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The community of Canmore declared a local state of emergency last week due to rising waters in Cougar Creek. (Laura Leyshon for The Globe and Mail)
The community of Canmore declared a local state of emergency last week due to rising waters in Cougar Creek. (Laura Leyshon for The Globe and Mail)

After the flood: Reflections from writers one week later Add to ...

I spent a recent afternoon at a friend’s house emptying their main floor. She led me into their backyard, where her wedding dress hung from a tree, covered in mud. She touched the beading with a fingertip, and peered at me sideways without saying anything. “I think it can be restored,” I said. She looked at the ground, “Okay.”

The Elbow is usually a place of solace in this city. How many times have I floated lazily down its winding length on an inflatable mattress in the sun? Now, water-logged and moulding mattresses sit on the side of the road waiting for pickup.

Water is unpredictable. This flood is an unexpected reminder that no matter how organized and safe and cautious we are, we are never fully in control of our lives. Water is a cleansing element, too – a beautiful, renewing and energizing force that also has the power to flood, storm, freeze and drown us.

The flood has compelled us to see differently, help others, exist in limbo, purge, let go, and consider the incredible strength of community. Out of this, as the water levels stabilize, new visions, ideas and insights are brewing.

If water is supposed to represent creativity, or blocked creativity, Calgary has just undergone its creative bath of the century.

Samantha Warwick is the author of Sage Island.

Interrupted, freed

We welcome, even crave, low-stakes interruption. A snow day, the flu, a royal wedding, the fire drill in elementary school that takes us out of math to the blustery playground – no time to grab your coats! We secretly hope there really is a small fire, not enough to hurt anyone, just enough to let us go home for the day.

I was near Slave Lake in northern Alberta when the texts and newsfeeds came, and ping-ponged between distress over the magnitude of the destruction and perverse let’s-see-how-crazy-this-gets giddiness. This unadmirable reaction was aided by distance and imagination, but is also a feeling that epitomizes the gulf between the Merely Interrupted and the Actually Affected.

Even on my return to Calgary I was lucky enough to be among the former. I was personally untouched by the floods – by the brutal loss of life, gutting of homes and displacement – which made it morally impossible to indulge in chaos as spectacle, the awesome power of nature as theatre. But floating mid-spectrum, the floods still offered a weird sense of liberation – from work, routine and social impotence.

Faced with rescuing furniture from friends’ muddy basements or hosting evacuee relatives, petty stresses and inbox angst lose ground. Last weekend, a friend’s father had to be convinced of the reality that the downtown cathedral where he usually plays Sunday mass was off limits. On Monday, he told my friend, “Your mother and I had a wonderful weekend. It was the first one we’ve had off in 25 years.”

For some, there is no escape. A writer colleague works for a suspending-operations-is-not-an-option energy company, and her high-ground home became a default interim office as well as temporary home for displaced friends. But extreme circumstance also creates space for hope and everyday heroes in the form of generous plumbers and tireless mayors.

Soon the fortunate aren’t content being spared: The Merely Interrupted want to be part of the action, to engage in the authentic rituals of helpfulness and camaraderie they see among the afflicted, to participate in the cleanup, comforting, rebuilding, in acts with thick lines between effort and result.

Can we manufacture tragedy-free, fire-drill releases from daily malaise and summon these unscripted, noble traits more often outside of desperate times? A thought from the Merely Interrupted.

Kris Demeanor is a Canadian songwriter.

Mad Max weather

When Calgarians helped their mud-covered neighbours last week, myself among them, they waded into three unspoken rivers: the energy of carbon emissions long spent; the chronicles of extreme weather foretold; and an untenable level of provincial unpreparedness (when flood warnings arrive six hours after the evacuation order, as they did in Canmore, you don’t know if you are living a comedy or a tragedy).

Now, Alberta, as every Canadian knows, is something of an expert on producing atmospheric warming emissions. We make a formidable contribution to the economic forces undermining the energy balance of our climate, a global commons. The oil sands, for example, remains Canada’s fastest-growing source of carbon emissions. And the expression “tar sands karma” came up in several flooded households.

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