Posts Tagged ‘Chemung River Valley’

Forty years ago this week, the region where I reside,  the Chemung River Valley, was visited by Hurricane Agnes , a storm that caused devastating flooding  throughout the area, including  the cities of Elmira and Corning.  It’s a study in contrasts in how these two cities responded in the aftermath  of the flood.  Corning, with a unified vision of how it would proceed,  rebounded and has relatively prospered while Elmira suffered missteps and missed opportunities and never really recovered.  There’s a new exhibit that opens this Friday at the Community Arts of Elmira called Agnes at 40: Personal Perspectives that features artists from the area looking back on that time with their work.

My contribution is a painting that I call Deluge.  It’s obviously not a true depiction of the events with its bright orange sky and aqua water.  People who experienced the flood recall all too well the murky brown color of the water and the mud it left in its wake, colors that stained many local buildings for some time after the flood.  My piece is more symbolic than purely representative of my own experience of the flood.  We lived on a country road that ran parallel to the Chemung River and  I remember that Friday evening  from 40 years ago very well.   Going home, we passed through the village of Wellsburg which was perched on the  banks of the river which was lapping menacingly at the lip.  We lived maybe three miles or so from the village and getting home, we decided we might want to shoot back into Wellsburg to grab some extra milk and bread at the store there.  In the several minutes it took to go home and then  go back to the village, the river topped the bank and what looked to be knee-deep water surged across the main drag.

The way our road was situated left us and our neighbors on the road isolated for several days as the three exits from it were under water.  We were islanders suddenly.  We would gather at the Chemung Bridge and watch the water and debris rush by.  Periodically, you could hear large  trees along the riverbank tumble over with a huge crash into the water as they broke loose from their roots.  The sight of the huge trees racing effortlessly in the rapid water still sticks with me.  The other thing that really sticks in my memory is how the bright shine of the water’s surface seemed to go on forever as we would look across the valley, especially when the sky was bright and almost colorless.  The water seemed to run to and merge with the sky.  It was quite beautiful and horrible at once.

We were pretty lucky as we lived well above the flooding so we didn’t feel the personal  losses that so many others experienced.  For that I am grateful.  There are, of course, many other memories and stories  that I could recount but it was that sudden isolation that the flood of  ’72 brought that I chose for my painting.

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