Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

River Rising

Posted on | June 30, 2011 | 3 Comments

Right after the state officially declared us in a drought, we received a whopping 3 inches of rain overnight.  The thunder rolled, the lightning flashed, and all that beautiful rain rushed into the creeks and rivers, carrying 1/3 of our raised vegetable beds with it.  Leaving primarily only the unweeded parts of the rows behind.  Say what you want about weeds, but they’ve got soil erosion nipped in the bud.

But if we didn’t want the zucchini to get entirely smothered…

Or if we actually wanted to be able to find any of the watermelon growing on the vine…

…it was time to pull up some of that lush greenery.  After all, when the ground is saturated, the weed picking is easy and you can even get most of the root, too.  So we tramped down to the garden and spent the day freeing the plants and clearing the rows and the garden paths.


We went to the river instead.

Because the only thing better than when the river is so low that you can walk across on the rocks is when it’s surging in its banks and racing for the ocean.  Which is exactly what it was doing.

When the river’s gentle gurgling changes to a roar that you can hear as soon as you open the car door, you can believe that this little town’s economy was based on a cotton mill where the money flowed like, well,…. water.  You can still see that mill today in the background.  Except, now, of course, it’s fancy scenic condos with gourmet restaurants on the ground floor.   Who said gentrification was just for the city folks?

But what doesn’t change is the power of the river to sweep away everything in it’s path when the rains are right.  Fallen logs and loose saplings are certainly no match for it’s current.  And they were piled up on the few still-visible rocks as evidence of the river’s strength.

Of course, drift wood also leaves evidence that today’s flux in the water level is nothing compared to what it’s been in the past.

Yep, that’s old flood debris stuck underneath the bridge pilings.  Flood debris at about the level of the roof on that house in the background.  That’s not the kind of river you come down to see after a storm.  That’s the kind of river that comes to see you.

And the other thing that doesn’t change is the ability of a rumbling river to shock even farm kids into silence for a minute or two.  To sweep away the endless bickering of siblings on summer break, clear their minds of real and imagined slights and taunts, and make their hearts pound with a sense of impending adventure.  Thank you, river.  Thank you, thank you, thank you thank you, thank you, thank you to infinity and beyond.

And an adventure it was.  Middle insisted we could drive our vehicle down the trails.  Which just means I should have never mentioned that the river eventually reaches the ocean.  Because Middle and Little were convinced for the rest of the afternoon that if I had just been willing to drive, we could have ended up at the beach and seen the sunset over the ocean.  I don’t know what concerns me more.  The fact that the 2 youngest ones:

1.  don’t realize we live on the east coast.

2.  think driving in the car with the windows rolled down constitutes a nature outing

3.  thought the minivan would make it through ruts that are so deep that the sides come up to Pretty’s hip.

It’s true what they say.  You kind of slack off after the first 2 kids.  You just get so tired…

Luckily, they were all distracted by the first big pile of trash we found hung up on the banks.  It made for an engaging, if depressing, game of I Spy.

Can you find the shoe?  tennis ball?  baseball?  2 wooden blocks?  food processor blade?  funnel?  spice bottle?

When they exhausted all the items they could identify (and Little claimed the baseball), we moved on and I figured it was time for a brief safety discussion.  I reminded them how the current was strong enough to carry them downstream so they needed be careful on the banks and not fall in (Yeah, but it probably isn’t strong enough to carry you, Mom, so you’d be able to save us), the trees and debris in the water were unstable and may not support their weight so they should step carefully and slowly out over the water (We’ll just send you out first, Mom.  If it holds you, it’ll be safe for us), and that the muddy slopes were a lot more slippery than they looked (If we start to slide we’ll just grab onto you.  You always sink in the mud).  Having established that having a mother the size of an elephant who can’t say no to chocolate is a huge advantage in the wilderness, I decided to change the subject to avoiding getting lost.

“Every time the trail splits, we will take the path to the left.  So on the way back to the car we’ll know to always take the path to the right,”  I said.

“Don’t be silly, ” said Big.  “We’ll just stay on whatever trail runs closes to the river.  Then all we have to do is follow the river back.”

At exactly that time we reached an intersection in the woods.  Where 4 trails headed off in different directions.  At least one of which veered along a tributary that appeared to mirror the side of the river we had been walking along so far.  We paused to consider the implications of this and review the survival advice we had heard over the years.

“Well,” shrugged Pretty, “No matter what, we have the cell phone.  So we can call if we get too lost.”

“Of course,” I agreed, thinking of the cell phone that was locked up safely in my purse in the car.  And about how I hadn’t mentioned to anyone that we were going to hike on the river trail today.  And about how many Made For TV movies I’ve seen about people like me in circumstances like this.

But before I could get too worried, the kids discovered an old beat up soccer ball washed up on a river flat.  They immediately launched a successful expedition to recover the ball so that we now had a soccer ball to kick and a baseball to toss as we walked along the trail.  It was almost kid heaven.  Until they discovered a thick fallen tree that almost reached across the river.  They clambered out along the trunk—-a furious current surging against them on one side, and a safe tranquil pool slightly rippling on the other side.

That was kid heaven.

It was a shame we didn’t get see more animals, though.  Middle and Little did see an amazing heron.  The biggest one they’d ever seen.  We didn’t get to see it because as soon as they saw it, they shouted, “HOLY COW!!  LOOK AT THAT HERON!  IT’S THE BIGGEST ONE I’VE EVER SEEN!!!”  So it flew away before the rest of us could spot it.

We did get another chance to view it when we approached a small island in the river.  Apparently the heron had just flown downstream a bit and settled on the island to fish in the shallows.  Or at least that’s what the boys said it was doing when they yelled back to us, “HURRY UP!  HURRY UP!!  THERE IT IS AGAIN LOOK!  LOOK! LOOOOOOOOOOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!”  But the heron didn’t like that, either, and it took off for good.  Go figure.  To think that the Other Half takes those 2 hunting with him every fall.  No wonder we ran out of venison for the year already.

We did find heron tracks in the mud.

And while we were down there, had a rousing debate over whether these were raccoon or opossum tracks.

But the peepers and bullfrogs were out and beginning to sing, so I figured we better head back.

Despite my earlier concerns, we didn’t have any trouble finding our way back.  We did lose the baseball into a huge puddle with extremely slippery sides.  Fortunately, we found a non-poison ivy vine to lower Pretty down to recover it.  Which makes the whole thing sound a whole lot easier than it actually was.  Since our attempt at Big climbing down unassisted ended up in his pants being declared For Barn Use Only (red mud stains do NOT come out, regardless of commercials claiming otherwise).  And our attempt at making a human chain lowering Little down to get it failed when Middle slipped, panicked, and released all the hands he was holding in order to save himself.  Turns out a chain is actually only as strong as its Middle link.  It also turns out that I am heavy enough to make a decent anchor.  Perhaps, the proper evolutionary term is “survival of the fattest.”  I’m just saying.

Because it certainly isn’t “survival of the Littlest.”  Since Little walked across a snake on trail.  Literally stepped right on it’s back without even seeing it or slowing down.  A black snake that was just slithering across the trail—clear as day in his black skin against the brown mud.  He wasn’t hiding or camouflaged or even holding still.  Even though Little was joyously tossing his rescued baseball up and down, you’d think his peripheral vision would have spotted the snake moving.  Or some primitive instinct would have been sending off alarm bells.  Or the safety warning I’d given them all earlier about watching for snakes on the trails…wait.  I did mention watch for snakes on the trails, right?  Right?  We discussed mud.  And river currents.  And getting lost.  And…Jeez.  How did I end up in charge of these little people?

At least it was a black snake, not a copperhead.  Like any good black snake, it cleared out after getting stepped on.

Black snakes aren’t known for being aggressive.  We pull them by hand right of chicken nests when we need to (That’s the Royal We.  I never have, and never will, pull any snake out of anywhere by anything resembling my hand).  Besides, if getting stepped on wasn’t enough to scare him off, my screaming was certain to send every snake, heron, raccoon, or opossum in a 10 mile radius into shelter for the night.  Screaming is just another one of my highly developed survival skills.

All on all, it was a fabulous adventure.  My favorite part was when we got back to the bridge and paused to watch the swallows returning to their nests.

Big and pretty were engaged in a discussion about time and proof of God’s existence.

Pretty:  “I don’t understand how God made everything in 7 days but he never mentions the dinosaurs as part of the animals and, besides, even if he did make dinosaurs, everyone knows that humans and dinosaurs didn’t live at the same time.  It just doesn’t make sense.”

Me: “Well, I don’t think time meant the way we think about time now.  After all, ancient civilizations didn’t think about time as hours and minutes like we do.  I guess the Bible doesn’t mean days in the same we do, either.  Remember the Bible says Abraham was like 300 years old and but, in the way we figure time, people don’t live that long.”

Little (shaking his head sadly): “Mom, Abraham was 175 years old, not 300.”

Big:  ” I think God does things in His own time, not ours.  Once I prayed to Him to prove to me that He existed.  But He didn’t do anything.  Until like a month later when my teacher told me about this book she read called Heaven is For Real where a little boy tells about how he died and went to heaven and came back.  I guess my teacher talking about it was God’s way of talking through her and telling me that there is proof out there.  It just took a while for Him to respond.  But maybe it was only like a second for Him and a month for me.”

Me: (speechless)

It surprises me that my kids pray to God to prove that He exists.  Although, it shouldn’t.  I did it when I was a kid, too.  It surprises me that my kids really hear any of the things that they listen to Sunday after Sunday.  Although, it shouldn’t.  It’s only things like “Take off your shoes in the house” and “No jumping on the couch” that seem to bounce off their eardrums.  It surprises me that there are still teachers in public school who aren’t afraid to mention God.  Although, it shouldn’t.  Christians have been practicing their faith in spite of the rule of law since Christianity began.

Of course, it doesn’t surprise me that God came up while we sitting by the river, wiping the worst of the mud off our boots with sticks, and watching swallows return to their nests for the night.  I think it’s easiest for Him to sneak into our hearts and minds when we’re walking in His world, breathing in His air, listening to His river rush by, and screaming in fear at His critters.

To think we almost stayed home to pull weeds.


3 Responses to “River Rising”

  1. Mary
    June 30th, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

    Stevie, I just love your writing, I felt like I was there laughing with/at you!!

  2. Lisa D
    July 1st, 2011 @ 5:22 am

    I would have been speechless too!! I think God just chuckles at all of us….

  3. Tanya
    July 1st, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

    I think this might be the best one yet!!!

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