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Mack Williams: After the river flood

The Riverwalk on the Dan River, following several days of submergence by its namesake, finally became unfit for “waterobics,” so I set out for a nice, dry walk.

The path’s dark-gray asphalt was coated light beige with river sand. It wasn’t as cheery as the The Yellow Brick Road (but then, neither is it brick). Low-lying tree seedlings were similarly covered with the frosting of that off-white, sweet-less “sugar.”

Just off one section of walkway, there was a great length of deposited mud with that same billowy look as Hawaiian lava flows.

The mud’s dark-brown appearance seemed to reflect the darkest shade of naturally occurring iron oxide with which mud can be colored. With that shade and texture, the most appropriate unit of depth measure I can calculate is “cow-pie” (dodged in my youth while walking through W.A. Cline’s pasture). The mud’s depth equaled about two of that unit, stacked vertically.

Even though only two days had passed since the sun’s long-awaited return, that little bit of drying had caused great, inch-wide, extensive cracks to appear in the mud, resembling those found in much drier climates, where rainfalls are separated by years.

Life had already left footprints there, some with shoes, some without. Some of the shoeless kind consisted of several different-size dogs, various birds and a raccoon. An earthworm left its characteristic, very long “footprint.” The shoe prints next to the dog’s paw prints told the story of an excited pet pulling his resisting master into where the master had not wished to go.

Raindrop impressions and mud ripples had also been made (recently “preserved” weather), looking just like the “well-seasoned” ones found when splitting apart Triassic shale, such rock still keeping its “mud” appearance after 200 million years.

Wind-fallen leaves lay in the mud, and I knew that despite their most gentle recumbence, gravity-pressed, detailed casts of their veins lay beneath.

There were tire tracks in some of the sand and mud, probably left by parks and recreation staff taking a ride on their golf carts to check if the trail were walkable again.

In a paraphrase from “Indiana Jones and the last Crusade” (particularly Indiana Jones’ father, when he said, “I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne”), when I saw the expanse of freshly-deposited Dan River mud, “I suddenly remembered my Granite Quarry School” (where we were first taught about the River Nile’s annual flood providing nutritious soil for planting of crops, making Ancient Egypt (and all that went with it) possible.

In one area adjacent the riverbank, swirling waters had left a water-filled circle of mud. One lone duck busily paddled around and around just inside the borders of its private pool.

At first thinking the duck to be enjoying the pool for pool’s sake, I soon realized that the more practical, pressing element of survival was there: the duck continually pecked at something (minnow, worm, bug, etc.) in the shallow bottom of that stranded bit of river.

I happened upon a formerly dry place of regular, duck land congregation, which had become dry once more. They had resumed their meeting, but had departed before my walk. Seeing a multitude of fallen feathers, and although I knew better, I just couldn’t keep the words “pillow fight” out of my mind.

Official “City” men had sawn a few trees along the walk path into equal, portable sections. These were trees which had toppled over due to waterlogged soil and wind. At sight of this, the strange thought popped into my mind that if root exposure from toppling had not been sufficient to cause death, then the trees were surely finished off by the repeated and measured “coups de grace” provided by the chain saw.

The flooding river had amassed a great assemblage of tree trunks, limbs, and even twigs against the train bridge’s pylons, all to a height approaching 10 feet, some parts at odd angles, like an arboreal version of Picasso’s “Guernica” (a similar theme of destruction). In the late afternoon sun, I saw green, crystalline “gems” glowing in the wood, as do crystals in their matrix rock. This emerald color came from empty, 2-litre Seven-up and Sundrop bottles carried downriver and wedged into the logjam.

That arboreal assembly represented trees from different places, joined together to become a peculiar forest. Just as with the regular kind, outer edges were brightly marked with sun, while darkness could be glimpsed within, as if each tree had brought its original forest shadow along in the ride down the river.

My final thought about the newly dried Riverwalk Trail where I once again was walking, is this: The Lord, having proved Himself long ago (when things were new), as being a master of the separation of dry land from water, had performed the feat once again.

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