We live less than a block from the confluence of the Tongue and Little Tongue rivers. The Tongue River rarely floods Dayton, but its Little Tongue tributary, fueled by quickly melting snow from the face of the Bighorns, rages through our little town in the spring, occasionally splashing over the nearby bridge and up Second Avenue to our driveway and front yard. I was caught unprepared on the morning of May 28, when for the first time in more than 60 years, Little Tongue — overburdened by runoff and heavy rains — left its banks all over Dayton. The water came our way from the south, flooding my art studio and our garage. The 10 days that followed taught me about faith, friends, fortitude and finding blessings in what feels like tragedy at the time.

Watching ducks swim in my garden was surreal, but water seeping onto my studio floor got me moving. After putting a few things out of the water, I called out on social media for prayers. Knowing who’s in control of it all and having a relationship with the Almighty brings a sense of peace; no matter what our circumstances are.

There was little time to prepare. A friend brought a few sandbags before the water closed our street access, and after we had them set and pumps going, we could just watch and wait. This is an act of acceptance. That space of wait time helps you focus on what’s important and choose how to react to it — whether you will fret and see only the bad or find the good. It also helps conserve energy for clean-up.

What seems bad can actually be a blessing: I’ve complained often about the ineptitude of the subcontractors who poured my studio floor, yet that extra inch-and-a-half in the center was “high ground” where I moved furniture, buying me time to get canvases out of the closet and stacked on tabletops. I never thought I’d be grateful for a crooked floor — this feeling will pass.

Likewise, I’ve always wished our double-wide was set closer to the ground, but had I gotten that wish, our home would have flooded like the studio and garage. I’ve never been so thankful for that ugly plastic skirting displaying the highwater mark that could have been on our walls.

I always wanted to change our electric water heater to gas, but as our 1000-gallon propane tank floated for a week, turned off, the electric water heater provided many, many buckets of hot water for clean-up.

Attitude is key. I realized that my studio is just a building, and it was built with art sales; I can still make art, so even if it was lost, all is not lost. Seeing the flooding in Tennessee and Arkansas made us empathetic and grateful that ours was only minor flooding. Consider water: it takes the course of least resistance — it does what’s natural and it is unafraid. Its power is in its authenticity and consistency. One continual — harmless-in-itself — drip can eventually wear away a wall of stone. Water can be harnessed to our advantage, or left to its own devices it can become a destroyer. Aren’t our own attitudes and habits like this?

Our community is so caring. Besides offering uplifting words and prayers, friends came with sandbags, pumps and fans and helped clean up or let us park trailers at their house. Volunteers filled and delivered sandbags all over town, and others made food for volunteers. TRHS students and staff assisted with clean up.

A flood can be oddly cleansing: we realize how much we’ve accumulated and how little our “stuff” matters. It makes you evaluate the projects you kept and never finished and items taking up space and serving no purpose.

Most surprising was the lack of real damage. We don’t have flood insurance. The jury’s still out on whether we’ll have to replace sheetrock, and 150 feet of privacy fence was uprooted, but with all the studio cabinets and antiques sitting in up to 5.5 inches of water, very little of value was destroyed. It’s truly a miracle that with all the different-sized castors and varying water levels in my studio, the water came right up to the bottom of anything storing paper. Amazing.

Rivers forge new pathways, and while this divergent brook still trickling through our property will hopefully revert back to its former course, we can also forge new paths for dealing with dilemmas, resting in the faith that we will overcome it, and we’ll thrive if we find the blessings in each circumstance. We should live in the spirit of being prepared, but not in fear. An elderly neighbor we once had lived in continual fear of the weather. When it rained, he’d expect a flood; when the wind blew, he’d expect a tornado and park his car at the nearest underpass — five miles away — to wait it out. This is no way to live, especially in a place where natural disasters are a rarity.

As the rains continue and I rest my raw hands, I’m reminded of the blessings the flood proved: a steadfast faith that sustains me, friends who graciously support us and a fortitude to accept each day with hope and positivity, finding blessings, come what may.


Sonja Caywood