River Bottom   Flood Stage

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.
  Flooded Bottoms

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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