The Flood: Credentials

The flood of 2013 was one year ago this week. Commemoration events are happening in Lyons and Boulder County. As my own commemoration, I am posting part of my flood story each day this week. This is the third post of the series, here are the first and second posts. I’m hoping to share some of the feelings I experienced. Down, up, and sideways. Posts aren’t in chronological order; these posts are about remembering. 

This is my story, but it is not one of significant difficulty or hardship. People are still experiencing extreme difficulty and hardship because of the flood. Please consider helping through a donation to Lyons Community Foundation.

Sign on our front door: we've evacuated.

Sign on our front door: we’ve evacuated.

We spend most of the day working on a camper that we are borrowing and plan to put at the Boulder County Fairgrounds.

“When I think of camping, Emily, I think NATURE,” my fourteen-year-old stepdaughter says. I agree with her; I never expected to find myself camping in the middle of Longmont. The borrowed camper is a Hi-Lo, but the hydraulics aren’t working and it needs new tires. We called around this morning, trying to find someone who could work on the hydraulics. I spoke to A.J. on the phone at a brake place, “Bring it over,” he said. But when we get there, the guy at the front desk looks at me like I was crazy. “We don’t work on campers.” I almost start crying, but A.J. must have heard our conversation because  he walks out from the back. “Where is it?”

It turns out that the magic to getting the Hi-Lo to raise is to repeatedly bang on the  motor with a metal wrench while pressing the button that closes the solenoid and engages the motor. This fix seems flimsy, but it’s what we have. We only need it to work once, I think.

The camper is getting new tires and Chris and I are doing pushups and eating burritos in the parking lot of Discount Tires when we get a text from our neighbors: “They are giving out permits to go home.” Abrupt changes are becoming the norm; this barely phases us. It doesn’t make sense, but going home feels like the highest priority. We leave the camper and go to the church.


“I have a right to be here,”  I remind myself. At the church that is now the Red Cross shelter, we are standing in line to prove that we live in Lyons so we can get a permit to go home once per day.  Since we just  moved to Lyons two months ago, neither of our driver’s licenses have Lyons addresses. The only paper bill I find has my name and our Lyons address but not Chris’s name. I know only a few of these people; I’m uncomfortable in this crowd, and I wish our papers were stronger.

Our papers. I can’t think much about the fact that we are using papers to prove that we live in Lyons so that we can get a permit to go home. This feels deeply wrong. I remind myself of the reasons this is the case. I don’t like it.

The yellow mirror-tag permit has a sheriff’s star along with my name and address handwritten on it. “Restricted Access Pass” it says. I hold it in my hand instead of putting it in my bag. This is my way home. I feel ridiculously like Dorothy with red slippers, but push that thought out of my mind; it feels like I am making light of the situation. This piece of paper is going to let me go home.

The drive west on Highway 66 is surreal. Signs of support are at the end of driveways: “Hang in there, Lyons!”   “Stay strong!” It is an early fall day with a happy blue sky and little cotton balls of clouds. The mountains are beautiful: green, rocky, and beckoning of adventure. Everything is incongruous. I’m mad at the weather for being beautiful and acting as if nothing has happened. I think the skies should be gray and somber and the mountains, instead of evoking twinges towards mountain biking and hiking, should be intimidating and scary. The horizon looks normal; but the street scene, with blinking construction signs that say “West of N 53rd, Permit Access Only,” does not.

We are sandwiched between dump trucks as we drive towards Lyons. Our full size Dodge Ram feels small. Cones squeeze traffic into one lane as we approach the checkpoint. There are sheriff vehicles and people dressed in camouflage with orange vests on–National Guard. News trucks line the way; “Death Stars” my paramedic partner calls the trucks with the curved satellite dishes on their roof. We get in line for the checkpoint. “STOP,” is written in large red letters, “Security Checkpoint,” below it in smaller, black letters.

We hand our pass to the National Guardsman who writes the date on the back. We are only allowed in once per day.

We are through the checkpoint.


This is not the usual car on our road.

The car in front of us.

Helicopters and heavy equipment are everywhere. The river has a completely new course. As we drive through town, we pass a spot where cones surround a small hole in the road where the asphalt is gone. It seems incredibly minor, an oversized pothole. “We will know we are close to normal when that spot is fixed,” I think.

I am outside of time. Driving through town, taking a new way home, we pass continual destruction. I am unable to take it all in, unable to believe it. In the days that follow I look at pictures over and over, trying to soak in that this–these pictures–are what the landscape, the town, the region looks like now. I remember the last time I drove specific roads and know that I won’t drive them again anytime soon, and when I do they will be completely different.

The vice president is in one of those.

The vice president is in one of those.

When I first see our house from the road a part of my stomach relaxes, a worry that I hadn’t realized was there. There are new ruts in our steep, dirt driveway, but the house feels oddly normal. I turn the dogs loose in the yard; it is the first time in days they are off-leash. I stand on the deck and watch two Black Hawks and a Chinook fly the St. Vrain Canyon. Vice President Biden is in one of those helicopters. My neighbors drive up with our trash can in the back of their pickup.

“Here, we brought this in,” they say. “We didn’t want a bear to get it.”

I’m worrying about a bear getting in the trash at the same time the vice president is on a tour of the destruction of my state. Contradictions are everywhere. I can’t get oriented in this new landscape.

We all stand on the deck and watch the sun approach the horizon, knowing we have to leave before dark. Tonight I will sleep in the bed of the pickup, parked at the fairgrounds.

“This would be a nice place to live,” I remark.

Everyone laughs.

3 Responses to "The Flood: Credentials"

  • This post and these pictures make me ache. Those September days in Colorado are such a gem in a usual year, such a contradiction for this time. And one year on, how is that pothole?

    1 Melissa said this (2.22.2011 at 07:46)

  • Thanks for your support, Melissa. It turns out I was wrong about the pothole: a year later it is fixed, but affordable housing is a huge and painful issue in Lyons. So I don’t think we are back to normal, although we may be forging a new normal, one with a lot less affordable housing. Recovery is hard.

    2 Emily said this (2.22.2011 at 13:24)

  • ‘Forging a new normal’ – apt phrase. I think it’s easy (for me) to think ‘recovery’ = ‘back to they way things were.’ But as you pointed out in another post, no one gets to go back. So difficult.

    3 Melissa said this (2.22.2011 at 23:49)