The Haw River Paddler


If you wish to know the Divine, feel wind on your face and the warm sun on your hand.” Buddha

Be honest. Were you ready for Hurricane Matthew? I know to be prepared, but I wasn’t. Having spent my first 30 years living in either New Orleans where I was born or on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I have been through my share of direct hits. Still, it never seems that I am really ready for “the next one”, big or small.

Several years ago, my sweetie and I spent the summer in Alaska. We returned the day Hurricane Fran paid a visit to the Piedmont of North Carolina. I remember seeing the forecast before leaving Alaska and saying we had nothing to worry about Fran making it that far inland. It was pretty windy when we arrived at the Raleigh-Durham Airport. Since we did not have electricity or running water the entire three months in Alaska, we relished the thought of taking long, hot showers when we arrived home. When it came time for my soak, as I flipped the bathroom light on, the power went off and it stayed off for the next two weeks. Since we have an electric hot water heater and a well for water, one of us was clean and the other pretty stinky. I think you can guess who was the stinky one.

The main inconvenience of Hurricane Fran for us was dealing with the rotten food in the refrigerator. We had been used to camping for three months, so in many ways we did not skip a beat. A bed is a lot softer than sleeping on the ground. Since we cook on a propane stove, we had plenty of hot water with which to cook and clean dirty dishes as we ate our way through what was in the pantry. We just happened to have some bottled water stored the previous winter in preparation for a pending ice storm. Life for us went on as usual.

Life for folks living in the eastern part of North Carolina won’t go on as usual for a long time. As I watched Hurricane Matthew make its way through the Caribbean I did get very concerned especially when it looked like it would eventually move northwest and pass directly through our area of the Piedmont. Since we live on a hill, my main concern was for tornadoes that come with the right quadrant of a hurricane. High winds also concerned me because our home is surrounded by beautiful old trees, but tornadoes strike fear in my soul. It is one thing to have a tree fall on your roof, but it is another thing all together to have your whole house blown away and you possible in it.

As we all know, Hurricane Matthew turned east and North Carolina was spared a direct hit that often comes with the storm surge and tornadoes, but the eastern part of the state was not spared torrential rains on an area already soaked by heavy rain the previous week. So, what happened? You can think of a river’s natural levee as a glass. Start pouring water into the glass and everything is fine until you pour a little too much of it into the glass and it starts to overflow. If the glass is on a table, the table begins to get wet and everything on the table gets soaked. Keep pouring water into the glass and it starts flowing onto the floor getting everything on the floor wet. Continue to pour water into the glass and eventually the water rises in the room. Then, the table, chairs and everything-else not attached to the floor begins to float. Eventually, if you stop pouring water into the glass, water will seep through cracks in the floor and walls and make its way out of the room, but it will take a very long time. That is the situation in the eastern part of North Carolina.

Moral of the story? If you can’t stop water pouring into the glass, at least don’t have anything of value in the room because it is going to get wet. I like to draw the analogy of the room to a floodplain. Don’t build anything in the floodplain that you can’t afford to get wet. Allow rivers to be rivers. Know they are going to flood. Don’t put others at risk by building man-made levees that eventually will be undercut and fail. That is what happened in Lumberton, NC. That is what happened in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina breached a levee. Don’t give landowners the illusion that man-made levees will protect their lives and property because they don’t. You would think our society has gotten that message enough times to avoid that mistake again. I guess we will see next time if we have learned.