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David del norte

June 2013
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Much of my city is underwater. I am high and dry atop a hill, but if I take a short walk and look out over the floodplain where downtown sits I am dumbstruck. There's a certain cognitive dissonance in seeing submerged landmarks and normally busy thoroughfares disappearing into the backwater of a monstrous, turbid river.

Thursday morning there was little sign of what was to come. Our smaller of two rivers, the Elbow, was expected to spill its banks. Perhaps like it did in '05, when a few dozen millionaires had their basements flooded. Boo-hoo.

News came of flash floods in Canmore, a resort town just outside Banff National Park. Then I saw a tweet from the town of High River (45 minutes south of Calgary), looking for volunteers in a sandbagging effort. Having been rained out of work, I hit the highway immediately. The RCMP would shortly thereafter issue a statement asking that no one should be headed in to High River but I was oblivious. The scene I arrived in was chaos, no one clearly in charge, but after a minute of watching the activity I grabbed an empty sandbag, headed to someone with a shovel, and knelt down so they could toss in scoops of gravel. The gravel pile was being quickly depleted. Someone jumped into the bed of a half ton and called out for attention. We were told that there may be no more gravel coming and that the army was on its way in.

At the firehall nearby I was told that there was no other volunteer effort under way. An elderly woman approached me and asked if I had a vehicle. Diana and her roommate Barbara had been evacuated from their neighbourhood in the the back of a combine, the only vehicle big enough to cross the flood-zone without taking on water. Barbara had some mobility issues and they needed a ride to the high school where they were to be lodging evacuees. At the high school I ended up in a queue of school busses and I waited a while before being told that they were now evacuating even that location to the town of Nanton. Diana had a sister in Calgary so I drove them both there. We had a lovely conversation. They we're retired nurses both of them, and when I told them my mother was a nurse we had lots to talk about.

Back in Calgary, it seemed, city officials were preparing for worse scenarios than I had imagined. By early evening they were issuing evacuation orders for many low lying neighbourhoods. After a late dinner, Alyssa and I took a walk down to the river valley. Princes Island park, the city centres biggest green space was already partially submerged. But except for the islands, the water had not yet breached the banks, and all major bridges remained open. The water was moving fast though. Normally crystal clear, the Bow, our city's big river was brown and full of debris. Railroad ties and tree trunks flew by and smacked against the pillars of the Centre Street bridge.

We weren't the only ones out watching our river's strange behaviour. There were crowds holding smartphones and cameras, venturing just beyond the caution tape to get a better shot. The air was full of anticipation. Though the river roared threateningly, we were all a little excited. What novelty will this water bring us?

After spending yesterday obeying the municipal admonition to stay put, and anxiously switching between social media feeds in front of a TV with extended local news coverage, Alyssa and I took another walk. Again, there was a crowd. Again there were cameras. The mood was different. We'd seen pictures of this all day. We'd seen plenty of places that were much harder hit than the neighbourhoods near us. But seeing stranded vehicles, water lapping at doors marked with X's to indicate evacuation - that hit with a heavier weight. Maybe it was just the strangeness, maybe it was the strong Quebecois beers we'd been drinking, but we were both brought to tears.

Today we woke up early, eschewed the obsessive twitter tracking, and rode our bikes to the temporary location of the Calgary Drop-In Centre (a homeless shelter/ crisis and transition centre). We were ostensibly there to serve breakfast, but we ended up sorting food and clothing for five hours.

I've never been more proud to be a Calgarian. Emergency plans were in place and skillfully executed. We have over 100,000 displaced people, but no reports of injury or death within the city. Our water treatment plants are stressed, but still functioning. It may be a week before our downtown core is dry and accessible and we are in for a very strange and challenging summer. But social media feeds have been flooded with people looking for volunteer opportunities and offering up their homes to evacuees. People are banding together with more energy than information but the civic pride is palpable. I love this city. It's proving to be gorgeous at its worst.

I think I've complained before of a certain involuntary stoicism on my part. A wish that I should be more easily moved. (unlike a tree that's planted by the water?) Not that I've any particular hardships to be stoic about. Life is a bourgeois breeze. Whatever claims to poverty I had as a student who summered as a construction labourer are gone - now that I'm full time fauxletariat.

I had a temporary crisis of conscience a couple months ago when Alyssa wanted to make use of her dad's Palm Springs property and buy tickets to Coachella and I was contemplating spending a week this summer digging wells in Nicaragua. (The locals have a taboo about shovelling, maybe? Anyways it's no fun to just send money.) I came up with a compromise when I realized that the week after Coachella is a country music festival called Stagecoach, and since country music is more populist... (Besides, Norah Jones will be there for me to swoon over.)

BRB, gotta mix me another Manhattan...

What was I talking about? Fuck I love this song. I wish my name was as alliterative as Kris Kristofferson's is. (My name is Yon Yonson, I work in Wisconsin.) I fixed my turntable on saturday. What a satisfying task that was. I trashed an iPod trying to replace the screen just two days before. But the turntable, a beautiful 40 year old piece of aluminum and plywood - It was running slow and warbly at 33 RPM. After dropping the bottom out I had to remove a single set screw (with a full size screwdriver!) to release the hydraulic bearing. It was gummed up, so I cleaned it, oiled it, and reassembled it. Problem solved. Routine maintenance is fun. I smell the oil every time I flip an album over. The rebirth of vinyl has rekindled my passion for music. I can touch and smell these albums. I can unfold the liner notes in my hand. I can carefully note the absurd complexity of Funkadelic album art and try to decipher the artists signature. What a fucking hipster I am! My wardrobe of flannel and loose, worn out jeans that I've kept up since Pearl Jam's Ten is being steadily replaced by slightly tighter, newer looking jeans and pearl snap shirts.

But back to the point of our story. I was picking and singing some Phil Ochs tunes yesterday. (That bastard hits hard.) It was probably during Love Me, I'm a Liberal I started to tear up. I can't exactly explain why. Whatever particular emotional well I dug into was accessed through several layers of reference. (Better read the footnotes.)

And then today some joggers got blown up in Beantown, I tried to channel the sermon on the mount or something in a facebook status update, and then I started drinking hard. The latter is a rare occurrence lately. (But then again, so is updating my LiveJournal.) This is what I had to say before I got loaded:

31 people were killed in bombings in Iraq today. I'm not saying that should be the top headline here in North America. When violence strikes in what feels like our part of the world, it's more disruptive to our sense of well being. I just hope that today, when tragedy hits home, we can muster some empathy, or even solidarity with those who live day to day in fear and insecurity. I hope it brings us closer to others and encourages compassion and understanding. I fear that the opposite will be true.


I went to a Billy Bragg concert on monday. He talked a lot about Thatcher. My aunt came with me. She was in London during the poll tax riots.

I guess it was eight years ago tonight I decided to move to Calgary. I had just moved back in with Mom after a couple years of maxing out my Visa living in a trailer park, delivering pizzas full time while going to school and trying to support a girlfriend who was always sure to get a job next week. Another incumbent president was reelected and with all the zealous energy of a 21 year old ideologue who wore his political allegiances on his buckskin sleeve (beneath locks of hair of course) I firmly declared, "FUCK IT. I'm going to Canada." I had a million more pressing reasons to skip town than the resident of the white house, but it seemed to make for a good narrative.

Alyssa and I are settling in to a new apartment. Main floor of a 1960's bungalow. We're both being perfectionists about the place. We're nesting in a way neither of us have done before. Not imagining it as merely a place to rent, we're trying to create a home - eliminating all the chaos of either of our previous habitations. As such, we've both managed to work ourselves into high levels of stress.

This is also new ground. We learn that we react differently to stress. I immediately confront the problem, even if I have not correctly identified it nor articulated an appropriate response. Action is progress. Immobility is failure. Alyssa - on the other hand - retreats. She becomes uncommunicative and inactive, which becomes for me another challenge to confront. One night after we'd both likely exceeded our capacity for unpacking, she could be found sitting in the dining room staring out the window while I marched frantically from room to room, digging through boxes and cursing loudly, trying to find a tape measure. I've done an inordinate amount of measuring in the last couple weeks, and being a diligent carpenter, about half that amount of sawing. I can't recall exactly what I've been sawing for, but quite a lot of plywood has been cut. Nothing drowns out confusion quite like the drone of a circular saw.

An early winter has contributed to the stress as well. For a fellow who works outdoors, winter weather means twice the activity for about half the productivity. Here where the Rocky Mountains meet the high prairie, temperature can fluctuate wildly in the course of a day, and one spends a good portion of the day in adding or shedding layers of clothing. If one works around the house, he spends nearly as much time wiping, removing and lacing up his boots.

Life is good though, it's just hard to see what's around the bend. Caulking has remained the best living I've figured out how to make despite a Master's degree. Alyssa's vocational schooling has landed her a job at a web-design firm. We're living comfortably. I worry about things like putting away money for the future, but the present is pretty pleasant.

I received a print of the following image for Christmas:

This was, in part, a visual response to a song I'd written:

With more spare time to do things I like, I've decided to launch a music blog so that I might share my tunes with a wider audience than a handful of livejournal readers and whoever happens to get stuck in the car with me on long trips. You can view it here: Illegitimate Thoughts.

Got a bit more free time lately. Backlog of half-written, unproduced songs are getting finished and recorded.

Jerry Can't
Acoustic. Dylanish?

Right Click To Download

Her Jamaican Rum
Loop tracks. Adam Ant meets Beck?

Right Click To Download

An original. I don't know what to say about this one, except that if it there was a music video it would probably need muppets.

Right Click To Download

In case you didn't all already read last month's issue of The Goose (an online Journal for the Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada), they published a book review I wrote. (pg 34)

video behind the cutCollapse )

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