We knew by early Friday that a storm would be coming in over the weekend. This storm had recently rushed through Texas and Louisiana, leaving flooding behind it. It had also dumped a sizeable amount of early snow in Colorado, with drivers unprepared for a winter-like storm so early in the season. The radar pictures showed an enormous mass covering the eastern part of the Midwest and upper south, heading towards the Mid-Atlantic States and us in the Northeast. We knew it was coming and waited for its arrival.
I woke up a little after midnight to the ping of raindrops hitting the window. Our window faces north and most storms don’t hit it but this one was. Bad sign. The storm was unrelenting, continuing for hours. Our house is fairly tight so we weren’t worried – ok, maybe a tad worried – about damage to it but this year has been exceptionally wet and another dumping of water would not be helping anyone.
It’s my chore to take the dogs out for first potty and they are usually ready at dawn. This morning was much darker than usual but the dogs’ expert timing was on display, amplified by their urgent need. Dressed with a slicker, boots, and hat, I was ready to plunge outside. I’m always curious to watch the dogs’ reactions when they first encounter changed weather. First snows, frosts, and rain always cause them to give a little gasp, gather themselves, and plunge forward, some – Ruthie and Mochie – more eager than others – Toby. Toby especially doesn’t like to walk on wet grass. Rocks, gravel, asphalt or streams are okay but not wet lawns.
Out the door we burst, a collection of legs, leashes, wet noses, and more. We lucked out, as the rain was relatively light, falling in a steady stream. It wasn’t the deluge I had expected and was grateful. The reality proved anti-climactic to my fears. The time outside was almost enjoyable, being neither too windy nor wet. But none of us lingered and we were soon inside getting toweled down and breaking our fasts.
We learned that places near us had received more than two inches and the forecast was continuing showers. The weather was not expected to improve so we decided to proceed with our morning outing of visiting the library and grocery shopping. I don’t know if the cause was the time of day or the weather, but there were few people on the road or in town. It’s funny how the lack of crowds can improve unpleasant or routine tasks. Rhetorical question: Can small villages and towns ever be considered crowded when the population for the entire county is less than 55,000 people?
We finished everything and noticed that the rain was letting up as we neared home, surprising us both. Unbelievably, a tear appeared in the clouds and a line of blue sky winked at us. We hurriedly put groceries away and took the dogs out, taking advantage of the moment of calm. Back inside we had the idea to explore the creeks before the rain machine revved up again.
We have two creeks. One flows through our valley collecting and moving the water from everybody’s property. We call this one the Big Creek though it is actually quite small and is more brook than creek. The other, called by us the Runoff Creek, is in a fold that drains a hillside and bisects our property as it rushes to join the Big Creek. This little creek is lined by old trees and a long but narrow meadow which itself is bordered by a line of trees. We call this area the Horse Run, after its previous occupant. The grass is kept mowed and it now looks like a park. It has become one of our favorite areas to visit, ideal for walking and exploring.
The Runoff Creek is easily observed where it passes under the road. The creek is normally a gentle rush of water moving artfully over and between nature-laid rocks. As our first stop, it was easy to see the color of the water, an opaque milk-stirred-in-coffee color. This always happens when the hillsides have become saturated, reaching their water-holding capacity and are shedding excess water. Pulled by gravity, the extra water races down the inclines, gathering soil, leaves, and any detritus that can be dislodged by the rains. During intense storms like Saturday’s, the water in the creek bed is a torrent of force driving to somewhere, approximating the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. We marveled at it.
When we first moved here there was a washout of gravel where the Runoff joined the Big Creek. Lower than the shallow banks, this broad layering of gravel made an easy entry to the Big Creek. The Runoff had pushed a line of gravel and stones across the Big Creek at this point, making for easy and fun crossings to gain the far hillside. We had no idea the Runoff Creek was a fickle and changeable creature until a thunderstorm two years ago. So much water was released in a 30-minute period that the little creek sculpted its delta anew. New rocks and gravel bars were birthed and our little creek was becoming unrecognizable.
This past June, a storm of great magnitude made all of the earlier changes seem like child’s play. Parked over us for two days, the deluge of water reworked the landscape. A great mass of gravel, rocks, and stone were deposited in the little delta, filling the old bed higher than its banks. The power of the water surge in the Big Creek removed all of our crossing stones and replaced them with a large pool of deep water. New banks were carved. Beaches were annihilated, moved, and reformed in new and unexpected areas. Old channels were straightened and new passages formed. The reworking of the landscape still amazes us.
The vigor of this Saturday’s storm energized the Runoff Creek. It was busily eating away at the piles of rock before it, moving and cutting through them and sluicing its way to the Big Creek. The rush of water is exciting and can be loud. By listening carefully, low notes can be heard under the noise, revealing the subsurface moving of stones. As in the past, we will explore the new beds when the water recedes, noting the changes, hunting for fossils, and discovering oddball rocks that can be uncommonly beautiful.
The spring-like rains continued for most of the day, a mix of showers and drizzle. After the early torrents, the calm was welcome. This gave us a chance to regroup and take stock before tomorrow’s wintry mix.