Guest Post: Higher Ground

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 4, 2010 — 12 Comments

Today at The Wild Hunt I’m featuring a guest-post from Amanda Armstrong.

Amanda Armstrong is a pagan celebrant with Celtic leanings who performs professional clergy services in the Nashville area. She lives with her husband and four cats.

Higher Ground

We were warned of heavy rains for days before it began, but no one thought this could happen. Spring is the rainy season in Middle Tennessee, the season of sudden downpours my father calls “toad chokers” followed by intense afternoon sunshine. Nothing could have prepared us for the nearly 14 inches of rain that fell in the next 48 hours. Nashville has a lock and dam flood control system that was built in the 1960′s and has suffered only a few major flood events since that time. Our biggest worry during these seasonal downpours is flash flooding from the many creeks that crisscross the wide basin that defines the Greater Nashville Area. The storms began early Saturday and inched across the state. Warnings were issued and those that live in flood prone areas kept watch.

My husband and I were visiting the eastern part of the state Friday night and decided to drive back to Nashville early on Saturday morning. I had gotten a call from my father before we left, warning us of torrential rain on the way, but nothing unusual for this time of year. Most people went ahead and rescheduled weekend Beltane plans for the following weekend. Unusually, the annual Tennessee Renaissance Faire was shut down due to the heavy downpours. Saturday evening we headed west of town on I-40 to have dinner with family and saw the Harpeth River rising dangerously high near the interstate, but it was along the normal floodplain and  I had seen this happen many times before. Traffic then stopped about 45 minutes west of Nashville. The interstate was closed completely, in both directions. I thought perhaps there was a terrible accident. We  later found that the interstate was completely flooded the next county over. When we arrived at my aunt’s house, we watched a local newscast showing live footage of a portable classroom floating down the I-24 in Nashville, hitting semis and cars before breaking apart. 70 vehicles were stranded in rapidly rising water with desperate drivers standing on the concrete median and the roofs of cars. It was as if we were watching one of the ever popular apocalyptic big-budget films, except this was my home.

Sunday morning, Nashville awoke to a nightmare. All of the major creeks and rivers were at or near flood stage and rising with 7 more inches of rain expected through the evening. Parts of Nashville that have never flooded in living memory were underwater or at risk. Thousands were without power, internet or cell phone service. My husband and I decided to try and get some groceries and cat food before the interstates became impassable. We live right below a flood control dam and never worried about our own home being flooded. Our house sits just 40 feet below the top height of the dam on a fairly large hill. By the time we got home, we were very worried. Whole neighborhoods were submerged, roads destroyed. Train tracks were washed out or buckled. Bridges were swept away. The normally quiet Stones River, which runs 200 yards from my back patio, was perhaps 20 feet away. The river rose an astonishing 45 feet in less than two days, below a dam meant to control just that.

We spent the next 24 hours watching the water rise to within a couple of yards of the house and then recede a few feet, only to rise again. The neighbors all made hourly walks down to the path leading to the Greenway park that runs along the river to check water levels which we tracked using makeshift gauges of sticks and stones. I sat at the computer for hours refreshing the water level data page from the Army Corps of Engineers website praying that the numbers would fall instead of the incessant rising. We spent 24 hours in constant fear of hearing the floodgate sirens go off if the dam started to fail and had to be completely opened. I am so grateful that we made it through with no damage to house and home. So many have losts homes, cars and jobs. Most of our family and friends have checked in but no one has been spared some kind of loss.

I called my Community Supported Agriculture contact to let her know there was no way we could possibly get to our drop off site for our weekly food pick up. She sounded heartbroken as she told me they had lost their entire flock of pastured laying hens. I later found out that they have no idea if any of the Spring crops survived and they cannot reach many of the other farmers who work with them. We have hundreds of small farms in the Middle Tennessee area experiencing much of the same.

Local news stations were out and reporting immediately but could only access most of Nashville by air. The images were astonishing.

Very few times in my life have I seen what I would call awesome in the old fashioned use of the word, but this was it. We watched the Cumberland River in downtown creep inch by inch up to the old historic district downtown, cresting Monday night at a near record 51 feet flooding the historic buildings all along the waterfront. We watched hundreds and hundreds of rescues by boat of people trapped in second stories or the small islands they now live on. We watched horses, cows and mules coaxed into flat bottomed boats or standing on tiny pieces of land waiting for the water to recede. And yet, we heard almost nothing from the national news. As Keith Olbermann says in the clip, there is nothing worse than to have a disaster at home when another, bigger disaster is ongoing. I understand why all eyes are on the Gulf, it’s heartbreaking and horrifying.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

So many major buildings have been heavily damaged or nearly destroyed. Titans Stadium is full of water, as is the hockey arena. The Country Music Hall of Fame is flooded. The Opryland Hotel has 10 feet of standing water and the Grand Ole Opry House is much the same. The Parthenon with it’s 50 foot statue of Athena is closed due to Mayor Dean’s request for citizens to stay home. I have not been able to verify whether there was damage to the structure, but I’m sure it would have been mentioned by the local news if there had been anything significant. Sri Ganesha Temple in Bellevue is on a large hill, but no one is answering calls. Power and phone service is still out in many areas so getting information is still difficult. Our excellent Greenway Park system will be devastated as all of these parks run along the waterways.

The death toll is currently at 22 from this storm system. One of those lives was a member of the pagan community, Joshua Landtroop. He leaves behind two children and many friends. Joshua left work on foot Saturday to check on his two children at home when flood waters started to rise. His body was found Sunday morning. The waters rose so quickly in some areas that no one could have survived being swept away. There will be a memorial service on Saturday night for Joshua at the annual Pagan Unity Festival held May 13th the 16th in Burns, TN at Montgomery Bell State Park. Memorials are encouraged for the Joshua Landtroop Trust Fund for his two sons Heath and Tristan at Family Advantage Federal Credit Union, P. O. Box 39, Spring Hill, TN 37174. For more information on PUF, please visit  http://paganunityfestival.org/ .

Hands on Nashville is our main clearinghouse for volunteer work, you can donate at http://hon.org/HomePage/index.php/home.html .

The Red Cross is accepting donations for flood relief. Donations can be made at www.nashvilleredcross.org or by calling (615) 250-4300.

The Community Foundation of Nashville is accepting donations to support flood relief, restoration and clean up online at www.cfmt.org/floodrelief or by calling (615) 321-4939.

The Bellevue Chamber of Commerce has established an account to help flood victims. Donations can be sent to 177-A Belle Forest Circle, Nashville, TN 37221, payable to Bellevue Flood Aide. For further information, call (615) 662-2737.

Regardless of which side of the climate debate you are on, it is hard to deny that both the climate and weather pattens are changing. We have dammed our rivers and we build housing developments on our farmland, fooling ourselves into a false sense of security because we think we can predict or even control what Nature will do. These last couple of months have been filled with news stories of earthquakes, volcanoes and now floods. As a pagan I cannot help but wonder what lies ahead as Nature continues to show her true strength. But now, as both a pagan and a Tennessean, I ask that you remember us here in the Athens of the South. The waters will recede, and I pray the healing will be swift.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://www.facebook.com/cara.schulz Cara Schulz

    I am very sorry for your family's loss and am making a donation.

  • Cole Gillette

    “Climate debate”? I didn’t think that talk show hosts yelling at scientists constituted much of a debate, but heck, maybe that’s just me.

  • Cole Gillette

    My sympathy and prayers for those who’ve lost their homes (or members of their families).

  • http://doom-diva.livejournal.com Lori Dake

    :( My sympathies to his family, and thank you for reporting the situation down there.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Khryseis_Astra Khryseis_Astra

    My thoughts and prayers are with you all… <3

  • http://aquakerwitch.blogspot.com/ Stasa Morgan-Appel

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am so sorry for the losses so many of you are enduring.

  • whitewolf

    My thoughts and prayers go out to Joshua's friends and family. I'm so sorry for their loss. The people of Nashville are in my thoughts.

  • clockdug

    Thanks for confirming; I will pass the link along. Donation made.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lokisgodhi Lokisgodhi

    So very tragic. Double so when children lose parents. My thought and prayers go out to the victims.

  • clockdug

    Is this link the same as the trust fund at the Family Advantage Federal Credit Union?

  • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.armstrong Amanda Chappell Armstrong

    It is for the same fund, yes.

  • Sarenth

    In the midst of all the pain and anguish I hope that each can find their own measure of peace.