High River Reality

In the rush to brand the flood disaster in southern Alberta, devise slogans, whip up Twitter momentum, come up with T-shirts, and then move on to the Stampede, High River has been forgotten.

No, not completely forgotten, but certainly not a beneficiary of the buzz that helped neighbourhoods in Calgary bail out, mop up and make waves nationally. 

Basement muck
High River is a disaster. For sure, the Highwood routinely floods. And if it's true, as was explained to me by locals, that the riverbed becomes a troublesome, undredged deposit of silt that regularly pushes water over the banks, there are questions to be answered. But there are also basements to be pumped dry, mould to be outrun, drywall to be crowbarred, and mud, mud, and mud that is almost alive to be moved. 

Twisted rails
Along with some mud-non-averse colleagues from ATB Financial, I went down to High River yesterday to help. We were welcomed into the waterlogged homes of Sandy and Craig. 

On the walk there we saw a section of railway line twisted into a Calaway Park rollercoaster. We saw motorboats and their trailers imprisoned in hardened, slurried mud. There were Volunteers Needed signs in abandoned house windows. 

We took horn honks of thanks before we lifted a shovel. And then it was time to work. I drew basement duty, and that meant descending into a kind of trouble-lit hell that smelled and gurgled and slopped as we moved through, filling pails with the dark, smelly drywall-carpet-slop and hoisting them out the basement window. 

When we rested, we swatted mosquitoes, chugged water, and tried to find the words to describe it all. Unreal. Surreal. 

But it was also very real. Materially real. For those whose reality has to be measured and weighed and timed, there is nothing more real than eight hours of using muscles and shovels to break walls and counters and baseboards and to de-slog the slog. Sweat burning in your eyes is real. A nail into your palm is real. The sound of mud-caked children's toys landing in a dumpster is real. 

It's real in a deeper sense, though. It's real because what's called a natural event that happens only once in 100 years has allowed human kindness, like water itself, to flow and find the low points. 

Sandy: Life is good
It strikes you that Sandy has gotten close to what is really real when she poses for a photo with her daughter's dumpster-bound book shelf and its now wry Life Is Good message. 
Craig: Thanks

It's real when Craig says thanks and the thanks rings deep and true. And when he takes a short break from demolition work to share the observation that his life has changed because of the reaction to his plight, that sounds real, too. 

And the fruit plate Sandy brought out for a snack...that was really, really good. 

What is surreal, in a way, is the disaster it takes to reintroduce some sense of real into our lives. Unreal is how the blue sky looks down on it all and life elsewhere moves on.

Here's my advice. Let the talkers talk and the storytellers tell their stories and points and counterpoints be made, and, yes, let the money donors donate their money. But go to High River or another flood-affected zone. 

You will gain one mask, but lose another. Because that's where all kinds of reality is being built.

Piles of reality


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