15 days of Loss, Materialism, and Growth

Fort Vermilion Flood, 2020.

It has been 15 days since the flood began. I have been kept busy with helping others and situating my own life back into a groove. I have spent a good chunk of the last two days processing what I’ve seen and what I’ve been doing. The last major project was helping my good friends’ with their home.

It is surreal to take apart someone’s livelihood. It is even more so when your own memories lay between their walls. It is two weeks shy of a year ago that we all piled into this house during a sudden bout of rain as my friend and I celebrated our 30th birthday. Now, just shy of our 31st birthday, I was tearing those same walls down. It may be too early to say, but I am not sure if you get use to the feeling of placing someone’s livelihoods, up to the present day at least, into a garbage–the fridge and all. When I first began helping them with their demolition, the sign used a few weeks back announcing their second child to friends and family was strewn across the floor by the door; it was an explicit juxtaposition and confrontation between life then and life now. 

Sifting through the belongings of others oddly led me to understand myself a little better. I’ve quickly come to understand my own materialism, which I have always wrongfully denied. The panic and dread I felt when my own possessions, everything I have worked for while living away from home, seemed in danger taught me that I am indeed in part a materialist; the objects I have come to own mean more to me than I care to admit. Yet, I also saw how fickle and meaningless they are. As much as the things we collect and choose to surround ourselves with reflect our identity, they do not define us; objects are not our beginning nor our end. I have watched as my friends lost everything, but they are still the same kind and caring people that they were before. I believe that this resiliency is something for us all to admire and to strive for.

I think I have grown from this horrible event. I have learnt about my own attachments and materialism. I have also learnt that it is not objects that define us, but it is us who define our surroundings. We choose who we are by way of action, and the environment we create within our small place on earth stems from these actions, not the other way around. 

Below you will find photos of my friends’ home. You can see the damage from the flood and its transformation as we stripped it out. Someone has started a Go Fund Me on their behalf; please share it. If you can, think about donating. I cannot imagine how hard of a time this is right now for them. So much loss, and their second child is on the way.

Go Fund Me: The White Family

And On The Eighth Day, There Was Mud

Fort Vermilion Flood, 2020.

The eighth day of the flood is marred with mud, sadness, loss, and the tiniest dash of hope. 

The anger of the Peace River has broken to calmness. When I look out over the still water I almost forget the sight behind me: streets littered with dumpsters,everyone waist deep in mud trying to scavenge what they can. It is not surprising that most of what I see ends up in the dumpster and not the keeping pile, but that does not make it less shocking. 

I am no longer spending my days with Incident Command. Instead, my time is spent covered in mud helping my friends as they clean out their own homes. Yesterday was the first day to go in and assess damages, it left nearly all of us downcast and dejected. If your home was lucky to have survived mostly unscathed, the joy faded with the look in your neighbor’s eyes. Two of my friends have suffered massive losse: one with a foot of water in their main level, the other perhaps losing their entire home. Both of these dwellings were new to them. To top it all off, both of these families are expecting children, with one due in less than a month. I can only imagine the pressure they feel, insurance doesn’t cover an “Act of God,” does it? 

My entire day was spent shifting through the muddied personal belongings of someone else, wedding memories, games, movies, furniture, food, and art: everything that makes a house a home. It was heart wrenching having to ask if something of sentimental value was for the garbage pile, even though I already knew the answer. I have never seen anything like this before. The water having come up from the basement into the main floor left silt everywhere. And, I do mean everywhere: in the fridge, oven, cabinets. If you can name it, silt was in it. And remember, this was all upstairs. The basement, which was newly renovated, took the most damage: everything was lost. Objects may be objects, but they are still the things we strive for and work hard to get, and it is terrible having to haul it all up stairs that are caked with mud to the point where the hardest part is trying not to slip. My heart goes out to them and everyone else affected. I wish I could do more. 

It is surreal working at the dumpster. The streets are lined with tractors and people covered in silt. The worst sight for me was seeing fences covered with children’s clothes, a makeshift clothesline of metal and hope. The dumpster was such an odd amalgamation of sentiments: beds, toys, dressers, books, photographes, entire lives just piled on top of one another; all of us blending into one community within those mud covered rusty walls. And perhaps that is the small ray of hope we all need: We are not alone. We won’t give up and give in. We will work together, and we all make it through this. The tunnel is certinyl dark and long, but there is an end. 

My friend who owns the house above has a Go Fund Me that someone else created. I know times are hard for us all right now, but if you do have anything extra and an ability to help, please consider donating some money. You can see their house below after we worked all day and “cleaned” the floor.

Link to their Go Fund Me:

In Ice, but Out of Place: Flood Day 4

Fort Vermilion Flood, 2020.

My last two reflections about this flood have focused on the liminal moments. The moments of downtime where we find ourselves in between two extremes, and where the outcome is still unknown. In other words, the waiting game. Yet, the last two days have been anything but downtime. I have been working on the frontline as a volunteer helping to clean up the roads and prepare our homes for re-entry.

I won’t spend this time describing the scenes I saw. It is not my place to tell the story of those homes; those stories belong to the members of this community: they are not mine to tell. 

Out of place: how it feels to be where you don’t belong. I spent yesterday and today driving and walking through the aftermath of the flood. For one whole day I found myself in a street standing between the droning hum of two backhoes and the chur of a front end loader. On each side of me the ice stood tall where it was stacked. I, an English Teacher, stood there on that street with an iPad taking photographs. I could hear the loud splashes as trees or ice blocks, much bigger than me, fell or were pushed into the river. When it grew quiet, I could hear the dripping of ice blocks melting patiently into the silt that spread from the river, over the road, into the trees. I was the definition of “out of place.” 

It was sublime to stand in witness of the power, terror, and tranquility of the natural world all at once, but it was also exhausting.

In the end, was I out of place? Maybe. On one hand, who wouldn’t have felt out of place here? On the other hand, aren’t I part of the natural world too?


I have been burning my candle at both ends: dealing with my own stress, striving to help the community clean up, and trying to be a shoulder for others. The truth is, however, that I couldn’t do this without the support of my friends here. They mean the world to me. Living away from home is very difficult, but there is something special with the friends you make while living here. You quickly grow close to others. What would take years to create between friends, takes little time. Today after working in the flood zone, I came home and a friend had made cold-plates, a traditional meal from Newfoundland. It was exactly what I needed to keep my head up. It is these small acts of kindness that keep us afloat at times like these. It is these acts of kindness that make us human and remind me where I am from. 

A Lesson in Juxtaposition: The Flood Day 2

Fort Vermilion Flood, 2020.

Today didn’t start as most do for me: an abrupt alarm measured only by Jack’s piercing barks and abrasive “kisses.” No, Today just phased in, an extension of yesterday. Time is measured not by hours or minutes, but by the rising and falling of the water level. 

Today was a lesson in juxtaposition. The river was soothing and quiet. It is relaxing to watch the chunks of ice wind their way down the stream during the early morning. Yet, in the distance to my left the trees were being ripped down and to the right my house was swimming against the rising tides. I could discern the wet trunks and the bank where the water had dropped slightly during an early morning walk.  At the same time, all of the ice floating by me meant that a probable ice jam would form down the river, which in turn could lead to more flooding. The jam did occur. It started downstream and out of sight, but in a few short hours I would see chunks of ice piling into our only pharmacy’s parking lot. A strange reminder of The Rock, my first home, with its massive ice pans, against the setting destruction of where I now reside. 

As the day progressed, I found myself unable to contain myself. I scoured the town, in person and online, until I could come across a sign or some word of my house. The water appeared stagnant as it clung to the building, just shy of my door, a few feet off of the ground. I can’t be sure if the water breached overnight and was now receding back out, or if what is inside remains dry. One thing is clear though, I will not be able to move back into the building that has grown to be my home away from home. It is strange; I worry about my own place, but I see the destruction of others, and my heart breaks. I feel torn: why should I worry about the small collections of my life when others may have lost entire livelihoods? 

My day ends with great uncertainty, but also with considerable hope. The water level has dropped substantially. The river is crawling back down over the main road and into its bed, hopefully to sleep. In its wake leaving behind boulders of ice that litter our roads and parking lots. Perhaps the ice is its final stand; the last hoorah before it moves on. Or perhaps, as the ice is jamming a little further down, the river will come back to take what it has left behind. 

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Fort Vermilion Flood, Day 2.

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When it Rains it… Floods?

Fort Vermilion Flood, 2020.

Less than twenty hours ago after a short rap on my door, I found myself stuck between stations. A mandatory evacuation with an imminent flood held at bay by the smell of peanut butter sauce for my yet to be cooked chicken pad thai. It felt weird. It felt surreal; well, I guess it was. I let my rice and Tikka Masala finish, and I packed up the ingredients for the pad thai–I couldn’t let that go to waste, could I? 

The next few minutes melt together. Packing up necessities, getting Jack to stop barking, loading my car. The only thing that really stands out from this time is the feeling of driving through the road closures and blocks. It is one thing to drive past them as they are set up in your community, worn down reminders that life is uncertain, and often unsafe.  It is another thing, however, to drive through them from the other side, knowing that the rest of your life is cut away by the red wooden stands. 

I’ve spent all day by the water or following the updates on Facebook, which feel few and far between. I watched the water rise, run across our streets, spill over lawns, and sadly, into many of our homes and lives. As the sound of helicopters whirl around our houses, I caught their videos, resignedly watching as the water level climbed the side of my own house. I hoped and still hope that my small collection of things is safe, but I feel guilty when I do, comparing my own small lot in this flood to friends that are losing homes and live sakes. I do this with friends and cowerwirds, as we are forced to share our homes, even amid this pandemic. 

As I am writing this, the power flicked and left us. I think about those who left their homes here for crowded hotels in our neighbouring community. I think about how they are even more removed from where they want to be than I am. I feel for them. My heart bleeds for them. 

I didn’t think much would change for the worse again this year. I mean, what can be much worse than a global state of emergency over a pandemic keeping me away from those I love. Well, the answer, it appears, was to add a second state of emergency keeping me away from my home and its few comforts. Coupled of course, with the loss of our water treatment plants, limiting us to plastic bottles and shorten showers. 

In the end though, I am lucky and I know it. I am sharing this from the comfort of another’s home. I still have a job in this uncertain time. And, moreover, I have the support of my great friends and family. 

Until tomorrow.

Stay safe,


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Peace River flood, Fort Vermilion 2020.

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Laura Stevenson on Audiotree Live: What we all Need

What else can I say, but where the hell have I been? Laura Stevenson is new to me even though she travels in the same circles that I have been digging through the past few years. She performed in Bomb the Music Industry! with the legendary Jeff Rosenstock, just to name one. I found out about her through her latest album, Laura Stevenson on Audiotree Live. Check it out below as you read through this!

Laura Stevenson on Audiotree Live (2019)

Side Note: We all know part of her lineage. If not go listen to  “Little Drummer Boy” or “Do You Hear what I hear”, yup–those Christmas classics,  because they were written by her Grandfather, Harry Simeone. Laura’s grandmother sang in Benny Goodman’s Jazz band. She bleeds music. 

This album is an audiophile’s dream. You need to listen to this with a pair of good headphones. It kicks off with the song “Value Inn.” The room is filled with the sobering tenor of Laura’s vocals as they float to you protecting the ring of a simple, crisp, and laid back guitar line. They lull you into a sense of somber security, which is only enhanced by her lyrical content: “the waves crash down in the water park…”. As the song fills out, it enters a crescendo as the low end lays out the rest of the atmosphere and the song’s hypnotic rhythm kicks in. The song crashes down on you mirroring those waves at the water park. “Value Inn” is example of songwriting at its peak. It is very rare to hear a room filled so perfectly with music–it hearkens back to The National’s “England” or Radiohead Live From the Basement. Not only for this song, but Laura Stevenson and her band manage to keep this perfect balance throughout the entire performance. If I didn’t know better, I would assume that they were playing over a backing track. 

The album’s tempo increases with the second track, “Living Room NY.” Her vocals gain intensity in their tone and her voice easily slides up to key notes that keep the listener engaged and in wonder. The song is an example of Laura’s ability to paint images that are both identifiable and moving as they come to the listener through mingling strings and cymbals. Her songwriting is a rare type, the type that transcends performance and becomes experience.

I could spend all day writing about this album, but I won’t. You need to listen to it yourself. Go check it out! It is a 10 from me. This album is an experience of art that we all need. It is a semiotic escape to a world that we all know. It grounds us back to our own self. Our own senses. Our own loves. Our own desires. It reminds us that there is more to being human than the daily pressures of work, the news, and our current predicament. 

On Writers Block

Sometimes words fall like rain
from the tip of your pen
dressed in inks:
Blues, Blacks, Reds.
A downpour of thoughts:
Hopes and Dreams.
Drowning out pages:
Ruled landscapes washed away.

But not today,
The forecast just isn’t there.
Perhaps tomorrow we’ll be lucky,
and there will be rain.


A Return to the Simple: Part 1

The Age of Breakfast: The Age of Extravagance

This is part one of a short series about keeping food simple, living in the moment, and how current day trends often take us away from this.

A while ago I started dubbing these last few years as The Age of Breakfast: The Age of Extravagance.There seemed to be a trend of photos cropping up of one of my favourite things: breakfast food. I’m sure you’ve seen them: frames filled with wooden pallets or modern cut plates, clean utensils, heaping mounds of food, juice and coffee, and crusty bread. All of this held together by a mixture of earth tones and wood. I had two thoughts: what an excellent composition and how the hell is one person supposed to eat all of this?

Insert side note: I am not trying to knock these photos or the people that take them. In fact, if this is the breakfast you love, keep on eating on! We all have different preferences, and that is what makes this world a beautiful place. Besides, I won’t deny that the above looks pleasing.

I found myself mesmerized by these photos. Plates filled with multiple types of meats, eggs, and whatever else you can find stashed in your kitchen. To me it looked less like breakfast and more like the moment you cook everything in the fridge before it goes bad. I started seeing this less as a meal and more as a statement. Breakfast surpassed dinner as the materialist’s meal. It all led to me finding a more minimalist approach to my own dishes.

For me, I have always enjoyed a simpler breakfast. Well, simpler in terms of food stuffs, but richer in deliberate flavours. I prefer to taste each item and exploit it to the fullest. I mean, if you’re eating four types of meat, are you really tasting each one? My favorite morning meal is what I call The Simple Breakfast: rice vinegar poached eggs, hash browns, salt and pepper, paprika, and a bit of spice to bring out a kick. Oh yea, you need coffee–er, well I do. Don’t get me wrong, there is a fair bit going on here, but the flavours all work to bring out the magic within two simple things: hash browns and poached eggs. It is the fact that it is all based around two things, and not twenty, that led me to call it a simple breakfast. 

Maybe it’s just me, but being lambasted with more types of meat and produce than I can count takes me out of the moment. The focus becomes all that is in front of me, the material and dollar signs, leaving the joy of each bite behind. The simple meal seems to keep me in the moment. And, I think we could all do well by living a little more in the moment at hand, don’t you agree? 

The Simple Breakfast