Mississippi Drive-By, sunset on the Mississippi, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
Spring thaw spills over
Mississippi’s swollen banks;
Red River rages
I’ve been thinking about rivers this week as the Red River border between Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota spreads out over the land. Happy for Spring, this mighty south to north flowing river is swelled and overreaching her banks, leaving human devastation in her wake. The Red River stood at 40.71 feet shortly after 8:15 a.m., down a bit from the 40.8 feet at the stroke of midnight. That’s nearly a foot higher than the Red River has ever before reached in recorded history.
Rivers have minds of their own. And the Red River is a rebel. I remember a 1970′s flooding of the Susquehanna River when I was in college in Pennsylvania. Everyone was evacuated to higher ground; we were out of school for a week. My hometown hosts the mighty Mississippi, a river that writer Mark Twain knew intimately. He wrote about her history and human habitation in Life on the Mississippi. He also had this to say about trying to tame her:
The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…
– Mark Twain in Eruption
The same appears to be true of the Red River. This week, citizens of the area have lost homes and businesses swallowed up by the river. Thousands of Midwesterners in the Great White North rose to the occasion, sandbagging between the echoing dribbles of basketball’s March Madness. Cheering for the home team kept their minds from spinning, a kind of in-the-moment relief.
But yesterday, officials in the flood-plagued Minnesota community of Moorhead asked about one-third of their households to evacuate ahead of the rising river. Moorhead along with neighboring Fargo, North Dakota, a city of more than 90,000, are preparing for further evacuations. The river is not expected to crest until Sunday afternoon, an all-time high of 42 feet. Thank goodness the cold weather this week left the Red frozen to the bone, unable to push the higher limits that were predicted.
Our prayers are with our communities to the North, though the odds may not be. It has always been this way with rivers; and so it shall always be. And if it’s true what Twain says that “we form our opinions of our country from what other people say of us,” then Midwesterners will always go down as a people who show up for each other when the chips are down. Middle of the country. Middle America. High regard for the land, the rivers, the habitat, and the people who commingle there.
It is strange how little has been written about the Upper Mississippi. The river below St. Louis has been described time and again, and it is the least interesting part. One can sit on the pilot-house for a few hours and watch the low shores, the ungainly trees and the democratic buzzards, and then one might as well go to bed. One has seen everything there is to see. Along the Upper Mississippi every hour brings something new. There are crowds of odd islands, bluffs, prairies, hills, woods and villages–everything one could desire to amuse the children.
Few people every think of going there, however. Dickens, Corbett, Mother Trollope and the other discriminating English people who ‘wrote up’ the country before 1842 had hardly an idea that such a stretch of river scenery existed. Their successors have followed in their footsteps, and as we form our opinions of our country from what other people say of us, of course we ignore the finest part of the Mississippi.
- Interview in Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1886, from Mark Twain Quotations
- For up to the minute coverage, photographs, and history, read about the Red River Floods of March 2009 at these links:
- Red River Valley Flooding at the StarTribune – aerial shot of the devastation
- Red River Floods of 2009 at MPR – lots of photographs and video of the Red River Valley
- The Fargo Flood Homepage – learn about the geology of the Red River Valley and the history of why the river floods
- City of Fargo – up to the minute flood information
-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, March 28th, 2009