Gully washer |

Gully washer

Alison Osius
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

“Pretty sure I’m floating.”

I had that very day edited an article that began with those words, spoken by my writer friend Whitney just as her car lifted up in the streets of Chattanooga, engine cutting out as floodwater poured in around her feet. She had then drifted away down the street.

The cloudburst here hit as I drove home, rain hammering so hard my wipers couldn’t clear the windshield, the wind madly whipping trees on 8th Street, leafy branches down in wet clumps. Then hail pounded so loudly I thought my car was dented, and lightning danced in tall, dazzling forks all over the sky.

Both of my sons were at football practice; I told myself that their coaches surely cleared the field instantly.

I crept across the intersection of highways 133-82, and started up Red Hill. Water poured down the dirt road in sheets and overflowed from split-wide ditches; brown waterspouts shot out from the banks. A fat brown river, lumpy with rocks and logs, coursed across the road out of the Mushroom Rock trailhead.

I nudged in, felt water drumming underfoot and surging against my driver door. Brown splats hit up to my window and I worried that the engine would cut out, and I’d be lifted. Floating.

Then I emerged from the thick braid, heading home. My younger son, Roy, and I were supposed to leave soon for his next bike race, in Telluride. Yet the lightning was so rampant that even in the driveway I waited in my car. Teddy, my older son, arrived with brown watermarks splashed clear up onto his hood. He gazed at them with some pride.

My husband, Mike, was just inside, having beaten a quick retreat when he started out for a run.

“I could feel the electricity in the air,” he said, adding, “That’s the most violent cloudburst I’ve ever seen.”

Our electricity was out. Mike left in the truck to find Roy, phoning up to say that the river across our road had abated, but the intersection was awash, with a cop directing traffic. Highway 133 was closed due to mudslides in Redstone, and when he said that 82 downvalley, potentially a detour to Telluride via Grand Junction, was also closed, I gave up on leaving that night. Some 20 mud washovers had swept Highway 82; as I write, nearly two weeks later, brown patina remains in swaths.

Roy and I left at 5:30 the next morning, and at Redstone were stopped to wait our turn on the one cleared lane. The vehicle in front of me was driven by my friend Lisa, a Redstone resident, who had been unable to get home the night before.

“I hear it’s a huge one,” she said.

When we drove through, densely packed mud walls rose up on both sides. Pale, fridge-sized boulders gleamed, and shards of mud-coated trees poked out of the rubble. Thank god no one was killed.

The mud had mowed down a guardrail and emptied into the Crystal River.

I had just read a review of Bill McKibbon’s new book, “Eaarth,” in which the extra “a” stands for awful. The book takes off not from the premises but the givens of climate change and associated effects such as worldwide weather anomalies. Maybe the “a” really means angry.

On Sunday night, Roy and I returned from the hot, dusty race, and Mike and Teddy from a weekend of antelope hunting, to no water. Our well had been hit by lightning, apparently in an early strike that our neighbor Ken said shook the ground.

The next morning trucks, a grader, and flaggers were at work repairing the damaged road. A well worker started our water again.

Teddy still hasn’t cleaned the mud off his hood. In Telluride I showed the brown splats up my driver’s door to anyone who would look. I find I haven’t washed them off either.

– Alison Osius ( lives in Carbondale.

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