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When the rain comes

I'm afraid of the sound of the rain.

No drizzle, no splashing or, as the Irish say, a beautiful, soft day. I am afraid of the roar of a relentless rain and a raging stream – the flood that precedes the flood. A sound so loud that I can scream at someone across the stream without them hearing me. When I can't distinguish between rain and stream. Because I and others who live far from the coast have recently been hit by devastating flooding – here in Pennsylvania, in Kentucky, West Virginia and Vermont, to name a few.

When it rains at night, I am especially afraid. I look out our bedroom window, where even in the dark I can often tell from the contours of our serpentine stream how much it is swelling and how high it has overflowed its banks. But I can't tell if the pond burst or the dock flooded, signs that the house is in danger. So I go a little crazy and run around the inside of the house checking possible access points. I turn on the outside lights to see how close the water is to the basement door. Sleep is not easy.

The stream is near; It runs next to the house, in front of the barn and next to the driveway, but the creek isn't the only problem. The water flows so quickly down our steep driveway that it becomes a second river, jumping over a stone wall, turning that wall into a waterfall and a flagstone patio into a swimming pool. Terracotta flower pots are picked up, tipped over and swept downhill. The combination of stream and newly formed river leaves a trail of destruction: fallen branches, stones, uprooted plants and so much sediment that the pond turns the color of chocolate milk.

I wasn't afraid of the sound of water until one day about 20 years ago my kids and I were watching a movie in the basement of this old farmhouse and one of them said, “Mom, what's that sound?” and the water overtook us us. The downstairs bedroom was flooded, as were my husband's office and the laundry room. The water just kept coming. This has never happened to us before.

Since we live halfway up the mountain, it's not nearly as bad for us as it is for those who live in the middle of town by the river. When it rains, I think of my children's holy first-grade teacher who lives on the banks of Loyalhanna Creek. I shudder every time I think about what she and her family are going through.

Flooding in western Pennsylvania is nothing new. We have many rivers and the terrain is hilly. Forty-five minutes from here occurred Pennsylvania's most famous flood, the Johnstown Flood of 1889, a horrific incident that killed 2,209 people. But we have lived here for 36 years and the heavy rains are now more frequent, often with strong winds, fallen trees and power outages. Flash flood warnings are common.

The timing also changes. There was flooding once in May or June, maybe July, but last August – usually our dry month – we had a flood, and in April we narrowly avoided a flood. I drove on Route 30, the old Lincoln Highway, where I saw waterfalls cascading down the hills into the canyon. Smaller roads were closed, buses were disrupted and school was cancelled. Pittsburgh, an hour away, broke its daily rainfall record on April 9 with 2.77 inches of rain. The first 12 days of April saw more rain in Pittsburgh than any other month on record.

The original part of this old house, built around 1860, consists of logs, large beams and a stone fireplace. It was placed, sheltered from the wind, on a dirt road at the foot of three hills where farmers built their houses at the time. It wasn't built to withstand today's storms, but we've done our best to preserve it and keep the water at bay.

In the basement bedroom, there was evidence that the previous owner – who lived here from the 1940s to the 1980s – may have had a problem with water, as there was a metal strip at the bottom of the door. But our problem is much worse now that we had to turn that door into a window.

We created a swale to direct the water away from the house and we set up an unsightly row of sandbags that blended in with my beautiful white tulips by the basement window. We have drains installed along the driveway that we diligently check before a storm to make sure they are not clogged with leaves or sticks.

The water of our unnamed and seemingly inconsequential little stream flows into Loyalhanna Creek, which feeds the Conemaugh River, flows into the Kiskiminetas River, joins the Allegheny River, meets the Ohio River and flows into the Mississippi, all of which flow into the river Gulf of Mexico.

We constantly hear about sea level rise, but those of us who live inland are connected by streams, creeks and rivers. And when the rain comes, they too will probably be afraid of the sounds they once loved – rain on the roof, a rising stream, thunder – the sounds of an impending storm.

Daryln Brewer Hoffstot is a freelance writer and author of “A Life on the Farm: Observations from Fields and Forests.”

Anna Harden

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