My city took one in the chops this past weekend.  The rain came in around 5AM on Saturday morning and ended about 6PM that evening…or so we thought.  Just after noon I was eating lunch in the breakfast room (why don’t they call it a “lunch room?”) and my middle daughter asked if I had ever seen the monsoon rains when I lived in New Delhi many years ago.  I began to regale her with a tale of landing in Delhi at 2AM just as the first of the monsoon rains began and as I sought for a way to describe it, I looked out the window and remarked “well, they looked a lot like this.”

A few minutes later, my wife was leaving to run an errand when she called from the garage/basement below.  There is a tone that spouses have, that after 26 years of marriage, you know it means “hurry!”  In heavy rains of the past, we have experienced a trickle of water through the basement and out the garage – nothing serious.  The water was coming in so fast that it was backing up into the garage and threatening the finished part of the basement.  A towel line later and about 120 gallons pulled out with the wet vac and we were holding our own.  And yes, the rain let up.

We nervously watched the weather channel that evening and although the iPod Touch was saying that we had already gotten 4.35″ of rain, their forecast of .35″ for Sunday didn’t jive with the radar picture.  At 5AM Sunday morning it began again.  By 7AM, the water off our front porch was midway up my calf and the neighbor’s retaining wall that is about 6′ high looked like a rapid on the Gauley River.  The rest of the day was spent controlling the flow through the basement and watching in anguish as the news reports came in about the damage being wrought to our city.  The weather system was a straight line of storms that stretched all the way back to the Gulf of Mexico.  The system was moving, but not to the east like the normal weather pattern for Middle Tennessee.  The front line had stalled and the storm line just moved straight up, dumping ever greater amounts of rain.  By the time it was over, our rain gauge said that we had received a little over 18″ in two days – considering we average 49 inches in a year, it was a staggering figure.

At about 4PM, the line started to move to the east.  The monsoon slowed to a spring rain shower, and then in Forrest Gumpian fashion, the rain just stopped. Sadly, for the city, the damage was just beginning.  In “The Dry Salvages,” the poet T.S. Eliot observes:

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
The only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities – ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons, and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

The brown god of the Cumberland was raging through downtown Nashville and Clarksville on Sunday in impressive fashion.  But the real damage began Monday as she left her banks and wandered up the streets, filling our hockey arena and football stadium, the basement of our beautiful new Schermerhorn Symphony Center and knocking the downtown power grid off-line…we have been reminded of what men choose to forget.

View from Demonbreun Street bridge towards Riverfront Park - note light pole tops barely visible. This is about 12 hours after peak.

But Nashville and Middle Tennessee does what we are famous for: we get up off our knees, dust ourselves off and go back to work.  We don’t whine and wait for the Federal Government to show up, although the disaster relief assistance will be appreciated…and we don’t loot.  Neighbor gets out and helps neighbor, old acquaintances are remade in distress…we are Volunteers, it is what we do.

We have some grieving to do, some of us have lost friends and loved ones…some have lost everything.  But we will help each other out and get back on track. Give us a few months and our city will be gleaming again, an example of a proud community that relies on hard work and internal fortitude.  We are blessed with good governance, a beautiful land and wonderful people.  We are Nashville Proud.

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