In the middle of a surging pandemic, I will go alone to the banks of the Susquehanna River today, to pay my respects in observance of Tashlich, a Rosh Hashanah ritual about letting go of the past and welcoming the new, with hope (in the Jewish new year).
The huge flood in this region that affected thousands of people and scores of other species, spaces, and beings was ten years ago, today.
The Susquehanna came into our lives in unprecedented ways, that morning and beyond, exceeding prior floods (including the one in 2006) by many feet and effects.
I will never forget the river roaring under and into the basement, nearly filling it, climbing up the steps, having gushed, first, through the foundation’s 19th century stone slabs. This old house was a mostly helpless sieve in the face of the water’s power.
I have a sump pump, now…but it would likely have done little in that kind of a situation.
While my life was forever changed that day, I fared relatively well, after the water finally receded. My then-cohabitant and I only lost what was in the basement. New York State and FEMA generously helped me replace my destroyed furnace and hot water heater, clean out the seepage and sewage, throw out everything that had been down there, as well as handle the mold mitigation and remove some interior walls.
My heart goes out to those who lost so very much, and so many, in the 2011 flood. I know many people who lost family, friends, companion animals, a lifetime of beloved things, their homes…
At this time, that year, I was wading through many feet of water in front of my house, carrying my elderly dog (who died less than three weeks later) in a laundry basket elevated above my head, as we evacuated with a small backpack to a nearby friend’s home, on slightly higher ground.
People in kayaks arrived to help some of my neighbors. Others in nearby areas would need roof helicopters and emergency crews.
We received no notice or warning. Family from central NY woke us with the call, as we were sleeping and they watched the news. Now, I am connected to every list and system I can.
Grateful today and always for the organizers and contributors’ generosity, labors, and love, I remember and salute “The Ross Street Cafe,” the emergent mutual aid structure that was thereafter nicknamed, during which and where gentle, patient, and kind neighbors of mine set up sternos to feed those in need while creating a space for us to gather for spontaneous as well as planned interactions.
We pooled our resources, shared the contents of our melting freezers, and sat or stood in the cookout street, while exchanging stories and updates, household items, meals, and beverages. We met every evening to check in, listen, mourn. I had been living here, in wonderful Owego, only two years, then, and was still meeting people and finding my way around. “The Ross Street Cafe” was a major factor in making Owego my forever home.
The National Guard was ubiquitous, as were accompanying curfews. I had to delay the planned start date for a new job by a month, having no water, power, heat, or the ability to depart, owing to the curfew.
Soon, and for months after, piles of ruination soaked the tree-lined streets. The wet dolls dangling six feet above clothes, books, and furniture made everything seem much more precious and precarious than had already been the case.
A man lost his home and all that he owned in an electrical fire caused by the water. On Ross Street, I listened to him describe how glad he was to be alive, as we lingered with others by a warming sterno, eating thawed food and nodding quietly.
The Riverow Bookshop and so many, many other local and regional businesses and organizations were devastated by the havoc and water damage. A New Hope Center had clean-up crews working tirelessly, for a very long time.
Owego is not without its issues, but I would rather be here than anywhere else. It’s truly my home. A dozen years since meeting my old house, this is where I’ll stay, if all goes as I prefer.
I’ll never forget the little green apple bobbing in the water in front of the house. But the image that really threw me was the swan gliding across the intersection of Front and John Streets, serenity in chaos.
Wishing you a Happy New Year during these tumultuous times.