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The forces of nature not necessarily negotiable

American robins appeared in great numbers last week during the flood, oblivious of our struggles with the various rivers in the valley. Keith Corliss

The day of September 11, 2001 was surreal. When images and sounds of the terrorist attacks on our nation began to stream across every available world media outlet, we were all stunned. But "stunned" doesn't even begin to depict the range of emotions felt by every American and every world citizen. Future generations will even have a sense of that day as we will surely pass to our children and grandchildren descriptions, feelings, and explanations of just what occurred.

I was out of town that day with other National Guard personnel. When news of the attacks reached us, word quickly spread to return to our home stations to begin a response which continues today. As I was hastily throwing things into my car for the drive home, I distinctly remember one thing. A butterfly was daintily flitting around me, seemingly ignorant of the horrific events which had just unfolded before our eyes. The image is burned in my brain as a reminder that, while the situation was seemingly catastrophic, it was entirely of human origin.

The current flood disaster being heaped upon the Red River Valley is another matter. Sure, some can point fingers to farmers draining fields, a lack of resolve to get on with permanent flood protection, or even an angry god. But in the end, this event is mostly out of our hands.

I cringe somewhat when I hear Fargo will now get its monies to protect it from future river floods. By itself that is a good thing, the money that is. After all, Fargo is North Dakota's largest city and largest source of state revenue. It's worth protecting. But we are collectively deceiving ourselves if we think permanent protection will solve our flood problems. The folks in New Orleans thought the levees would protect them too.

I've also heard the word "solution" being mentioned. Again this is indicative of our naiveté. Regardless of our resolve in mitigating this flooding, there will be a time when the "solution" will fail. We cannot tame nature, or nature's God. We aren't that powerful.

Several times recently I found myself filling sandbags or throwing them at various hotspots along the Red River. On many occasions I looked up from the mayhem only to see a bald eagle lazily floating in the air above, or a flock of tundra swans trumpeting loudly from their vee formations. Even American robins have returned in great numbers. It's weird isn't it? Here we are up to our knees in freezing water, dirty from head to toe, aching everywhere while robins are singing and eating our crabapples as if nothing is happening. Nature doesn't even seem to notice we are under tremendous physical and emotional strain. There's a lesson here somewhere.

As a West Fargo resident I am grateful to all the governmental bodies that designed and implemented the Sheyenne Diversion. It has been nothing short of a savior several times over already. And I'm sure it will be called upon again to shuttle water around Horace and West Fargo in coming years. But is it possible that even this grand design could be overwhelmed by forces beyond our control? Of course it is.

In a very odd way the 9/11 attacks are almost easier to deal with or at least understand. After all this is a dispute between ideologies, religions, and cultures. Idealists among us would believe there can be a day when peace will reign in the world. I don't happen to be among them. But it shouldn't stop us from trying.

On the other hand, the forces of nature are not negotiable. We don't have a diplomat at the table presenting the American argument or demanding concessions. We can't go to the floor of the United Nations and plea for stronger measures. We can't summon the military to pressure the enemy into submission. We are nearly helpless in this regard. But like international relations, we shouldn't stop trying to protect our interests with regard to the natural world. On the other hand, let's all understand one thing. We can't ever prevail permanently. The best we can hope for is a sort of détente.

So let's build the flood walls, let's buyout the lowland properties and erect permanent diking, let's rethink the very idea of having basements here in the valley. It would surely ease most future flood events. But stop them forever? Not a chance.