“Flood watch” or “river watch” has a different meaning to those who live on the river than it does to everyone else.
In the newspapers, it’s an official-sounding term, sort of like forest-fire alert, as in monitoring the situation. Down on the river, though, the “watch” is exactly what it says — sitting and watching the river, mostly as a source of curiosity and entertainment.
The object is to see what floats by — snags, beaver huts, livestock, that kind of thing — and to speculate about when it will crest. River watching requires at least two people to be effective. It’s even better when there’s a neighbourhood party, but as long as there are a few cold ones in the ice chest, it’s all good.
A typical river-watch conversation might go something like this:
“Yep, she’s comin’ up all right, Mother.”
“Sure is, Father.”
“Could get as high as ’48.”
“Doubt it, Father, but could hit ’72.”
“Think she’ll peak tomorrow?”
“Nope, maybe Monday.”
“Whoa! Is that a house comin’?”
“Could be the McTavishes’; they sit pretty low.”
“Probably just their barn, but it’s movin’ along pretty good.”
As important as sitting and looking at the river is to the people who live on it, the media are more choosy. The “flood watch” becomes of interest to them mostly when there’s an actual flood, such as what’s going on with the Nechako in Prince George right now. Up until then, it’s regarded as something of a non-event.
Each afternoon, a few of the editors from this newsroom gather in my office to sort out what’s likely going to be on the front page for the next day’s edition.
A couple of us happen to live on the river. I didn’t take exact notes, so I might not have this down perfect, but Thursday’s discussion was roughly this:
CITY EDITOR: “… and then there’s the flood watch story, but there’s nothing much going on there yet.”
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR: “I’m not so sure. At our place, the North Thompson is higher than it’s ever been since we’ve lived there.”
CITY EDITOR: “Oh, how long have you lived there?”
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR: “Two years.”
CITY EDITOR (slight pause): “And so you’re saying the river might be higher than it was last year at your house, and that we should put this important piece of news on the front page?”
EDITOR: “I have to agree with our associate news editor on this one. The retriever is even afraid of going for his morning dip right now.”
ONLINE EDITOR: “You’re not supposed to jump in after the dog if he falls in.”
EDITOR: “I didn’t say I’d go after him; I’m just saying, I think he’s onto something.”
CITY EDITOR: “Have you ever thought of retiring?”
One spring, I sharpened up the ends of a bunch of two-by-twos, painted stripes on them at one-foot intervals and pounded them into the riverbed at various distances from shore.
I figured I’d watch the water rise and do a journal and compare levels each year. Watching me do this, my wife decided it was the sort of thing an old geezer would do. From that day, she’s referred to the experiment as “geezer sticks.”
When the river rose that first spring, the geezer sticks floated away, every one of them.
Every spring since, in a not entirely sincere way, she remarks as we sit watching the river, “Too bad about those geezer sticks.”