The most rain I ever lived with was in southeast Alaska. It was a rain forest. A heavier drizzle would start up in early September and only stop, give or take an hour here and there, when the first snow quietly fell on the Sitka spruce and rocky beaches. Fashion was uniform: rain slicks and Wellingtons all the time.
The heaviest rains I’ve seen have mostly come in the Catskills. There were Irene and Sandy, but also huge storms every few years in the decades I lived in Phoenicia and Westkill. Major roads would become unpassable, and eventually crumble as streams rose and ate the road base. Even the sturdiest of houses would spring leaks, or get torn from their foundations.
I’ve seen whole villages – Fleishmanns, Margaretville, Phoenicia, Boiceville, Accord, Prattsville – ripped apart. Tears have streamed down my face as I photographed flood devastation for the newspapers I’ve worked with.
In April 1987, I moved items into my apartment as the Esopus roared and rose across Old Plank Road. I drove where I could around the region the next morning, as a particularly bright sun lit all that had been ripped asunder. I decided, then and there, to refocus my life as a local journalist.
I had told people that I was moving from Brooklyn to a place that reminded me of many places, including Alaska. What I couldn’t tell them was how this place I was planning to inhabit flooded.
I’d sensed rain’s power when I was young. At the moment the 1969 Aquarian Festival in Bethel became a mudpit, celebrated with musical rain jams, my parents got caught out in that same storm’s southern origins as Hurricane Camille.
My mother ran our Virginia county’s welfare department at the time. My father had a motorcycle and was called in to duty reaching mountain hamlets cut off from regular vehicles. We prepared meals and packages of clothes and household goods for those in need. We took people in. We took trips through the devastation in the family car well into 1970.
I still love sleeping through rain, or settling into a comfy chair with a good book as windows cloud and streak. But I also feel a deep fear when that rain goes on too long, or too loudly.
Our Catskills’ floods are real. And recurring.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.