. There were multiple tornado touchdowns in the area, but all seemed to be to the left or right of me, so I kept going.

As I got closer to the cabin, my cellphone rang. It was my cousin letting me know that he was ahead of me and that a creek had risen enough to cover one of the roads that we take to get to the cabin. He was ok to cross in his truck, but doubted I’d be ok in my Civic. No prob, I said, I’d just go the back way.

As it turned out, the back way was no better. By this time it was dark, so i was straining to see through the dark and the downpour when I came around a corner and was faced with water. A sea of roiling, ugly water. No way I was going through that.

I turned around and headed back the way I’d come. After a few tries, I got my cousin on his cell and he agreed to recross the covered road and meet me at a local church where I could stash my car and then head back across to the cabin in his truck.

The creek was rising fast. No longer just covering the road, it was now flowing across. We made it, but could feel the truck getting bucked a bit by the water.

Then my phone rang.

It was my sister and her husband.

They had just arrived at the far side of the flooding we’d just crossed.

They wanted to cross too but were concerned that the water was now too high and their suburban was too low. There was a real possibility that the high water could pick them up and float them away.

And the water was rising fast.

Being the rational sane people we are, we decided that the best option was for the sister and bro-in-law to stash their car on high ground and walk across the flooded, high current, high danger, totally dark road.


The cousin went to them first. We stayed in touch by handheld radio, cousin had two in his truck and the bro-in-law had one with him.

I stayed put with the cousin’s truck. We kept in constant radio contact. At first. After a while I couldn’t see them anymore in the dark and no one was answering my radio calls.

I was alone for waht felt like whatever. I had to back the truck up twice to get it out of the way of rising water. I was pretty sure they had been swept away.

But eventually, miraculously, I saw movement. It was my cousin, holding one of their dogs. Then it was my sister. Then my brother-in-law holding the other dog. All were soaked. All were perfectly fine.

We drove to the cabin without incident, dried off, slept, and had a great weekend. The waters eventually fell and we were able to go back and get our various cars.

But still I think about how wrong that could have gone. About how easy it would have been to lose one of them

And I still get scared. And I still thank whatever-higher-power-if-any-at-all for letting things go well that night.

I think high water will always fascinate me, but I can’t see it, read it, or hear about it without thinking of that night and what could have been.

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