Sometimes it takes just a single moment to remind us of why we love home. Just last week, I was reminded, yet again, of why Eastern Washington remains in my heart even when I’m 3,000 miles away walking through the halls of the United States Congress. Last weekend, Eastern Washington was hit with such severe thunder and rain storms that Governor Gregoire declared a state of emergency in 16 of our counties. Roads were closed, power lines were thwarted, and homes were destroyed. But one family – tucked away on a farm just east of Lind – was hit particularly hard.
Jerry and Debbie Knodel were awakened to a flash flood of unprecedented magnitude on Sunday night – a flood that would devastate their farm and leave their hearts heavy with loss. In just a few hours, their meticulously landscaped 2,000-acre farm was covered in mud. Their top soil was destroyed and the wheat they had so assiduously grown was almost entirely wiped out.
The roads leading to the Knodels’ farm sustained some of the greatest damage in Adams County history: the county engineer estimated that nearly 100,000 yards of material need to be replaced on the roadsides and nearby bridges. And Debbie’s vegetable garden – a product not only of her hand, but of her heart – suffered great damage that will take her a tremendous amount of time to replace.
But that is only where the story begins. Within hours of the flood hitting, nearly 70 Lind residents and neighbors came to the Knodels’ rescue. They hauled 100 truckloads of wet dirt off of the farmland and helped them clean up all the mud that had ravaged their land. One by one, they picked up the pieces of the damage left behind. As Eastern Washington farmers, many of them knew first-hand how devastating the ramifications of a flash flood would have been on their own farms. They brought tractors, soil and food. They opened their homes, their hands and their hearts. And by dusk, the Knodels were surrounded not by the devastation of Mother Nature, but by the beauty of the American spirit.
The community cleanup effort was nothing short of extraordinary. It was exemplary of all that is good and right about our country. This rugged individualism – a characteristic that so uniquely defined the founders of this great nation – is what our rural communities do best. They come together – in times of both triumph and tragedy – to help those, like the Knodels, who are in need.
I spent many years of my life with my parents and brother on our family orchard and fruit stand in Kettle Falls, where I came to know and appreciate the closeness of Eastern Washington’s rural communities. This is America. This is the America I fight for, the America that inspires me, the America I want for my children. It is the embodiment of hard work, community, benevolence and selflessness. And at the end of the day, when I think about those in Eastern Washington’s rural communities – carrying soil and bringing food and providing shelter to those who need it most – I know in my heart that this,is the America that will always give me hope.