A Flood of Images

June 29, 2011

*Citations under construction*

Three times in as many days, I stepped over the “road closed” barricades in Nebraska to walk across a bridge that is normally closed to pedestrian traffic. Now, walking is the only permissible way to find myself on the Missouri side of the “Mighty Mo” river in Rulo, Brownville and several other crossing points along the great river.

This trip to Nebraska was a bittersweet contrasts. It was supposed to be a family reunion but it was conspicuously absent of a number of folks whose paths were blocked by swelling waterways and threats of more to come. Our trip to the city of Falls City, Nebraska is generally punctuated by excursions to neighboring towns. City folk, as most of us are, rarely can be entertained by the lazy passage of the small town or farmland life. We zip around from town to town investigating the local sights and escapes.

Rulo, Nebraska was probably the most frequented escape during my childhood visits. It holds the (well, normally it holds, but that word hardly fits now) the “Mighty Mo” or the Missouri River for play. Of course, the river is accessible from many points, including Brownville, and other towns north of town deeper in Nebraska and south of town into Kansas. The two towns mentioned are not too far from one another and both have bridges to straddle the borders between Missouri and Nebraska.  (See pink highlight below.)

As I stood on each of the bridges, snapping as many pictures as I could, I hoped to capture the vastness of the flood. I was distressed with the weight of my duty to communicate disaster on the proportions necessary to make it real enough. I could see from the river bank on the Nebraska side to the horizon north and south and could see nothing but water and drowning plants.

I am stricken with the magnitude of what I am seeing, and yet I know that after seeing so many images of death and destruction in recent (enough) history, this massive drowning of our farmland may seem minuscule. Not enough human lives and habitat has yet been lost. Images like the one below are not very moving for someone farther from the problem.

It is a local loss that doesn’t play on the heartstrings of cities like mine that are still absorbing populations from Katrina.

What does? What would communicate the vastness of the experience? The image below is one taken Friday night at sunset on the Missouri side of the bridge at Rulo.  This is what should concern us all. Corn.

I’m sure that somewhere nearby is an equally tragically flooded field of soy crops lost. How many acres is that? It is all farmland flooded. This is going to hit us in our guts and our gas tanks.

Your corn based cereals, your ethanol fuels, your tofu, your soda sweetened with corn syrup, your biodiesel. This will hurt no matter what your politics or feelings about what we do with failure to diversify our crops. No matter how we feel about the practice, the product is what you’ve become accustomed to. After Katrina, the south learned to ration their sugar. After this, what can we ration or cut back on? We shall see. We may be surprised to watch ethanol fuel prices soar above regular. We may be shocked when tofu just won’t fit into our budget, and yet beef is pricier than ever.

While that image of the “River Inn Resort” is the low point of concern, you should be concerned about the image that appeared next to it in the Falls City Journal: the crop markets. This image shows the crop market most important locally, soy and corn, rising 1.36% and .4%, respectively. Good numbers for farmers to see, if they still have their crop to sell.

The longer that those crops are under water, which some say will be months beyond the growing season, the higher those prices will get. That is only caused by the farm lands, both corporate and family, that are completely decimated. 

It takes a careful eye to the news to get the magnitude.  The farmlands affected are only those that stretch the length of Interstate 29 from Sioux City, Iowa through St. Joseph Missouri, according to this map (below).  

Of course, that is just the Missouri River. The Mighty Mo is not alone in its willful disrespect of its banks. This map (next image) may be more indicative of the amount of water in the area. The percentages listed, the lowest being 100% and highest being 549%, are percentages of normal runoff experienced up to that point in May, 2011. The water is still coming.

If one image can capture the sense of danger that standing on top of the bridges at Rulo and Brownville, Nebraska gave me, it is this one.


Born to Read

June 14, 2011

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