Michael Ellis

We call the brightest star that shines in the heavens Sirius. It’s in the constellation, Canis Major, the Big Dog, so we also know it as the Dog Star.

To the ancient Egyptians, Sirius was the most important of all stars, they called it Sothis. Every year when Sothis rose above the horizon at dawn, they knew it was time for the mighty Nile to begin its annual ritual of flooding. It celebrated as the beginning of the New Year, the rebirth from the old.

Egypt, it is said, is a gift from the Nile. For eons silt-laden water flowing from the bowels of Africa has spilled out over the natural levees and inundated the surrounding plains with nutrient rich soil. This fertilizes the lowlands and enabled farmers to coax tons of grain from the earth, these riches filled the coffers of a civilization that thrived for three millennia. Their Pharaohs created monuments that continue to astonish the world five thousand years later. There were people living in the floodplain but they moved out during the rainy season. They knew and expected their beloved Nile to flood. It was the birth and rebirth of their country.

All rivers flood. Our Big River, the Mississippi, floods big. It always has. The rich corn and soybean fields owe their very fertility to thousands of past floods. As we watched the waters spill into and over the homes and farms of Middle America, we were surprised, fascinated and transfixed by the power of nature. This wasn’t supposed to happen, we engineered levees and dams. We trusted our technicians. We built houses, gas stations, schools even entire cities where the river water eventually goes.

Because we have been so successful at controlling her excesses, we have forgotten to live within the boundaries of nature. Before this immense flood we are humbled and we echo the sentiments of our ancestors when we call it a disaster, which literally means “a bad star.” I think we can and should control some rivers but as far as the big ones go we ought to emulate the Egyptians and just keep out of the way and let the Mississippi do its job of rejuvenating the soil and earth. Then we can thank our lucky stars for a bountiful crop of corn and maybe, just maybe, we can fuel our civilization for a thousand years.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.



Posted on

December 1, 2010