To the farmer, river bottom, those
narrow sweeps of ground running
their course with the river, are
ribbons of gold. For
generations this rich, blackened
mixture of silt & loam
have bore fruits of corn, beans, tobacco, potatoes & sorghum. To stand in this bottom ground,
you cannot see the river. It's quiet run is tucked away behind a thickly brambled forest of Poplar,
Sycamore & Maple. In the fall & spring of the year, like a silent song whose rhythm is
finally heard, the rains lift the river up through these narrow forests and out into the bottom.
'orse since '40 . . .
The rain ceaselessly pounds the standing seam roof - day & night & day.
Morning light crept into the bottom like a frail fog, the dark sky filled with pouring rain and low
clouds being swept through the trees on the high ridge across the river. Standing on the porch, peering
through the dawn, I see the old river trees braced against each other as the thick brown water rages through
them. Some of them give way & you hear them snap under the pressure. Broken trees are getting
caught amongst their upright brethren; the river rages louder & louder as the downed timber is
jammed & twisted into massive webs of limbs & trunks and pieces of barns, sheds & houses.
Out in the bottom, though, the brown water runs slowly & quietly by. After 3 days of rain, the still
water creeps up into the yard, lapping up just feet from the porch steps. The stronger currents are
moving beyond the thin stand of timber at the river's edge, closer to the house.
On the third 3rd day the rain turns to drizzle & by afternoon I can see patches of blue.
The battle at the bank, having been lighted only by pale light & rain, is now brightly lit by
roving beams of sunlight cracking through the broken cloud cover. With the shinning sun, the
water is a richer, more garish brown & the thrashing water sounds louder than ever.
With the clear light comes the sense that there is an end to it. A cloud passes, shrouding the
new light, swinging the land & water back into shadow. The shift leaves me on a suddenly darkened
porch watching a passing shower, hearing it bang across the tin roof. Then, like a wind across the
water, the sunlight is swept back out over the rainy bottom, returning the
colors & sounds to a crisp, crackling brillance.
That evening I walk to the crest of the ridge behind the house to watch the fresh sliver of the waxing moon
set down atop the sun. The air is cool, fresh & light; stars glimmer & twinkle between the
still breaking cloud cover. And the wind & the river go on through the night as if it still rains;
pitching and roaring through the trees above me and below me along the river bottom.
Some days later the river is back to its quieter measures, but my road is gone, with only a vast
cavity left - 100s of feet long, 12 to 20 feet wide & 4 to 8 feet deep. The river bank, no longer
discernable, is a tangled wreck of trees & trunks & limbs & house parts. Climbing out of
the washed out road bed, I notice the flood's high marks, some 5 to 6 feet above my head, left by the
muddy water & trash in the trees still standing. And the mud - it is everywhere, on everything.
Standing back in front yard though, looking out across the bottom land, there is a ribbon of gold
laid upon the land. It is a mixture of silt & clay inches deep, smothering the grass growing
beneath it. The forested river bank
had kept the raging brown witch at
bay, allowing only a gentler coven to
spread out on to the rich bottom land
to brew an earthen batch of corn and
bean futures. In 3 days the
river lays down a bank of fertility
that would have taken centuries
without it - Like magic.
With the road so completely washed out, for days & weeks & weeks following the flood, I trudged through that
river magic hauling groceries, laundry, & sometimes firewood. When in December it froze, I
drove over it; & when it thawed out right before Christmas, Sidney Stirgell hauled me out of it.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, in the middle of a snowstorm, I walked over the muddy bottom one last time
as I left the river to go home for the holidays. When I returned after the New Year - there was the road!
Hard, crunchy gravel. I do not have to walk along any gravel road for very long before I sense
its hardness & remember standing in a vast mud & trash ridden ditch
carved out by a wise ol' River Witch.
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