A cold grey cloud cover dims the light, and sets a somber morning mood. I know about moods. They call me a moody person, and I have been so ever since I was a child. All feels empty and surreal. I am an author now—I write non-fiction and fiction—and moods are good for writing fiction. But what am I writing at the moment? Well, it should be fiction, it has all the setting characteristics of some good solid tragic drama, but it’s not a story. It’s real.
This May 2014 long weekend we were chatting about heading out to our place in BC. One thing led to another, but the turning point was the weatherman’s prediction of rain. And not just here in Calgary from where we can at times escape to that alternate climate zone in beautiful British Columbia. Rainy also out in the BC interior valley. We instead decided Friday, the best weather day, we would go to the mountains. Every outdoors person in Calgary knows about the mountains just to the west. I would never life in the semi-arid city without those mountains near where you can escape the city for a refreshing breath of nature. Then sometime that day my wife started speaking of a flood. Back home – she immigrated from Eastern Europe years ago. We postponed our travel ideas.
Instead of a weekend out at the cabin, like I was used to as a kid in Saskatchewan, we watched the news. My wife dug right into the local news written online in Serbian, and she talked on the phone to her mother and her sister. Nothing new, she does that almost every day. But something was not normal. Her mother had never cried on the phone before. Ever. My wife and daughter had just flown back from six weeks there in Lacarak on the first of May. They had made the one hour trip into Belgrade to visit relatives. My daughter played in the streets and on the latest digital device screens with her two cousins. But the Sava River was rising now, and flooding was happening in Bosnia. The rain was coming down at an unprecedented rate and not stopping. The chatter was about evacuation. This had never happened before. And where to? I recalled Fuska Gora, those hills where I had been to monasteries not far away. My wife cried.
Saturday she shows me online photos. The people are standing around the riverbank in Sremska Mitrovica. I recognized the place, the walking bridge across the Sava. The city had been there forever, once the fourth largest in the Roman Empire with a horse track arena. Meaning the Emperor would come to stay at times. She yells at them, why are they only standing around? That’s what they did last year in Calgary’s flood I tell her. Lots of people went for a walk down by the Bow River to watch our 2013 flood. Later that day—we are eight hours behind here in Calgary—the people of Serbia—my wife’s family—have been scrambling. My wife’s sister, my daughter’s two cousins and another family mother with children have found a relative with a big house up Fuska Gora. The men and my wife’s mother too stay in Lacarak, waiting for emergency evacuation news at the last moment. They have a car, the one we bought to drive to Italy four years ago when I attended a sustainability conference. The locals have stacked sand bags along the Sava berm all through Sremska and machinery has been raising the berm along the corn fields behind Lacarak. I walked along that berm two springs back many times, a peaceful hike along a hill of earth build for regular spring high water. This spring is not regular.
Sunday. Water has peeked in Sremska. Yes, the crisis is over! I spend the day with my daughter at her elementary school playground. We laugh and play and ride our bicycles down the park trail there and return on the street. She doesn’t like riding uphill. I watch the sky for rain and we just beat it on our way home after many great games. My wife is in a panic again. The river, no not the Sava, the Drina, no it is the Sava has breeched in Croatia. At Brcko, no that’s the Bosnian side of the Sava. Neither Bosnia nor Croatia but a tidbit left over from the complicated history of ex-Yugoslavia. The waters are rushing through the forest now, wild animals scattering out ahead. Truly this must be fiction. When does a river ever flood through a forest? But it is real, and the water is coming around the back way towards Lacarak and Sremska. She shows me a local facebook posting. The provincial crisis manager there has made a decision. They have to create an emergency berm to hold back this new flood through the forest.
I was there at Kuzmin. Just a few kilometers west of Lacarak. We drove through that village on our way back from Italy. The heavy equipment was to build an emergency berm using the road itself as the structure base. If the water comes past that, my wife has talked of the railroad tracks almost two meters high. That will be the last resort, then the water will be in the Lacarak streets. In the houses where I have stayed, in the streets where I have played with the children. My wife’s sister, my wife’s parents right across the street. To become another washed through Serbian village with hidden corpses. Like the news says has already happened in other Serbian and Bosnian towns and cities.
Is this weather or climate. My one university class in Climatology taught climate is a running 30 year average of weather. There’s a lot of latent heat energy up there in the sky. I’ve been researching sustainability for eight years now, and a lot of the non-fiction books I have gone through read like fiction. I have double checked many times, to confirm I was not reading a science fiction story. And most books about sustainability say we have crossed over the line, many lines and our aspired for lifestyles are no longer sustainable. They always mention climate change. Climate change has predicted new normal weather, and the extreme weather events as they are called bring floods.
So I must write, here, about how I envision and what I can predict of our near future. We are going through a transition, not in a science fiction story, but in reality. Not for on the screen entertainment, but as a new normal part of our everyday lives. And not just in my town, not just where I live but globally in every corner of our planet. Our life support system that we have taken for granted, that we have gone forth upon to multiply and conquer. Everything will be different now, the hopes of going back to the way things were are dismal. The optimists say cheer up, people have always solved their problems. The deniers scream, whine and cry that their oilfield jobs need be on the block. I have to face the news this morning of whether the water came through.
Yes, the water did not make it to town. The people in Lacarak speculate the politicians have been casting roles for themselves, vying for political points. The body count will not be released yet, until the hardest hit Serbian city of Obrenovac has been clean up completely. We go to the mountains the next weekend, but its rainy, and we talk about who got trapped by the Calgary flood last year.
This will be our new normal going forward. Our near future has arrived.