Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Strong people, wearying fight

Swallowed farmland difficult to see and process emotionally

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Farms are islands at the best of times. Their parcels of land are neatly sectioned out, thin gravel roads connecting them to one another and leading to larger roads and towns.

This is most apparent from the air, as the patchwork quilt of farms spreads farther than the eye can see.

That quilt is now disrupted by water creeping across the fields like a stain. Water laps at silos and outbuildings. A windbreak is reduced to naked heads on top of trees.

Pilot Luke Penner swerves his Cessna 172 over St. Jean Baptiste, Morris and Ste. Agathe. They're towns most of us have driven by, if not through. The towns are intact. The farmland isn't.

Where the roads have washed away and portions of bridges disappeared, there is nothing but the fear it may get worse. The river hasn't crested. There's more to come and little left to fight it.

Over near Morris, seemingly abandoned farms are ensnared in a dead zone by the Red Sea. The water is swallowing the land, gulping at livelihoods and family histories. Dump trucks are busy closing the ring dike at the edge of town.

We call it the Red Sea for the river, of course, but the reality is this water is gritty and brown, a sludge that will discolour everything it touches. When it recedes, and that's as inevitable as the flooding, you won't need lines painted on barns to know where damage was done.

When you live in a flood plain at the bottom of a former glacial lake, this is what happens. This is your fate.

Photographer Joe Bryksa assures me people haven't abandoned their homes. Sure, there's no one visible on the farm properties, no signs of cattle or dogs or people. They've done this before, says Bryksa. They've got boats. They're on the move. They would never turn their backs on their land.

But nature has turned its back on them. Nature, abetted by bad luck, has brought the nightmare back to people who can't forget the last time or the time before that.

This won't be the hardest-hit region in the province by a long shot. In fact, these people have the bad luck of being experienced at these sorts of matters.

 

 

There are spots proving the resilience of human nature. A tractor sits at the literal end of the road near one farm. A car couldn't get through the water-covered road but a tractor, with its massive tires, still can. For today, for this week, for now.

Penner banks the Cessna. Cars are parked precariously on what was once high ground. Now they're a foot or two from danger. You can't help but remark at the indignity of properties still covered with winter ice but surrounded by flood water.

This is a cruel place and a tough way to make a living. When you're in the city, you drive over the rivers and marvel at how high they are. You toss sandbags for a day or two.

But unless you live on threatened river property, unless someone called you tonight and said both your home and your place of employment were in immediate danger, you'd have no sense of the trauma underway for many.

Thirty-two communities have declared states of local emergency in Manitoba. That compares with 16 during the 2009 flood.

There's a sickness that comes with looking out the window of a small plane and seeing water where there should be field. This land has been branded by the flood, its people tested to their limits. It goes on and on until you lose all sense of perspective. This can't be the Canadian Prairies. It's a lake. It's an ocean.

The truckers who use the highway to cross into the United States are inconvenienced. There are alternate routes but they're slow and less efficient.

But the flood belongs to the people who are fighting it. It belongs to the Interlake and the upper Assiniboine River valley, to parts of the north and to places like St. Lazare and Melita.

It belongs to all of us, even those who will never see a flooded field and sigh at the loss of hope and possibility.

Just understand, so many of your fellow Manitobans can't look away.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 21, 2011 A3

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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