Sunday, October 6, 2013

We’re More Connected than We Realize

A vacation in the Rockies is a trip to another world for Kansans and Nebraskans. The geography is unlike our plains in every way. Towering peaks draw eyes heavenward and then remind us we can’t see beyond them. Racing rivers and streams rip down craggy declines so fast that water foams and spews. Evergreen forests shade hiking trails and scent air with non-prairie-like perfumes. Morning and evening temperatures demand jackets be included in summer wardrobes. Torrents of water and high altitude bird song replace the sounds of wind soughing through dry river and creek beds and meadowlark trills.

The differences between the two landscapes vary so much that it’s easy to forget they are connected. That is until some powerful force of nature reminds us that more than interstates and highways link lives and geography.

News of recent flooding in Rocky Mountain National Park and Boulder captured our attention and hearts as we watched families lose homes and loved ones. Reports of communities cut off from safe drinking water and regular food supplies reminded us how quickly life can change from being like an ongoing vacation to everything turning miserable and frightening.

Despite concern for victims and hastily sent donations to Red Cross and the Salvation Army, raging water and its damage seemed far away, much like summer memories of pleasant mountain villages are in dreary February. However, a short drive to the Platte River in Nebraska revealed another story. Waters that wreaked havoc in the Rockies deliver hope to those living in the heartland.

Each March the Platte River is home to the annual sandhill migration. Most folks consider the region of the river where these favorite birds stage for six to 10 weeks a lazy stream filled with sandbars and small islands, a main reason that cranes rest there. Swift moving river is not a descriptor one would use to describe this landmark.

In the weeks since pouring rains washed out Colorado roads and housing divisions, raging waters have followed ancient waterways eastward. Not long after the floods, the South Platte raced out of it banks funneling this wealth of moisture toward the larger Platte. Fields in Easter Colorado bore the brunt of that overflow, leaving farmers with ruined harvests this season but water surpluses for next year.

As the waters neared Nebraska, irrigation districts opened channels to direct the abundance toward dry fields and ponds. Even with the extra efforts, more than plenty of water filled the Platte, erasing islands and sandbars and washing through stands of willows growing along the shallow banks. If it were migration time right now, cranes couldn’t find a dry roost in the river.

When I heard that the Platte was high, I wanted to see it out of its banks. Despite its reputation as a meandering, shallow stream, it’s currently a racing river full of surging currents. I wasn’t alone in my eagerness to view this rare event. To prevent sightseers from jamming traffic, road crews posted “No Parking” signs on major bridges. 

A steady stream of foot traffic going and coming from the walking bridge in Fort Kearney State Park keeps the trail occupied. It’s as busy as it is during peak crane migration visits. Fellow sightseers did what I did: they marveled at seeing so much water delivering hope to a drought-stricken land.

I suspect they also felt what I did when I considered at what cost this water came to us. What have those who call the mountains home lost in order for us to receive this blessing? It takes monumental events such as this deluge to remind us that each region is connected. We aren’t alone in this adventure called life.

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