This is the scene you’ll see in Keene these days: people’s homes and cellars turned inside out, with waterlogged belongings either consigned to a Dumpster or set out as if to dry.

I say “as if to dry” because nothing is drying these days. Although Tuesday was rain-free long enough for many folks to finish pumping saturated basements, rain clouds haven’t been far off. Yesterday, last night, and today have been filled with meteorological mood swings: now it drizzles, now it downpours, now it (briefly) subsides. Every time the rain begins falling in earnest, you can feel people’s hearts falling with it: “Oh no…not again!” With the ground thoroughly saturated from this weekend’s deluge, we literally have no more room for rain. Right now what we need is several solid days of sun, and it doesn’t look we’ll be getting that anytime soon.

In the opening chapter to Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried, the hopes, dreams, and fears of a group of American soldiers in Vietnam are expressed through the belongings in their backpacks. Laden with too much physical and psychological stuff, the men refuse to carry one ounce more than they must…and yet they still find the room and the strength to tote photos, books, and other mementos. When faced with the bare-bones reality of life and death, people grow surprisingly sentimental. Stripped of everything but the will to survive, only the most desperate soldier will willingly part with the letters, photographs, and other trinkets that remind him of home.

Keene isn’t Vietnam, and it isn’t New Orleans, either. Even compared with the outlying areas that lost entire houses, roads, and bridges, Keene got off easy in terms of infrastructural damage. Even so, sometimes it’s the loss of little things that brings bigger losses into perspective. Just as eight empty pairs of boots can point to the overwhelming horror of war, something about this pile of waterlogged books and vinyl record albums speaks volumes about the experience of loss. Before this weekend, someone cared enough for these books and records to have stored them in a cellar somewhere; now they’re left out not to dry but as trash, an offering handed back to the Universe who so wetly claimed them. Is there something pathetic in this abandoned pile? If so, our desire to hold onto anything is similarly pathetic, a doomed enterprise in a landscape of loss. Although the Buddhist in me knows all about impermanence, my human heart is no more willing than anyone’s to part with precious mementos stored in the cellars of memory.

    As I was proofreading this entry, a Red Cross disaster relief truck pulled up and parked in front of my house, distributing cleaning kits to homes that were flooded. It’s ironic–and also comforting–to think that part of the money I contributed to Hurricane Katrina relief is being used right here to help my close-to-home neighbors.

    One of my close-to-home neighbors is tech-guru Jon Udell, who recently posted a map-enhanced screencast of this weekend’s flooding. While I was in New York earnestly avoiding raindrops, Jon was roaming the streets of my neighborhood with a video camera. How odd it is to see my familiar haunts flooded and through Jon’s camera lens.