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Hear 'Russian River Flow,' a Forgotten Ode to Guerneville Floods

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'Russian River Flow' was recorded in 1985, one year before the worst floods suffered by Guerneville. (Gabe Meline)

Longtime Guerneville residents have been through this before. As the Russian River floods the small west Sonoma County town this week, retold are the stories from 1998, or 1997—or the highest water level of all, the Great Valentine’s Day Flood of 1986, which submerged the town entirely.

This week’s Russian River flooding inspired me to dig up an old 45 rpm record, made in 1985, a local effort sold at mom-and-pop shops in Guerneville:

Titled “Russian River Flow,” the slow, sentimental song romantically commemorates the Russian River’s beauty, its gentle breeze, and… wait, what? The regular flooding of the town?!

Then its magic rise
takes all our love by surprise
water so clear and so true
you have taken our love with you

With its rumble and high waters flowing
and its loved ones with tears flowing too
as it flows with great force and destruction
but we know it will be over soon

The songwriter of “Russian River Flow” was Dominic Raitano, a community icon who founded the Safeway Flea Market. Raitano died in 2007, so we can’t ask him exactly why he wrote such a sweet, sentimental ode to the Russian River submerging the town and washing away people’s houses, cars and possessions.


But talk to longtime locals, and you’ll learn it’s part of river life. While interviewing those who lived through the 1986 flood for a feature story on its 25-year anniversary, I found people had a calm, almost religious acceptance of flooding as a local ritual.

Fred Von Renner, who spent that week in February of 1986 rescuing senior citizens on his backhoe, and whose parents owned Buck’s Restuarant, told me that “We would typically move our furniture up, get hoses out as soon as the waters receded and wash everything out. We looked at it as spring cleaning. It was just a way of life on the river.”

It also inspired Dominic Raitano’s odd little song, which hasn’t been on the internet until now. Enjoy.

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