View From My Office Window

by Robert Runté
University of Lethbridge
9 AM 95.06.08

I returned from Montreal last night about 10:00 PM. I hadn’t heard any news for the previous three days as I was staying in a Bed and Breakfast with no radio or TV and hadn’t come across any English language newspapers. So the first inkling I had that something was up was looking out the airplane window and seeing how green everything was in this usually semi-arid part of Southern Alberta. The person next to me made a comment about the river being higher than usual, but it didn’t really penetrate, though I did notice an awful lot more ponds that I recalled having seen before. Once on the ground I started home when I saw that there was some sort of traffic jam on the bridge to the Westside, so I went the long route by the old highway 3 bridge. I was pleased with myself for avoiding the traffic by thinking ahead, and pleased that I had finally learned this alternate route about two months ago. Unfortunately, this was the “low level” bridge in Lethbridge, and while still partially open, they were only letting one car across at a time. Thus traffic moved even more slowly than the on the Whoop-Up Drive bridge which is a couple of stories higher. The water looked to be about a foot under the bridge I was on at that point, but it is a “floating” bridge, so another couple of inches and it would be washed off its supports. Consequently they were dumping tons of gravel on the upstream side of the road deck to try to stabilize the bridge, which cut traffic to one lane. It took me about 90 minutes to drive the six minute trip home.
This morning , both bridges have been closed, which means that schools have had to be closed (because while most kids live in their own neighbourhoods, the teachers don’t) and classes have been canceled on campus. So I am sitting in my office doing up my conference expense accounts and looking out at the view.
My office overlooks the river. It USED to overlook a golf course and a bunch of hiking/bicycle trails too, but there is nothing outside there now except river. Where I am, the river is at least 4 times wider than it was the last time I sat here. There are still a few tree tops poking out of the water here and there, and it looks to be two or three feet below the level of the high level bridge, but I’d say the river has risen about 3 stories. It is quite the sight
Of course, I saw all the flooding in the states last year on TV, but it is not the same as being there. I could wax eloquent about the power of the forces of nature etc, but I didn’t pay any attention to that sort of rhetoric when seeing it on the news, so I doubt that I could do any better now that it’s my turn. I did, I admit, have a slight feeling that all the flooding in the states was a hint from god that they were maybe getting a bit out of line and should watch it, so by extension, I guess this flood is god’s commentary on Lethbridge’s conservatism and support of Klein. On the other hand, I mostly have these irrational feelings of guilt because when I was in Tofino weekend before last, I kept saying, “I can’t believe how green everything is! I wish to god it would rain in Lethbridge sometime! It would be great to live somewhere where it was green all the time!” Well, things are certainly green here now! Looking out at the coulees which are usually a desert brown, it is unbelievable. Somehow the cliff-like bluffs have been transformed into rolling green hills, and are breathtakingly beautiful! I’d take pictures, but I’m out of film, and there is no way to get across to a store right at the moment
My house is perfectly safe, I should note. I live on top of the bluffs, about a thousand meters above the flood plain. My office is similarly on the eighth floor of a campus at least 500 meters above the river, but I could not find a better view. Hundreds of students are lined up on the coulees below me standing on what used to be the high points of the hiking trails. It is a beautiful day out too, with only a few fluffy clouds to shade the brilliant sunshine. A great day for a picnic at the side of the river, or on the edge of the coulees, which at the moment is pretty much the same thing. . .

Afternoon update:
When I went over to the local strip mall at lunch, it was packed with kids with a day off from school . . . and their parents with an unexpected day off work. The whole place had a kind of carnival air to it...
The bridges were reopened at about 2PM and the river has gone down enough that I can see the tops of the trunks of most trees.
The REALLY scary thing for me is that hills have already started to dry out. The coulees across from me are already two shades lighter green than this morning, and there are already discernible brown patches. It’s still pretty green for Lethbridge, but it has already lost that WestCoast look.

Originally published by Under the Ozone Hole Number Eleven – June, 1995

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