When the water began rising around here, the first thing that happened is all the snakes left their brush-piles and hidey-holes and slithered on up to Whippoorwill Hill. The second thing that happened was Whippoorwill Hill was renamed Whippoorwill Island. There was one house that stood atop the hill, right in the center of town, and it was owned by Nelson Peduncle. Nelson was the biggest asshole for miles around, and so his new living circumstance was greeted with much delight. And frankly, the rest of the citizens needed something in which to find delight, seeing as their town was slowly being consumed by the river.
It was indeed a slow consumption. This was no raging torrent, of a frightening event bearing the full violence of nature. Our flood wasn’t like that. The placid, brown waters of the Rustaukee River simply rose little by little, day after day. One day it lay in its bed, languidly meandering through town as it always had, and the next it had topped over the bank, dampening the lawns in riverside parks, and turning hiking trails into squishier-than-usual affairs. By the next day, fingers of water had extended into the low-lying areas and and then steadily widened out, until getting around downtown became a nuisance. People took it in stride. Those encountering a puddle across their path, removed their shoes, rolled up their pant legs, and waded in.
I feel fortunate to live in a town occupied by such doggedly positive and unflappable folks. As the waters deepened and more streets became impassable, local residents began to refer to our town as “the Venice of the Midwest,” laughing as they sloshed around in waders, and cast lines for catfish on Main Street. Things did not remain easy, as the water levels kept climbing, but somehow it seemed the spirits of our townspeople could not be dampened. Most even took the eventual loss of their homes in stride. Ranch houses and Dutch colonials, having lost their moorings, gently jostled each other as they drifted away downstream. The locals, often floating on rafts or aloft in treetop platforms, jested “well, I was underwater on it anyway.” Those of generous heart, hoped that their migratory dwellings would well serve someone in need somewhere downstream.
These days, much time has passed, and the waters have not receded. We have all gotten used to it. Life goes on, as they say. Many of the young kids these days (those born after the flood) bear names like Gil, Brooke, Finn, and the like. Nelson Peduncle (that asshole) has passed on, but in the spirit of reconciliation, his house has been rechristened “The Peduncle Home for Wayward Reptiles.” In fact, the whole of Whippoorwill Island has been designated a wildlife sanctuary.
No one really knows where all this water came from, or if it will ever drain away and return this town to its original state. But, all in all, I think most of us have come to rather like it. Life is slow. We fish, we gather mussels and snails, we float in the eddies. Our kids swim like otters until they are spent and ready for sleep. We watch the sun sparkling on ripples at the end of the day.