The driveway snakes north around the swamp, the Amnicon River muttering sullenly on the other side of the flooded ash and cottonwood trees. The river has restrained itself now, confined to its bed but still powerful a week after the rampage that tore hundred year old trees out by their roots and sent them careening downstream. Most now lie, branchless and naked, beached on the shore of the big lake alongside thousands of other trees, thousands of empty clam shells, thousands of sticks and branches and discarded pop bottles and plastic bags that were flushed downstream in the flood.
The trees die slowly, their life ponderous even as it is extinguished. It's hard to determine the precise moment of death for a naked trunk. The other casualties of the river's rampage -- muskrats and other mammals, shore birds, ducks, fish -- are more precise in death. Their lifeless bodies disappear as quickly as the surf washes them ashore, food for the crows and gulls and eagles that grow fat on disaster.
The Canada geese that nested on the gravel bank across the river from us lost four of their brood to the flood: what astonishes me more is that three of the goslings survived. We watched them last evening as they picked their way along the newly-exposed gravel, the grass flattened and smothered by a thick film of red mud. The goslings studiously avoided the water but otherwise the family appeared nonchalant, unaffected. The downy babies, their wings as rudimentary as the arms on a tyrannosaurus, are so fat that their bellies nearly scrape the ground as they waddle. I wonder if these surviving three are smarter than their lost siblings, or luckier.
The flood narrowed our world as the river claimed low-lying areas with its grasping current. As the river rose, we felt more and more isolated, besieged. Downstream neighbors parked at our mailbox and waded through a foot of water to get to their houses, while on the opposite bank a low place in the road became a swift-flowing oxbow. The sauna house sat on an island. As the night continued to storm, I periodically woke and checked out the window to make sure that the river had not yet reached the house.
In the morning's pale new light, songbirds that had been displaced from the floodplain by rising water gave throat in our trees: a tentative chorus with an almost melancholy air. Added to our robins and chickadees were voices from the deep woods: veery, tanager, ovenbird, black-billed cuckoo. A grouse hunted for worms on our lawn, in movement and form more like a domestic chicken than a wild game bird. Deer were reluctant to run, perhaps realizing that many of their favorite hiding places were now flooded and unusable. Or maybe the disaster had transformed the survivors into temporary allies: for a few days we put aside minor interspecies spats to concentrate on a common enemy, the river.
Which brings me back to the road that I turn left onto from the highway, the road that curls along the edge of the floodplain with hills clothed in birch, spruce, fir, and aspen rising steeply on the other side. The road is about a mile in length, narrow, rutted but dry now that the storms are a memory and the river is under control. A pretty road: the spire tips of the dark firs stand in stark contrast to the powder-pale aspens, their leaves dancing in the sun like harlequins or butterfly wings, the sky as blue as a grandmother's eyes.
Windows down: I'm lazy, content, full of self-satisfaction after my breath-stopping solo canoe run down the still-swollen Bois Brule River. I steer the truck around a curve with one hand, the dark olive V of the rooftop canoe restricting my field of vision so that I see the road piecemeal.
And there, in a patch of bright sun among the low weeds on the side of the road: a little brown animal. At first I think it is a young fox: it's a light buff color, bigger than a rabbit but smaller than an adult fox. It's not only the size that leads me to conclude that the animal is young: the way it moves -- or doesn't move -- convinces me that it is new, uncertain of its body, or of how to react to this huge, noisy intruder.
I stand on the brake and promptly stall the engine, but with the distance needed to halt the forward momentum of the truck I draw up beside the little creature. A closer look establishes its identity: it's a fawn. It still hasn't moved: its river-rock eyes take in the truck -- and driver -- calmly, without fear or judgment. The fawn is too young to be afraid. Every step it takes is slow, tentative, as if using its legs for the first time. Through the open passenger's side window, I have an unrestricted view: the impossibly stalky legs, the huge, liquid eyes, mulish ears, and a back crammed with so many white spots that it resembles a map of constellations in the night sky.
I watch: a minute, two. The fawn doesn’t move. I take my foot off the brake and cost downhill. The mutter of the river as it courses northward is the only sound.
Causes Louise Young Supports
articulation of indigenous rights (organization: Cultural Survival)
sustainable, renewable, and independent energy sources