By Jill Henderson
After last summer’s brutal drought and a winter uncertain to end, spring brought about some unseasonably warm temperatures and the inevitable spring rains. And while heavy rains are not uncommon in the Ozarks, deluges are always disconcerting.
One day all was spring sunshine and dogwood blossoms and all of the sudden the heavens opened up and unleashed a gully washer the likes of which we haven’t seen since 2007.
The rain poured down like the biblical flood and the violent winds propelled the water horizontally into the side of the house. Even with our well insulated walls, the rain and wind created a crashing cacophony that was hard to ignore.
For the first time that I can remember in a long while, the dry hollows are roaring with the sound of water rushing down their courses. It has rained non-stop now for almost thirty-six hours and both of our previously dry ponds are already filled completely to their tops. The west pond is small and shallow and we had expected it to spill over, but the east pond is very large – almost thirty feet deep in the center and nearly forty feet wide and fifty feet long. But even it was no match for such an incredible amount of rain in such a short time and by the time we went out to check it this morning, it was full and spilling over the top and sides of the berm at the back. Lindsey called a little while ago and said that his rain gauge was spilling over at seven inches.
Although such a downpour of rain is not necessarily uncommon here, it is always impressive. A drive through the countryside reveals how powerful such a rain can be. Low-water river crossings are washed downstream and certain low-water bridges are topped by once placid streams. Great chunks of river bank are sheered off, falling into the rising river along with entire trees and huge boulders. Rivulets turn into muddy floods as water races down the slopes of gravel roads, carving deep fissures in the red clay and rock before running into a wet weather creek or pooling up to form a small lake.
Homes, fields and roads are submerged. The ground becomes water-logged, turning the once solid clay into a slushy mud pit. Huge, ancient trees simply lose their grip on the soil and topple over, roots and all. Previously unnoticed sinkholes fill with water, before sucking the liquid back down into the bowels of the earth with a nearly audible sound. New ponds form in hay fields and driveways become mires of tire-sucking mud, as every depression in the earth that can hold water, does.
We have had some impressive rains during my sojourn here in the Ozarks. If you have ever stood beside a river’s edge at the base of one of the large highway bridges spanning a valley and looked up, you will likely have noticed chunks of wood, branches, logs and other such debris stuck fast in the steel girders beneath the bridge deck. Next time you are near a river with a tall bridge, go to the footings and take a long look all around. Imagine the river filling the expanse of valley with water deep enough to reach the girders above your head and it will take your breath away. Suddenly you will have a complete and commanding understanding of the of the term “flash flood”.
While torrential rains such as this can be destructive, they can also be constructive; bringing much needed changes that actually supports life. During a flood, rich alluvial soil is deposited along riverbanks and throughout the low woodlands. The new, fertile soil replenishes nutrients for existing vegetation, while encouraging new growth and the emergence of varied plant species. River willows require periodic flooding in order to propagate themselves along a river’s course and in return, they stabilize gravel bars, islands and vulnerable riverbanks with their deep, penetrating roots.
During a flood, the river bottoms are scoured and reshaped. Gravel is moved from the riverbed to the banks to form gravelly beaches from which animals and humans can access the river and eventually, where new plant life will grow. Many falling trees will land in the water and the partially submerged logs will be used as basking platforms for turtles, snakes, ducks, herons, small mammals and even dragonflies, while at the same time providing underwater cover for fish and crustaceans. Water rushing over logs stuck fast in the current scours out great holes in the riverbed, creating slow, cold water ideal for fish, mink, otter and humans.
Therefore, while the destructive nature of flooding takes it toll, it also replenishes and rejuvenates, acting as a creative force in nature. And as the rain pours down, I look out at the water-soaked world beyond my window and a satisfied gladness blooms in my chest. It is a good thing, indeed.
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Jill Henderson is an artist, author and the editor of Show Me Oz
Copyright Jill Henderson – All Rights Reserved
This article is an excerpt from:
A Journey of Seasons:
A Year in the Ozark High Country
by Jill Henderson.
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