Traveling in the Wake of the Flood

Image of a flooded street.

Image by Kelly Sikkema.

The train goes across a bridge south of Montpelier. It’s somewhat of a valley, the ancient rounded peaks of the Green Mountains sloping into the mist. The river below is well within its banks now, but the uprooted trees lying horizontal on those banks bear witness to the flood waters that ravaged the region barely two weeks ago.

I look at the corn fields out the train window. Some are flooded and lost to nature’s wrath. Even if the crop is not destroyed, the toxins that washed through the land and settled where it was lowest have made them unsafe for humans or animals to consume. The irony appears lost on those farmers who use chemical fertilizers on their crops; it’s the very fertilizer that has rendered their crops inedible. I think about my garden plot in the community garden back home. The tomatoes seemed so promising in early July, their green vegetation plentiful and their yellow blossoms promising a couple bushels of fruit. Almost a month later the fruit has barely increased in size and the rust on the leaves from too much rain is frustrating, to say the least. The sun has just not been present. Us gardeners speculate if the particulate matter from the devastating forest fires across Canada are somewhat to blame for the neverending rain. I may be making a lot of green tomato relish this coming fall.

Meanwhile, the train heads southward towards what looks to be a record setting heatwave. The White River flows beside the track, not over its banks but to its maximum level before it would be. Where the Winooski River runs between the burgs of Burlington and Winooski the situation is the same. The skies above White River Junction in southeast Vermont are overcast but no rain is falling. If I lived in these parts I would be wishing hard for the sun, fearful of any more flooding and the destruction it would certainly bring. I hear chants of “no rain” echoing inside my brain.

After passing a discount liquor store near Claremont NH, the train goes across a bridge, the Connecticut River roaring underneath. I can see trash from upstream strewn along the banks. A child’s car seat drenched and battered lays next to a road sign that was on the side of the road when I took this train a little over a month ago. I’m guessing the raging waters sent it to its resting place on the Connecticut’s bank.

As we head south, I’m keeping an eye on the temperature in Baltimore where I’m heading. It’s been steadily climbing since this morning. Now, at 4:30 PM EDT it is an even ninety degrees. Here in Hartford CT. it’s cloudy and just slightly less warm. By the time I get off the train in Baltimore, the temperature is still ninety. The train is an hour late because of speed limits imposed on it due to the condition of the track bed in Vermont; the flooding had not washed the track out, but it had affected it enough to slow the train down a bit. In addition, the heat expands the tracks–another reason the engine must slow down.

The temperature in Maryland did not cool down until after an intense thunderstorm the next evening. I happened to be at an outdoor concert when the deluge began. The concert featured several artists including Kurt Vile, Nathaniel Rateliff, Willie Nelson and their bands. The rain came down all during Vile’s set, his guitar soaring above the noise of the storm and the rivers of water rushing into the amphitheatre’s storm drains. Rateliff and his band dazzled the crowd as the light and warm breeze dried out our clothes. Rateliff himself reminded me of a young Joe Cocker, while his songs revealed influences from Wilson Pickett to Bob Dylan. Willie’s four piece band emphasized his warm and still mellifluous vocals. It was the briefest set I’ve ever seen Nelson do, but it still ran at least seventy-five minutes plus an encore.

The next day the temperature reached ninety-seven degrees and the evening brought an even more intense and destructive storm to the area.

I’m not a meteorologist, but the anecdotal evidence is mounting; we’re approaching some kind of moment we may not be able to to undo.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: