The Mad River wasn’t always angry. During the summer it might dwindle down so far that we could wade across in a just few inches of water; or hop from rock to rock, never even removing our shoes. In the shadow of the railroad trestle we’d play in the water until a logging train came by—then we’d stop and wave at the conductors who would wave back and give a loud whistle blast in return.
But the Mad River lost its temper during the week of Christmas 1964. In the midst of a 100-year flood it joined with all the other rivers of the Pacific Northwest to rage over its banks, engulfing the surrounding land with wet devastation. From our hilltop vantage point all we could see was water with a few rooftops and telephone poles sticking up here and there—for miles and miles the entire low-lying area around the Humboldt Bay became a vast sea in which hundreds of dairy cattle were doomed as they floated out into the ocean; and at least a dozen communities were completely wiped out or forever altered in the Redwood Empire. But as bad as it was, there was once a flood that was much, much worse—the one we read about in Genesis 7 when God’s anger was unleashed against a wicked world and, the flood was on the earth forty days… The waters prevailed and greatly increased on the earth…and the mountains were covered…Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive.
I returned to that hilltop a few years ago and gazed out at lush green dairy land, with a scattering of cows peacefully munching the grass; and a pleasant walking/biking path traversing the old railroad trestle. I pondered God’s mercy and remembered his promise after the biblical flood, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22)