Come High Water

The month of April has been the time of the year when Idaho’s free flowing Weiser River water level sometimes rises and then drops rapidly depending on snow melt in the surrounding mountains, temperature changes, or rainfall. For the past few weeks, driving into our small town of Cambridge and across the bridge over the Weiser River, one of the local cattle rancher’s winter pasture borders the river. Calving season has been happening for a few weeks in this particular low lying muddy pasture. I, along with probably most of the town that cross this bridge, have appointed themselves to monitor the river situation near the pasture. A sudden and heavy downpour could raise the water level causing it to overflow its banks and quickly flood the pasture. In the event that might occur, the rancher would quickly have to move his brown and black heifers and their calves, not always the same color, to higher ground across highway. They had to do this a couple of years ago, briefly stopping traffic on Highway 95, and causing a cow jam in the process.

Another river occurrence is when the river water level drops. Plenty of dead trees, limbs, and other things that have been floating downstream freely and without restriction, suddenly find new homes along the silty and rocky river banks or pushed up and lodged against concrete bridge support beams. Some of those objects will stay there for a while or until the water level rises again, which it will. These things might float away and gradually find yet another home, further downriver.

Yesterday, I found a lovely treasure along the river next to the Weiser River Trail while the river was running low. I spotted it while out running with the dogs. After my run, I went back to where I spotted it near the trail and scurried down to the bank and claimed it as mine. I hand carried my new treasure, a beautifully weathered wooden board, back to the pickup and threw it into the bed and brought it home. Once home, I stacked my sweet board onto my pile of other reclaimed river lumber. What I’ll do with this new board or the others that I’ve cached has yet to be determined.

Today, thumbing through the book A Sand County Almanac, I found this beautiful essay written by Aldo Leopold. The essay perfectly captures my feelings as it talks about people and the land. The tone of it, even though written in 1949, seems so fitting, even today. Come high water, life along the river in our quiet neck of the woods with low population will probably be about the same for awhile and maybe for the next few decades.

The following is an excerpt from Come High Water, relating to the month of April.

“The spring flood brings us more than high adventure; it brings likewise an unpredictable miscellany of floatable objects pilfered from upriver farms. An old board stranded on our meadow has, to us, twice the value of the same piece new from the lumberyard. Each old board has its own individual history, always unknown, but always to some degree guessable from the kind of wood, its dimensions, its nails, screws, or paint, its finish or the lack of it, its wear or decay. One can even guess, from the abrasion of its edges and ends on sandbars, how many floods have carried it in years past. Our lumber pile, recruited entirely from the river, is thus not only a collection of personalities, but an anthology of human strivings in upriver farms and forests. The autobiography of an old board is a kind of literature not yet taught on campuses, but any riverbank farm is a library where he who hammers or saws may record at will. Come high water, there is always accession of new books.”

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