Beginning Again, and Again
A month has passed since our evacuation from Jamestown via an Army twin-engine Chinook helicopter.
With this blog posting, I begin the process of recording what has transpired in both my personal life and the life of my community in Jamestown, Colorado—a town of 300 that was devastated by what is now described dramatically as a “1000-year” flood. A year’s annual rainfall (about 14 inches) fell in 48 hours, changing the course of the James Creek, destroying the town infrastructure, and wiping out my own work of the last 15 years to create a one-acre contemplative garden. Reconstruction of the town has begun with tremendous spirit and camaraderie among residents and with financial and other help from county, state, and national organizations. A fundraising effort has been established at RebuildJamestownCO.org.
On a personal level, so much has happened in this short time: finding a place to live for at least six months and trying to settle in; beginning to work on mitigation and cleanup of our house in Jamestown; and establishing new routines for my husband David, who will shortly turn 88.
Having received many offers of temporary housing, I decided that we would stay with Tom and Judy, good friends whom David knows quite well. We were with them and their dear cat Rue for 16 days. We then moved into a rental house in Longmont, about 12 miles NE of Boulder. Mark, a member of my Buddhist sangha, took the “Sunset House” off the market so that we could live here for six months. Built in 1952, it is a spacious house that suits us during this transitional time.
Initially we did not know the extent of loss in Jamestown. Before we left town on Sept. 13th, we had sat on high ground above our place, watching as floodwaters battered the two buildings that remained on the site. Three other buildings had already been totally destroyed. Photographs sent to me a few days later showed the house tilting to one side.
But these photos proved deceptive. The house withstood the water, with relatively minor water damage that has already been mitigated; and the studio/shop, which was half full of mud, has been completely cleared out by an exceptional volunteer group of Texas Baptists, who are in Jamestown for many weeks working with town residents to save what can be saved. The crew was able to find a few items, such as David’s family pewter and some unbroken china, but all of my stone tools and the art I had stored in the studio vanished downstream.
The site itself, about which I wrote in my 2009 Book of This Place: The Land, Art, and Spirituality, has been devastated. Of the many marble sculptures I had carved, fragments of two have been excavated from debris. Two others remain intact, though damaged.
Innumerable logistics demand attention.
- After the flood, the James Creek ran through the middle of our property. County crews moved the James Creek back into much of its original streambed last week. The site itself is a mess of debris, rocks, and mud.
- Our skilled sangha friend Andrew has nearly completed water & mud mitigation inside the house. Now, months of repair await, and we are hopeful that the winter will not be here too soon.
- Initially we received a small FEMA grant, which we've spent on the work so far, including a structural engineer's assessment of the house and studio. I am applying for more funds.
- I applied for and will receive a Small Business Administration loan for repairs.
- We now have heat, as we installed a new propane tank, but there is not yet electricity that is needed to heat the whole house over the winter.
And then there is the deeper level. Some days are difficult, full of grief about the many layers of loss. It's been a long time since I've felt this depth of primal pain. In the best moments, my personal loss gives me a new level of understanding and compassion—for what others have lost in this disaster affecting thousands of people in Colorado and for the others’ suffering elsewhere in the world. At other moments, I am floating in a seemingly never-ending tide of sorrow. Perhaps this is akin to what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called “the genuine heart of sadness” that lies at the root of human experience. I wend my way between heartbreak and logistics, between compassion and daily necessities. It’s a rocky path.