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News becomes art becomes means to help flooded neighbors

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052018 rainbow over river kw.jpg

A full rainbow appears over the Clark Fork River on May 10. Prints of the photograph are being sold to raise money for flood relief.

On May 10, Missoulian photographer Kurt Wilson headed out to take pictures of a river rescue west of Missoula.

The Clark Fork River was running well above flood stage. It was still rising and still raining and would crest about two hours later at 13.82 feet, the second-highest level ever recorded.

“While emergency personnel were working to help a homeless man stranded on a rubber raft in the river, a full rainbow was popping over the cottonwoods across the way, their top branches illuminated by the very last light of the day,’’ Wilson said. “The man, who had been trying to reach his camp on a precarious island in the river, was brought to safety and those of us on the north bank of the river were treated to this touch of beauty in the storm.’’

The next day, as many as 200 residents, neighbors and volunteers joined sandbagging efforts to help protect threatened homes and property. “During the frenzy,’’ Wilson said, “I met Ross Colyer, an on-duty Missoula City Police officer, loading sandbags into a boat to ferry across a flooded yard on South Third Street West, helping to build up a wall around a residence.

"‘I’m not just going to sit in my car. That's what we've been told to do,’ Colyer, who was assigned to a nearby roadblock, told me. ‘I was born here. I live here. These people need help.’”

Wilson credited those words for inspiring him to ask, “What can we do?”

His photo of the rainbow, shared on Instagram, quickly became the Missoulian's all-time most popular post there. The same thing happened when the photograph, which depicts a moment at the intersection of the ominous natural forces of weather and water with the graceful beauty of a brilliant rainbow, was shared on Facebook. Clearly, it touched those who saw it.

So Wilson proposed using his photograph to raise money for those affected by the flood and who will be dealing with its aftermath. 

Through a partnership among Wilson, the Missoulian and Marcy James, owner of the Missoula printing business Paper & Ink Studio, we are selling museum-quality prints of "Rainbow over the River'' for $75 and donating $55 to $60, depending on mailing costs, to Missoula County United Way's Flood Fund 2018.

The signed 6-by-9-inch image will be printed with archival inks on an 8-by-10-inch archival paper. James is making the prints for just the cost of her materials. And the Missoulian will match up to the first $500 raised by the sales and donate it to the Flood Fund.

In addition to helping our neighbors in the continuing flood and cleanup, the photo marks the Clark Fork River’s historic levels this spring and makes a great keepsake or gift for anyone who appreciates landscape photography and the dichotomous relationships of the natural world.

The photographs may be purchased at

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