It started two years ago this weekend. I was pregnant with our second baby, and we wanted to be closer to family and away from big-city madness. So, after 13 years in Los Angeles, we packed up a pod, our two-year-old daughter and cat, and moved clear across the country to Ellicott City.
We bought a historic stone home on Main Street beside a gentle stream and farmette complete with sheep, chickens and ducks. We could walk to the quaint town with its wine bar, restaurants, shops and great music scene. Ah, this is the life, we thought.
And it was — for one week.
Then Tropical Storm Lee thundered through with a massive flash flood. Within minutes, our beautiful house was surrounded by raging water and our studio (with all our unpacked belongings still in boxes) was filled with 6 feet of water. Did I mention I was 8 months pregnant? Yup.
As the water poured into our home, my husband and I ran boxes as fast as we could up flights of stairs. I was doing yoga breathing like you can't imagine, telling my unborn son that he was not going to be born that day.
Cars washed down the street, fences were uprooted and carried away, and massive granite boulders were tossed down the road like Legos. I couldn't imagine the rising water ever stopping.
An emergency rescue team came to evacuate us. They harnessed my daughter, me and my big belly, and my husband, taking us to higher ground across the raging river once known as Main Street.
Almost as quickly as it had started, it stopped. The water was gone, but she had left her mark. Our little town of Ellicott City, especially the west side, had been devastated. Some people lost everything. Everything. Miraculously, there were no deaths. We had $75,000 of property damage, but the important things we lost were priceless — photos, yearbooks, childhood journals, our entire library, my daughter's first toys, high school love letters. There was so much mud.
It was a dark and confusing time, but we experienced how humanity shines in moments like this. Strangers, family members, new neighbors and friends came out of the woodwork. They scrubbed, sent money, cleaned and rebuilt. Friends from across the country even started a fund-raiser. We felt blessed to have so much love and support. Somehow, when our son was born a few weeks later, our house was rebuilt and things were functioning again.
However, outside our home there were major issues. All around us, our river's infrastructure was damaged and failing. Stone walls were crumbling, culverts were blocked by debris, banks were eroding and toxic sediment was washing out to the Chesapeake Bay with every storm.
It seemed that life now included a river in need of help. We learned that in our little river, what we could fix upstream would reduce the amount of water that flows down stream, help with flood protection, and simultaneously prevent pollution from spreading all the way to the ocean.
So, I chose to get interested. And every action I took helped me to breathe a bit deeper.
We knocked on doors, neighbors met, ideas were developed, people "in important places" were contacted, meetings with government officials were arranged, Facebook pages for our "Ellicott City Flood Solution" were built, collaborations with local non-profits were formed, and lobbying for our community began.
We had no idea if anything was going to come of our work or if our actions would help the big picture. But the rain wasn't stopping, so neither were we.
And, lo and behold, where attention goes, energy flows.
Soon, the community came together for annual stream cleans, neighbors gave testimony at county budget meetings where local politicians heard the importance of fixing the life blood that ran through our town, the county commissioned flood studies and stream assessments, funds were allocated for flood projects, and the Center for Watershed Protection joined forces with the Flood Solution and we received several grants for projects (like building rain barrels, creating rain gardens, painting storm drain stencils to raise awareness and designing a water detention pond upstream).
The Ellicott City Flood Solution showed me that people really do want to help. People want to do good things. People want to feel connected to each other and united under a common purpose. And I am just one of those many, many people.
Michele Bickley is a yoga teacher and writer who lives in Ellicott City. Her email is MicheleBickley@gmail.com. More information on the Ellicott City Flood Solution is available at http://www.facebook.com/groups/453420644686761/.