There’s nothing like a natural disaster to make you feel lucky. On the final night of deadline for this issue, news reports were ubiquitous about Lyons residents returning to their homes and how the town was almost back to normal, in many regards. But as uplifting as it was to hear those stories (not to be a total Debbie Downer), there’s the sad side of all the folks who aren’t yet back and the folks who might never be able to move back.
My family and I love living in Lyons, and for the record, we were some of the very very lucky ones, not directly affected with losses from the flood, unless you call a loss of a month of business a direct loss. It’s been a struggle for everyone around here and every day we hear of something else, some little twist, some little tale that reminds us how bad this flood of the century was, and still is, for so many Colorado residents.
My wife Jess and I were in Telluride the night of September 11, 2013, the start to what was to be our end-of-summer hurrah, and our 12- and 15- year old daughters’ first extended weekend home alone. Jess had spent the preceding week making plans for neighbors and friends to spend evenings with the girls, and set up everything, including meals, to make sure it went smoothly.
We landed that afternoon, checked in and hit the town for some evening music and dinner before calling it an early night. We had four days ahead planned at Telluride’s Blues and Brews Festival and we were doing our best to pace ourselves. But in the middle of the night our phones started blowing up. The first few times we ignored the calls, thinking that acquaintances in town were trying to get us to rally at o’dark-thirty. But when I finally did answer one call at 4 a.m. and heard the reverse 911 for evacuation, it set in motion a chain of events that we will never forget.
As dawn came we began seeing news reports and social media posts about how bad the flood was. By the time we realized the gravity of what was taking place, we had already missed the window to change our flight and get back to Lyons. So we waited, and waited and waited.
As the minutes and hours ticked by and more reports surfaced, we found ourselves gripped with fear, wondering when and how we would get home to our girls. We didn’t leave the hotel room, other than in short bursts, because at least in that claustrophobic room we had television news and internet. As soon as we ventured into Telluride that safety blanket was stripped away.
We couldn’t get out on the Friday flight. By Friday evening our daughters had been without power for two days, and keeping in touch with them via mobiles was becoming increasing difficult as phone batteries started to fail — think about talking your kids through how to safely charge their phones from a car in the garage without injuring themselves or killing the car battery.
When our flight finally delivered us to Denver Saturday afternoon, I sent the girls a text saying “Hang tight, I’mma comin’ to getcha.” Neighbors and news reports told us that getting into town would be impossible. I drove down the tollway from the airport toward Boulder County at ass-clenching speed — shocked that the areas we were driving through seemed completely unscathed. But, as we got closer and closer to Lyons, the reality of the situation came into full view.
National Guard checkpoints were everywhere and the signs might as well have said “You’re fucked.” But, I’ve talked my way through enough backstage security barriers before and I wasn’t going to let my girls be home alone any longer. The first Guard that approached our car didn’t even have the chance to say hello before I started talking, and I didn’t stop until he waved me through. A mile down the road I repeated the process, and a half-mile after that I did it again. When we finally got to our home, having driven through some of the most surreal sights I’ve ever seen, our girls — who would have otherwise been in a state of television and internet over-indulgence bliss — were sitting, in a clean house mind you, reading… books!
So to say we were lucky is an understatement, in the least. As the coming weeks showed, town got way worse before it started to get any better. Our streets became dumps as houses were cleared of debris, and hopes were crumbled when some folks learned that they wouldn’t be saving this, or that. But amidst all of that turmoil, all of that loss, all of that sadness, friendships blossomed, neighbors who’d never shared more than a wave became buddies and helping one another became everyone’s primary goal. In the middle of all of the destruction, there was actually an immense amount of beauty.
Lyons, Jamestown, Salina, and the countless other folks from Boulder out to the eastern plains, are off even the local news stations’ loops — and not because everything is all better. We still have friends months away from getting back to their homes and their FEMA money has run dry. Worse off still, there are some folks who don’t have a property to go back to. Land they bought decades ago is now under the river’s new path.
So please, as the impact of the disaster starts to fade from view, do your best to attend the benefits in the area, support local businesses now more than ever, and for God’s sake, continue to be kind to each other, just like we’re still in the midst of all of this, because, quite honestly, we still are.
See you at the shows.