Winter vacation was a good time to practice “Chan”. My husband had come from Taiwan and was staying at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas(CTTB) for a few days. For business reasons, he had to attend exhibitions and visit customers. On top of that, my sister invited us to visit her. We agreed to have lunch at her home that Saturday.
It had been raining for a few days. It seemed to be getting heavier and showed no sign of stopping. Before we headed out to my sister’s that Saturday morning, my son was listening to the weather report and learned that there was a flood in Hopland. I asked, “Where in Hopland is it flooding?” My son replied, “I don’t know. The news only said Hopland.”
We were waiting for the rain to let up until about 9AM. We thought that if we didn’t get on the road soon we wouldn’t make it to lunch. So we headed out.
Not even a couple minutes into our journey out of CTTB, there was already a sign that said “FLOODED”. My husband said, “It’s OK, keep driving!” Then we saw the road in front of us was indeed flooded, so we turned back and drove uphill on the road where you would make a right turn coming out of the CTTB’s front gate. We would drive uphill and down planning to go through Perkins.
Going downhill we saw that traffic was all backed up. As we looked further ahead, we saw a sign that said “ROAD CLOSED”! Wow! How can we get on the highway? We asked our son to get out and ask. He was told that this road through Perkins was the only way. So we ignored the sign and the long line of cars on the roadside and followed some cars that had already forged ahead on a road that was supposedly closed. Just as we entered the “closed” road, we were horrified by the scene of a car floating in water at a level about the height of the driver’s seat. Another small truck was half floating, but I couldn’t tell if there was anybody in it. At this time, we couldn’t pretend that everything would be OK. We stopped. Going either way would be difficult. I could see that the road in front, beyond the flooded area, had a long line of cars heading in our direction. Vehicles with large wheels like vans and trucks started to pass us by in the middle of the road. Traffic on the other side of the flooded area was waiting to get to this side, just like we were waiting to get to their side.
My husband asked me to follow the van in front of us. I wouldn’t dare! I told him that only if a car similar to ours got through the flooded area would I try. We just waited there. A few minutes later, I saw a driver whose van had just passed the flooded area talking to the driver of the first car in the oncoming traffic. There were a lot of hand and leg gestures. Then that car started to drive in our direction. The car behind started to move in slowly, then a few cars similar to mine got through the flooded area without incident, so I just followed closely behind a van heading to cross the flooded area. I was worried. Early on when the road was blocked by the flood, we already started to recite Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva’s name. We were now reciting even more rigorously. It wasn’t easy but we got to the other side, and we got on the highway as well. It felt like we just escaped a disaster.
I couldn’t believe that it was not even ten minutes until we were ordered off the highway by the highway patrol. We were surprised that 101 was closed! Some folks were talking on the roadside. So we joined in trying to find out what the story was. It turned out that due to the flood, Southbound 101 was closed. Wow! What do we do now? The rain didn’t look like it would stop. If we couldn’t get to my sister’s that day, the following days would not be possible for us. The flood would only subside if the weather was dry. If we headed back to CTTB, we would have to trek the flood one more time. I was still horrified by it. We decided to go north heading to highway 20, then interstate 5, and connect onto Highway 80. We could go to Sister Au Ka Lan’s home. Once we made up our mind, we treated it like a vacation trip and were able to relax. I said to my husband, “This is what you wished for. You said you wanted to go out, but I rejected that idea because of the weather. This is your compensation. I am driving, you just enjoy the scenery.”
We hadn’t reached Interstate 5 yet but were stopped again by the highway patrol. He asked where we were going, and then pointed us to detour to route 29. Before we could ask more questions he was already waving us through as there were many cars behind us. It’s not an easy job directing traffic on such a cold and rainy day. So we just took off.
Along the way my son was checking the map but couldn’t locate where we were. We stopped to get gas and asked for directions. Folks there were nice enough to take out their map and give us directions. Since their map did not cover much of the area we were going to, they told us to ask for directions again when we drove further.
We got on the road again. Route 29 seemed so long with no end to it! On one rustic stretch the road was really winding. As we were heading downhill on this road, the weather started to break and the sun pierced through. I felt like we were back to the world we used to know again.
We came to a small town. Both sides of the street were full of small shops. It was already past noon time as we stopped to make a phone call to my sister to let her know about our situation. I told her not to wait for us for lunch. She said that we should get going while the weather was good and not rest. I agreed. We saw signs pointing to Napa, meaning my sister’s house shouldn’t be far. So we got going again. We stopped again less than 30 minutes into our driving because we couldn’t go any further - there was water everywhere like an ocean in front of us. Cars were all over the roadside. There were people resting in their cars. There was a flock of people surrounding some firemen at their fire engines asking questions and exchanging ideas. The news that we got was, even if the weather held up, it would be 2 to 3 days before the flood would subside. At that point, only route 128 was still open. Thus we drove back to the small town we just left and called my sister again. We learned that the small town is called Calistoga. My sister asked if we wanted to stay in Calistoga overnight and I said that I would if there was no other choice. But we had to go eat first, so while I was talking to her, my husband had found a Chinese restaurant and had already special ordered some vegetarian dishes. I just had to laugh – we were really vacationing!
Before the meal, we asked the waiter how to get to Berkeley from route 128, and we told him our situation. He enthusiastically took out a map and showed us the way to get to 101 and to our destination. While we were eating, the waiter came to show us the route to Santa Rosa through Napa and 101. He said it was a shorter distance and an easier drive.
After the meal, we decided to follow the route the waiter suggested. Since he was a local, we thought that his suggestion should be good. We got on the road and soon found that the road was going up along the hillside heading towards a higher altitude. Furthermore, there was continuous flow of traffic from both directions. With that we thought we would just be fine. We didn’t get too far when we saw another sign that said “FLOODED”. We started to worry. As expected, we were blocked by another flooded area. We had no choice but to turn back to Calistoga with one last hope in mind – Route 128. Now, “going nowhere” really takes on a special meaning in our hearts.
As we were driving through 128, we saw another sign. The first thought came to mind was, “it’s over”! It must be another “FLOOD”. It was actually a sign that said “SLIDE”; which was somewhat better than we thought. On this narrow and winding road, a vehicle coming from the opposite direction skidded across into our lane. Luckily, he regained control – just in time to prevent collision. Right at that moment, I exclaimed “Amitabha!”
We finally got on the highway. We could relax now. We were about 4 miles from Santa Rosa as indicated by the traffic signs. We were speechless! It would take about 2 hours to go from CTTB to Berkeley on a normal day. It had taken us almost a whole day just to reach half way. Well, at least we knew where we were. We were at peace! My husband and son began to fall asleep.
It was already past 6PM when we arrived at the monastery in Berkeley. I thought my sister would be there. A member of the monastery was on the computer and asked me to look at the Hopland flood reports. They already heard about our story. Her home is near Hopland. Her neighbor had just emailed her some pictures of the flood. Water was now knee-high, flooding the stores in Hopland along that stretch of Route 101. This was the first time that this had happened in 30 years! No wonder highway 101 was closed.
We couldn’t have imagined how devastating it was if we hadn’t been out there ourselves. Why is this world so fragile? How can these rains bring so much damage? Without such negative experiences, we wouldn’t realize that ordinary situations are such blessings! We should now cherish even more the daily disciplines that we follow each day in CTTB. The time here seems ordinary, but it is a very fulfilling and wonderful time!