Friday, April 29, 2011


We've had a very wet spring so far this year. It has rained every day but one since April 17th, and the last few nights have been torrential in their output. The night before last night took the cake though. The legacy of flooding rain is writ large up and down our stream, from the falls all the way down to the big culvert just below our property line where Talbot creek crosses under Talbot road.

The farm was logged selectively in 2008 by men with big powerful machines who operated in a hurry without regard for the state of affairs when they left. In the gorge on the way back to the waterfall they dropped several large hemlock tops into the waterway. Last year our neighbor Don counseled me to go cut out the biggest and baddest of the lot in case of floods. He said he'd seen some doozies over the years - the Talbots once lost a combine to the creek sometime back in the 40's. His concern was about the little bridge that connects our farmyard (the house is on one side of the creek, the barns on the other). If a log jam tucked itself into our bridge we'd have big problems in a hurry. Thankfully the worst didn't happen. The logs and sticks that washed out of our woods cleared our bridge and lodged themselves downstream at the aforementioned (and shown) culvert.

The log in the middle of the frame has a large hewn notch in its side and came from our woods almost a mile upstream of this spot. One can just see the notch buried in small branches 6 or 8 feet back along the trunk. I know because I chopped that notch a few days ago when we cleared a trail through the logging slash to make the falls more accessible to small children or older folk who don't want to slog through mud. That notched log lay across the stream and I cut the notch to create a step. Now I know I should have saved myself the trouble.

More depressing, for it is irreplaceable, is the soil we lost in this event. Here you can see right outside our kitchen window the stream tore under day-lilies, exposing their roots.

Here we lost a swath of hayfield 4 or 5 feet wide the entire depth of the stream bed along a stretch 75 feet in length.

Those are two bad spots, but I've already noted a few others with missing/altered stream banks. So what is the cause? Clearly the rain in such sudden quantities can be implicated. The loggers who left trees in the stream contributed, since the wood jams scraping down the stream, catching and releasing, damages the banks as they flow. The previous generations of farmers who ran cows on the stream helped to channelize its course, making it flow faster. Unable to flood laterally, the only option left for the water is to accelerate, and the faster the flow the greater its erosive power. And stepping even farther back I suspect that the extirpation of the American Beaver from the woodlands of the east during the colonial and early American eras also played a role in carving the little gouge our stream now courses down. If you're curious about the incredible alteration in the hydrological cycle the North American/European fur trade caused, the book Water, by Alice Atwater, dwells on the topic for a few chapters. She opened my eyes to just how different our watersheds looked four or five hundred years ago when there were multiple small earthen dams on almost all small streams and most larger streams too.

This is just one small narrative thread that has come to my mind recently. I've been mentally stuck on the idea of causation and legacy for a few weeks now, perhaps because of all the baling twine, barbed wire, and partially rotten lumber I've been pulling out of compost piles, fields, pastures, and tree lines. I guess becoming a father recently has also put my mind to that particular track since I've found myself wanting to leave my child (children someday?) access to a world better than the one I now inhabit. I love it here, and I have a vision for the long term that is even brighter and more beautiful than the state of the farm right now. I don't think I'll live long enough to see everything I can dream up come to be, but it'll be a fun time heading that direction and with a little luck, a sense of humor, and some work I plan to leave future inhabitants of the farm a legacy to be thankful for, not one to be depressed or saddened by. Since I'm closing on a hopeful note I'll part with an image of a section of stream that proved itself resilient under the onslaught. Here there are willows rooted near the waterline low on the bank. Everywhere scrubby growth like this is established held together well during the flood and barely eroded. We now have plans to propagate willows like these up and down our stream.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. We often have flooding like this in Costa Rica. Last year the flow from up the mountain was so fierce that we now have a permanent gauge the length of our front yard and every time it rains we have our own little river flowing right beside our house.