Living near Rock river...

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While I was in Eugene, Oregon, the weekend of June 8, the big rains came. While the water had been high all spring, due to our record setting snows, I thought that the worst was over. Living in the mid west, near a river, has plenty of benefits, but it also, this year, has meant living with record setting snow (most in over 100 years) and what some are calling a five hundred year flood...

I live at 116 Clarence Street in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. This is my first house purchase, which I did just about a year ago. The house, built round 1905, was moved to the current lot in 1948. It has lovely wooden floors, with a large living room, dining room, small bedroom and kitchen on first floor. I have turned the bedroom into my office, which has a window right off my porch.

My porch. I have wanted a porch since I saw Atticus Finch sit with his children on their porch in To Kill a Mockingbird, my favorite movie. In between my travel and the requirements of business, I have the living room, office, dining room and kitchen in pretty good shape.

Upstairs, I have three bedrooms. I took the largest, with my paints, canvases and such against one wall. Adam, my son has the middle room and the third has been for his models and game kits.

The basement is old, and the shower is located down there, with a work area a nice fruit cellar. The washer and dryer are there as well.

My back yard is a double lot, with a nice yard, garage that needs some work and backyard with fresh rhubarb.

I found my home on one of my daily walks, after I had been shot down on two condos that I did not really like. I found the house, and walked in and met the folks who were redoing it. The house had fallen into some disarray, and a family from town, who worked in construction had cleaned up much of the mess. I made an offer a week later, got financing the next day and closed two weeks later. That is one of the benefit of being in a small town.

I love Fort Atkinson. I walk to work, about ten mintes each way, good weather or bad. I have my office in an old printing building and can walk to shopping, dinner, my daily walks.

Fort Atkinson is a town of about 10,000 in Southern Wisconsin. It is a river city. Along the Rock River, the summers are warm, but the river makes everything better. I can think of no better evening than taking my fishing gear the 150 meters down my road, to the river and fish for large catfish and carp. I make my bait from Wheaties, a breakfast cereal and water, a number seven Eagle Claw fish hook and my Daiwa big fish rig and sit back and try and catch what the river sends by. My largest so far is about ten pounds, and I have lost several much larger. I catch them, take a picture, email it to my father and place the fish back in the river. Big fish are not that good to eat, and it takes away a chance for someone else to catch and release.

Like my painting, fishing allows me to relax, put life in perspective and recharge. Especially when I am in travel mode, or dealing with deadlines, relaxing at the house is nice. Getting up on a Saturday, and making coffee, while reading the Financial Times is another habit. I have my grandmother's kitchen table in the kitchen, and that gives me comfort.

If I am in town on a Sunday morning, I grab the Weekend Financial Times, and head to Fat Boyz for their breakfast and coffee. The coffee is great, and the ability to sit and read the entire newspaper over a couple of hours is becoming a nice habit. After that, it is a ninety minute walk around town.

Adam and his friends come by about three nights a week. Saturday night is a good night for cards-our dining room table is the card table. I love having the guys and their girlfriends over. The girls tend to watch movies with me and the guys play cards. It is nice hearing them laugh and it seems that the house, my house, loves the company.

The water has been running in my basement for two weeks now. I had just stored a few things down there, but the water has risen up to a foot, then will drop to a few inches and the sump pump installed in the fruit cellar constantly shoots water into our back yard. When I first asked my father, a former mid westerner, now a Californian, he told me to let the fruit cellar alone, as he used to swim in his Uncle John's. Knowing that this was one of my father's tall tales, I quickly purchased a sump pump. It was a very good move.

My backyard has close to three feet of water in it-lowest yard on the block. My basement has about six inches across two thirds of the floor and a foot in the fruit cellar. I have one foot of water in my front yards, sticking through sand bags and tree branches. I climb on sand bags to get to my front door most days, but walk around back of house when returning from local watering hole. Ducks reside on my new lake, but no fish yet.

I am the fourth house on our block from the river. My neighbors have it much worse. The most beautiful house on the block is, of course at the rivers edge. The young couple there must have two feet of water there, and they are constantly checking the house, and garage.

Sleep is done in stages. I have not had a good night's sleep in over a week. Two days ago, I thought I was going to loose my back yard and fill up the basement, all at once, but we were able to get some water cleared out and averted that catastrophe. Friday afternoon, after approving three magazines, I finally slept for three hours. Nice, restful sleep.

I can not believe how much I love my little house. After never having owned one, it is a place where I can relax, entertain and just be me. As I sit now, off my porch, I wait for my neighbor Dean to come over, sit on the chair outside my office window and check in. Greg, my neighbor to the left, has been constantly fighting the water in his basement, and garage, and he has been indefatigable. At the end of our block, Mrs. B, the matriarch of the block, sits on her porch, talking to neighbors who wade by, checking on her each day. Mrs. B, whose family owns the oldest bar in town (over one hundred years old), is a women of great humor, if wry. She has had it the worst of all, as her lovely yard has become the basking place for large carp and other river fish.

Behind her house, the sand bag wall had broken on the family bar, and the local bank, and the president of the bank, Mrs. B's son, was out there, in waders, rebuilding the sandbag wall. As I come back from my walks, we exchange pleasantries, and talk about the river cresting.

The neighbors have gotten closer. When we had made sandbags, 25 from around the block showed up. Another neighbor, still dry, have three generations of family living there, after both floods and fire.

This morning, Saturday, I walked across the Main Street Bridge, and went to the farmers market, where I bought the best heirloom tomatoes, some organic onions and lettuce, and some spicy cheese. Everybody is checking on each other.

I went to my coffee shop and grabbed my normal, two shots of espresso, water and ice--which is done by the time I get to the pay counter. The coffee shop is part of my daily routine, as I walk from the office with my Production manager, Alex, and we plan the day and solve most of the world's little problems.

One of our favorite restaurants/bars, the Velvet Lips is under water. The Black Hawk, Cafe Carpe ( this is a real gem, some of the best folk musicians in the country venture here), and Fat Boyz, our biker bar, are doing fine. Last night, Fat Boyz was supplying food to the red cross shelter, as families have been evacuated on the river.

I stopped at the corner of the the Main street bridge and the wall for the Velvet Lips. The water is over the river walk, and at the confluence of the bridge and the wall, is a little slow patch of water, where catfish, largemouth bass and many bluegill have amassed, dodging the quickly moving water of the rest of the river.

This afternoon, a volunteer dropped by and radioed that we needed about 50 more sand bags. Half hour later, I was building a new path around house as the bags were delivered on my driveway. The couple who delivered the bags had taken off work for a week and, like many others, were building and delivering sand bags.

The Rock river spills off into the Mississippi River. The Rock river is at about 11 feet,
and flood level is 6.5 feet. None of the old timers have ever seen it this high.

The next town over, Jefferson, is in much worse shape than Fort. Tyson's plant is under water, and the job loss from that could be terrible. There are two of the used to be six ways to get to Jefferson from Fort, due to the flooding. The National guard was called in last week and their trucks are seen around town, helping where they can.

We have become the photo moment for many non locals. One can not walk down the block without seeing someone with a big camera or just stopping in the middle of the road, trying to get a picture of the flood. Good news is that the influx has helped some of the local businesses.

Reasons? Well, loss of wetlands, trying to command nature and the need of many to live along the rive have something to do with it.

I am planning to redo my garage, build my yard up three feet and fix the cracks in my basement, as the cool breeze from the river comes through my office window. Like my neighbors, there will be alot of work before we get to rebuilding. The first things will be, get the water down, and then clean up ( which will take much of July), and then plan to fix what we can.

Getting about time to check on some more results from the Nike Outdoor. After that, time to make some dinner and take a walk into town....and check out the river.

1 Comment | Leave a comment

I work for Wisconsin Wetlands Association, and thanks to a Google Search, came across your blog and your recognition of wetlands as a key cause of the recent floods.

In case you're interested in reading more on this, I had an op-ed in yesterday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the topic -- see

And come visit us at

Our thoughts are with all who suffered in this historic flood, and I hope that your recovery from the flood damage is swift and complete.

Best wishes,
Laura England

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