Unless you have been hiding under an extra-large rock the past week, you know the southwest and central parts of Wisconsin are dealing with extensive damage due to record flooding. These poor communities have dealt with floods far too often in the past decade. I have it on good authority, by asking 92-year-old Grandpa Ike, that a flood like this has never happened in his lifetime.  
    Sunday is my day to go to Cashton, Wis., and have breakfast with Grandpa Ike. The route I usually take was completely unpassable due to water damage wiping out parts of the road. Instead, I took Highway 33 straight through. The media pictures do not come close to the impact of seeing it in real life. The carnage left from the power of the water coming through is overwhelming. Dead logs are moved into the middle of hay fields. Neatly wrapped hay bales are displaced from their arranged location to be scattered everywhere. Waterways designed to direct water flow are gored out to be 2 feet deep or more. Five-strand barbed wire fences are weighted down with dead grass; the posts in the ground too wet to hold are toppled over flat. Dump truck loads of gravel from road’s edges are pushed into fields. Huge breaker rocks, borderline boulder size, are removed from their job as bridge stabilizers to new homes far down along the creek bed or left for a monument mid-pasture. Entire buildings are moved from the force of the water.
    As I entered Ontario, Wis., all was quiet in the world, making it seem even more surreal. There was a picnic table hung on the top of a road sign. There were canoes everywhere, whether left there from rescue use or from their driver-less ride on the raging water. I am suspicious that the snowplow trucks were roused earlier than normal to be of use to push the inches of mud off the highway and surrounding streets. Equipment from two restaurants was piled high in their parking lots. Water levels reached ceilings in both. The businesses are attempting to salvage what little they can, and by the looks of it little is the optimal word.
    There are trees that mere days ago stood strong offering shade for cattle which are now laid flat because their roots were too soggy to hold on anymore. Entire fields of corn and produce are a complete loss and level with the ground. The fields with spots of standing crops will be a trick to harvest for fear of hidden debris causing equipment breakdowns. There are fields that have been replaced by makeshift ponds. Dozers of every size dot the landscape. Every excavating company in the area has been called upon to help fill in holes, reposition culverts and attempt to get the infrastructure back to working order.
    There are tales that emerge from a disaster like this that border on being urban myths; they seem so outlandish until you see some things firsthand. A tractor was carried down the road and flipped so its tires are aiming towards the sky. A hay wagon was overturned into the creek bed. A skid steer was pushed to the neighbors. There are whole herds of cattle missing. Dead? Lost? Animals marooned on instant islands. Goats gone, sheep misplaced, chickens floating in their barn. Cows are found, yet calves missing, trying to find them by their scared bellows. A dead cow was found inside a canoe.
    Grandpa and I drove to look at the Mlsna Dam, an earthen dam built in the 1950s with a 4-foot diameter tube going through it. Much like many of the dams in the area, the intense power of this storm was too much for the pipe, and the water gored a path into the attached hillside. It is breathtaking in the literal sense of the word; if you look at it too long, the likelihood of it taking your breath away is a good one. It is scary. One uncle claims there is now a 100-foot drop along the end. Grandpa and I struggled to determine where the creek even runs, as the rest of the valley is littered with sand and rocks from the dam, changing the route of it. Blacktop road edges look as though a large monster swept up from the creek and took a bite out, leaving a dangerous, jagged edge.
    Uncle Jeff said, “There are good people out there, more than you even realize.” While they are perhaps less in the forefront before a calamity, the aftermath brings them out in droves. They were in boats, tractors, four-wheelers and canoes. They are feeding, housing, cleaning, clearing, excavating and rescuing. The people of these communities are a resilient breed. They were in boots yesterday morning as I drove through, plucking through the wreckage. I worry about the farmers; the farm climate is tough enough without having weather do unspeakable damage to your livelihood. There are communities where people lost everything but the clothes on their back.
    I drove home in an emotional daze after leaving Grandpa’s. I was overcome by the gravity of this disaster. The banks of every river and creek are swollen with water and yet it poured for two hours yesterday – salt in the wounds of every person struggling to find the footing to stand tall in the midst of this. The weather forecast looks grim, rain is expected almost every day for the next week. People keep finding ways to help their neighbors, and as communities, we grow closer and remember how much we need one another to survive and thrive.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (11), Dane (9), Henry (4) and Cora (adventurous crawler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.