The Farm Side: Deja vu, all over again

It has been hard not to feel an eerie sense of deja vu lately. Seven years to the day elapsed between the disastrous floods of 2006 and the mess that has overtaken the valley this summer.

If you could even call it a summer. To me summer means flags snapping in sunshine above crisp, green lawns with kids playing. Hay drying in the fields. Tractors chugging to barns drawing the results of all that sunshine in to store for winter feeding.

Not mushroom weather. Not forecast after forecast dominated by ducks and bull frogs with a side dish of rice. Not sky the color of a fading bruise and hanging low like jeans at the mall. About as pretty, too.

Each morning seems to bring a sense of impending doom. Sunrise rarely happens. Oh, the sun must come up, because I can see to walk to the barn to check the calving cows. However, there is such an unpleasant feeling in the air. What will happen today? Which town will be hollowed out by raging waters? What roads will close? Who will end the day in sorrow?

Back in 2006 we celebrated my birthday, which happens to coincide with that of a great lady who has a real nice statue in New York Harbor, by going upcounty to help with flood cleanup for a few hours. Our efforts were no doubt paltry in comparison to the havoc wreaked, and I admit that, until I scrolled through photos of that hellacious flood, I had forgotten that we even went. But we did go.

Now folks in the same town are scrambling to clean up yet again and hoping for volunteers to come and help. Different, but all too much the same.

Another week of low-flying helicopters, screaming sirens, and visiting politicians. (Which brings to mind the question: How did we know what was going on before Facebook? These days, if I hear emergency signals of any sort from any direction, the posting of a single question brings responses from neighbors near and far.)

Northview Diary wasn't even a year old yet at the time of that first awful flood. Digital photography had yet to reach out and grab my attention. It is uncomfortable to turn back to read how it was and to see the pictures taken with the old film camera. It is too much like how it is.

Here's a bit of it from that fateful 28th day of June, seven years ago last week:

"Fire whistles are wailing an eerie harmony across the river and down in town. I don't know how many villages are represented, but more than one for sure. Trains are still running at least as I hear one banging down the tracks right now. I fear for Gilboa. The Mohawk was more than bank full yesterday and laced with whirlpools. Everywhere else there are drought and fires; here we have relentless rain that is washing the whole valley away. It is the worst I have seen it so far this year. When it is like this I am afraid to leave the farm. If Gilboa goes there will be a darned near Biblical flood and we will not be able to get back home to the cows. At least we are high on the hill. I shudder to think what would happen to friends, neighbors, indeed whole communities around us."

And later the same day: "We took Liz's four-wheel drive and tried to go to town for some groceries. However, we are pretty much isolated by flooded roads and bridges that are under water or deemed impassable by local authorities. Water is up to the bottom of the bridge between Fonda and Fultonville. One can escape to the east and south, but there is nowhere to buy anything to the south and east is straight into Gilboa Dam flood plain territory. I just don't want to go there. The interstate is completely closed, trains aren't running and there are chunks of telephone pole in the middle of the road just down the way. Not good. Also not good is that the sheriff went by with the airboat on a trailer with about five patrol cars flying low behind them about half an hour ago. TV is out and there is little coverage on the radio so we are pretty much cut off except for phone and Internet. We will just have to wait to find out what happened.

More rain tonight and tomorrow."

At least here at this end of the county it is not quite that bad this time. Other places have it worse. In theory major repairs have been made to the Gilboa dam, so maybe we can be calmer about that. Since that first flood I have had an email alert set up to let me know every time the dam is mentioned in a news story ... just in case. We can get to town, although there have been several days when it was debatable whether Liz could make it home to milk and feed her pony and chickens and tiny, baby, almost-orphaned kitty cat, Smog.

Farmers joke about planting some rice instead of attempting corn and hay this year. Indeed mile upon mile of coveted river flats land lies under water. Those sought-after river bottoms, where centuries of flood and recession of flood have left rich, fertile, soil that grows fabulous crops, don't do so well in years like this. Rock-ribbed hillsides are even too soggy to drive upon without cutting deep furrows with tires that would normally ride atop the soil.

Envied are the folks fortunate enough to own gravelly ground or that with sand. More fertilizer may be required in the race to get a crop, but at least it drains. Or better than most places anyhow.

Amazingly, despite drought in the west, complete with wildfires, and the seemingly endless rain upon rain here in the east, USDA is still forecasting a good corn crop. That would be nice.

Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS

is a regular columnist. She blogs