Roll #20: After the Flood

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

On a Saturday night in July 2016, Ellicott City was hit by a 1,000-year storm---an intense rain event which, in any given year, has a 1-in-1,000 (0.1%) chance of happening. In a matter of hours, thunderstorms dropped six inches of rain on the city, quickly overwhelming the three streams which converge on Main Street. By the time the storm had passed, it had killed two people and caused an estimated $22 million in damages. The town was devastated.

A year later, I was standing on the corner of Main and Maryland in Ellicott City, watching as the town celebrated (not mourned) the anniversary of the flood. Bubble-blowing clowns mingled children, bands from a local high schools played proudly, first responders spoke with honor. There was no shortage of hope. The celebration culminated with the unveiling of a new, beloved clock which for years had graced the small plaza adjacent to the old train depot. It was more than a clock, it was a beacon of hope to the people of Ellicott City. It reassured Main Street's small business owners and their patrons that everything was going to be OK.

Ten months later, the clock was violently ripped from the plaza where it stood and carried down the Patapsco River. Another "1,000-year storm" less than two years after the first. This time, the town was physically and emotionally gutted. This time, things were different. This time, there was no flood celebration, only uncertainty. While hope existed for some, for many, angst prevailed.

Fast-forward 14 months.

My workday had come to a close and I was heading to my car in the parking garage. As I opened the door to my car, I felt a vibration in my pocket. I quickly checked my was an eBay delivery notification. The camera had been delivered.

Roughly a week prior I had purchased a beautiful red leather accented Agfa Silette L (below) for $10.50.

Agfa Silette L

It was listed as fully functional (light meter too) and included a beautiful leather case. It all seemed too good to be true. Despite my wishes, I had little faith the camera would actually work. So, to abate my concerns, I rushed home, unboxed the camera, loaded a roll of Kentmere 100, changed clothes, and headed to Ellicott City Historic District.

My journey began at the top of Main Street. Slowly, I weaved my way through the old city's back-roads, silently snapping away. The streets were lines with quaint old homes and antique cars...abandoned sheds and overgrown gardens.

Eventually, gravity and curiosity carried me to the bottom of Main Street. I had reached the Patapsco River. After descending a set of makeshift wooden steps, I was riverside. I followed the river southbound, past the old flour mill. With each step I encountered a reminder of the recent years' floods. Broken glass, bed frames, hubcaps, electrical wires, mattresses, antique dishes, telephone poles. Reminders that nature, despite our best efforts, always wins. As I encountered each artifact, I reflected on the journey it must have taken to arrive at its final resting place.

The sun began to set and the obstacles became increasingly difficult to navigate. My journey down the river came to an end. Before returning, I caught a glimpse of an old bridge. As water peacefully flowed towards the bridge, I could only image what nightmare of hydraulic force must have been present during the flood.

The duality of the Patapsco is an interesting case study: A river which was once the lifeblood of Ellicott City, now serves as a shot through the heart of the city's residents, small business owners, and economy.

I bouldered my way upstream, swatting away mosquitoes and evading spider webs. The light was low and soft, accentuating the texture of the varied foliage I encountered on my trek back. After climbing my way up the banks, I spent a few minutes gazing at the river from the bridge, occasionally catching the shimmer of a fish in the water below.

And the camera?----Flawless.

Camera: Agfa Silette L

Film: Kentmere 100

When: June 2019

Where: (Historic) Ellicott City, Maryland

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