The Drowned Forest

I went for a walk today, my first since returning from the trip. Also, my first since the remnants of Tropical Storm Alberto went through.

“Some flooding along streams,” the weathercasters said.

My god.

Near my house, there’s nothing notable–the usual greenery, that’s all. As I walked, and the ground sloped down a bit, I started to see a line of chalky paleness near the ground, as if the trees had all been painted light beige.

I kept walking.

The line began to rise. Soon it was knee high, then waist high, then shoulder high.

I reached out, flaked some off, and realized it was mud. The stream hadn’t overflowed so much as the entire lake had backed up. The greenway had been flooded, and when it receded, had left mud drying and cracking on the plants.

I kept going, a little stunned, while the high water mark raised over my head. I was walking in a chalky tunnel with a dark green ceiling.

At last I got to the path down to the chunk of stream where I have seen so many neat things. The mudmarks were well over my head as I headed down, slipping and squelching and splorching on the mud, clutching at mud-covered trees to keep my footing.

The boardwalk that I usually sit on what still there, but the next section, ten feet down, had washed out, and was lying in the stream. The surface of the boardwalk was a crackling snakeskin of dried mud. The plants were crumpled and wilted and chalked in pale brown. Huge black dragonflies skimmed over the surface of the stream, and a crow with a fine sense of artistic desolation sat on a snag and cawed bleakly over the water.

The whole scene looked like a sepiatone photograph–brown water, brown vegetation, brown mud, grey sky, black dragonflies, black crow. It was like walking in the ghost of a forest. I felt bleached and dusty and tired.

I sat down. I didn’t really expect to see anything but the crow and the dragonflies, but I wanted to see SOMETHING, anything, some kind of proof that everything would come back in a few weeks. Something I could look at and go “Well, see, if those are here, everything’ll come back.” Something brightly colored would have been nice. Nothing was forthcoming.

I sat for half an hour, waiting, while the crow, missing a wedge of flight feathers from one wing, made short wobbling flights from stump to stump. The dragonflies had sex a few times. I waited. A cicada buzzed electrically in a tree, which made the whole scene start to feel like some post-apocalyptic movie. I kept waiting.

Finally, an enormous turtle, the size of Mother Terrapin’s minion, slid down the embankment and into the water. Judging by the size of the shell, it had been here for quite a few years. It had probably seen any number of floods, and had been telling the other little turtles “Feh! You should have seen the flood we had back in ’97!”

“It’ll have to do,” I said, and got up, and slid and skidded and squelched my way home.

Nature being as resilient as it is–if the weeds in my garden are anything to go by–the forest will be back to normal within a few weeks. Ironically, it could probably use another rain to wash the mud away. It was just such a bizarre visual, as much as anything else–the bleached, unsaturated colors, the black animals. It looked so strange that it was hard to believe it was real.

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