When 'take a deep breath' is not sound advice. . .
Normally, depending on which part of Cedar Rapids you're standing in and which cereal plant you're closer to, locals say the air smells here either like burnt oats or sugary-sweet, like a bowl of Lucky Charms.
Now, as the waters recede, it is almost unbearable. Inside flooded houses where mold is flourishing, the air is so acrid it can make your eyes water.
Many of those trying to scrub their possessions clean wear white surgical masks. Some are trying to protect themselves from any airborne contaminants as well as block the pungent smell -- a blend of manure, raw sewage and molding furniture.
The masks don't really help neutralize that smell. When you try to breathe through your mouth instead, it's worse: As the land dries out, the wind is beginning to blow tiny bits of debris through the air that are easy to breath in. So are the biting bugs and gnats and flies that hover over the wet areas in thick waves.
Speaking of biting bugs. . .
All this water has created a Club Med-like environment for mosquitoes that are as large as a cow.
OK, maybe not a cow. Perhaps a calf. Or a Chihuahua. I'm not sure. There are too many of them swarming to see anything but a buzzing flock of pain.
By the way, I seem to be a gourmet treat for the mosquitoes. I am feeling quite ungraceful as I repeatedly slap my forehead while trying to have a serious conversation with a tearful woman in a small town off the Cedar River about losing every family photograph she owns.
"So, do you not -- slap --- have any family members -- slap slap - that might have copies of your grandchildren's baby photos?" slap, slap, SLAP.
Finally, she just stopped crying and started giggling, and handed me a compact from her purse. I had seven dead mosquitoes smeared on my forehead. She handed me a tissue, and we sat in the mud and laughed.
What else can you do? In the middle of my forehead is a welt the size of a silver dollar. I think it might have been worth it.
Happily, and hopefully drier, ever after . . .
Even in the face of disaster, Midwesterners have a sense of humor. When the flood waters began to rise earlier this month, Iowa National Guard Specialist Curtis Lloyd Wright had to put his wedding on hold.
For days, the Macksburg, Iowa, resident has been deployed to the opposite side of the state, in Columbus Junction, just a half-mile from where the Iowa and Cedar Rivers converge.
He and other Guardsmen have been helping residents of the town of nearly 2,000 fill sandbags in hopes of holding back the waters. It was a valiant effort, but one that failed to save the town's downtown center.
Out on the front lines, word spread of Wright's canceled nuptials and his worries of how to pay for rescheduling the ceremony, something he's had to do several times.
So when the bride called City Hall and said the couple was going to get married this week -- "come hell or high water," according to councilman Hal Prior -- Columbus Junction officials knew the least they could do was provide the high water.
So Thursday afternoon, Wright and Danielle Ritter planned to stand hand-in-hand and share their vows on a sandbagged-lined viaduct overlooking the muddy and debris-filled flood waters.
Family and friends mapped out different ways to traverse the state's roads -- some of which are still under water or were washed away completely -- in order to attend.
The dress code? Wear something clean.