Thursday, June 19, 2008

As if there weren't already enough threats to rural America . . .

Photos in today's NYTimes depict efforts to shore up the Mississippi River levees in Canton, Missouri, population 2,557, and Clarksville, Missouri, population 490. They accompany a Dan Barry story on the front page, "A Hand-to-Hand Struggle with a Raging River." He writes:

They sandbag by moonlight. The school superintendent and the judge, the police sergeant and the mechanic, the Amish man in a straw hat and the young man in a Budweiser T-shirt, they lay down sandbags as if making peace offerings to a vexed god called the Mississippi.

* * *
There is something almost too simple, even primitive, about sandbagging. In an age when anyone can receive a satellite photograph of where they’re standing with the click of an iPhone, and when the river’s southward swell can be tracked like a tagged animal lumbering along a worn path, we still heavily depend on a basic, communal practice: shovel sand in bag, place bag on ground, pray it works, as it often does.

Once again, sounds like the gemeinschaft long associated with the rural Midwest, and that's very comforting in times like these. The second paragraph evokes rurality's association with nature, that which is untamed, the primitive.

And a few hours after this initial post, this story, reporting that Winfield, population 723, was under threat from a levee breach. As with the story about Chelsea, Iowa, a few days ago, the question looms: can the town survive another flood?

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