Saturday, May 27, 2017

Take Me to the River

James, is that you I hear?

When I headed down to the river today, it was with the expectation that the river would be high, brown and fast-moving, just like it was yesterday on the T Pot Bridge when I'd watched enormous tree trunks, branches akimbo, bobbing along like toothpicks.

That was child's play compared to what I found once I got down to the pipeline walkway today.

When you descend the metal ladder to access the pipeline, the water all around tends to be shallow, nearly still and many feet below. It's a popular place for ducks to paddle around and bob for food.

Not today. I was gobsmacked to find that the raging James is already swirling maybe barely 18" below the walkway. Completely under several feet of water were my favorite beach as well as the bikini beach and the fisherman's beach.

It was completely disorienting to have all the signs of land missing with only treetops breaking the surface of the water.

The first set of rapids you usually see when walking west are so far underwater that they're no longer recognizable as rapids. Pshaw, it's just another maelstrom in a fiercely fast river. The second set, a favorite of kayakers whom I've seen careen over it and then intentionally flip themselves 360 degrees, looks downright terrifying in James' new state.

Powerful brown waves crash and circle a vortex of some sort, a huge and unnatural-looking hole in the water where rapids should be.

It was impossible even to get to the end of the walkway without waves hitting the pipeline with such force (and a mere foot below walking level) that my legs and shoes kept getting wet. The river itself was completely over top of the pipeline beyond the walkway, and not just covered in water, but with waves rolling along it.

Herons perched on old bridge supports and tucked themselves into the northern shoreline, one nabbing a fish from the river while a group of us watched. A woman with a telephoto lens captured arresting pictures of the herons going about their business on a day on the river where it was anything but business as usual.

I paused to speak to a couple who'd come down to walk and then have a picnic lunch. Holding up the little cooler that housed their food, the wife said, "I don't know where we're going to picnic now!"

My suggestion was Libby Hill Park for a completely different kind of view of the James in action. Surely that historical glimpse of the famous bend must be breathtaking now from so high up. They loved the idea, saying they'd never have thought of it.

What they'll lose from up there, unfortunately, is my favorite part: the roar of the James and today its volume and dynamism rival that of an ocean, a roar made up of fast-moving water and waves crashing in every direction.

Intellectually, I know such force is the sound of danger, but emotionally, the sound of water translates to a relaxed, almost meditative state for me. I attribute it to my parents first taking me to the beach when I was 14 days old.

I could stand here all day listening to you rage, James. And honestly, I don't mind getting a little wet to do it.

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