Two weeks ago, it rains.
It rains all day, in a solid sheet: hard rain that hammers the earth, needles it in divots…
Water fills ditches.
This is the first day.
On the second day, it rains harder. Water fills basements, pouring through every crack and split seam. In cars, sunroofs and convertible tops leak, the water pooling on the floorboards. Doors swell in their frames and stick fast.
And then the third day comes, and the rain doesn’t stop.
In a river town, when the water rises, things fray like a bad marriage. For awhile, the troubles are just obnoxious: the kind of benign complaints you’d share with a girlfriend over a glass of wine. You call a plumber. You run a box fan over the wet carpet. But after awhile, as things worsen, the air of trouble saturates the atmosphere of the whole house — the whole town. Those closest to the river stay, though perhaps they should go. They stay because they love their homes, and — yes — they love the river.
But on the third day something happens to the river, and suddenly it is not what it was. It is solid; muscled; hard; fast; cruel. It rips tree limbs from the bank and rakes them downstream, where they claw the undersides of bridges.
And now you can sense something violent coming, the way the wife of a certain kind of man anticipates the solid smack of the fist to the door, the sudden shatter of glass in the night.
She sees it coming, and she packs a bag.
And this is the point at which the worst should happen: the flash flood. The dam break…
But it doesn’t.
Because on Wednesday morning — almost four days since the rain began — I wake to clear sky. The clouds scud past and suddenly there’s warm air — even sun!
I almost can’t believe it.
At lunchtime, I drive the Xterra into Salem, park and walk down the path that runs parallel to the river. Everywhere I look, I can see evidence of where the river crested its banks.
I can see shredded guardrails on the bridge…
A picnic table at the park, snarled in debris…
I find a flowerpot jammed between two fence rails, a park bench crowned with driftwood…
But even still: the sky is blue, and faultlessly clear. The temperature rises to 74 degrees, so that by the time I walk back to my car, I am sweating in my boots.
And I know, by then, that there are another three days of rain still ahead of us. The weatherman has told me this, but still, somehow, in the blue air, I believe it will be all right. The day feels like a space to rise to the surface and draw a long breath, and I do.
I breathe, and breathe, and I think about the dove with the olive branch, fluttering back to the ark. I think: all this mess is almost over. Almost, but not quite.
There is no rainbow yet, but for now, the olive branch is enough.
I am almost to my car when I find the crayfish: the tiny hard-shelled body hot against the asphalt. The beady eyes blinking in the light:
He does not belong here, and he knows it. He is dragging himself painfully along, wondering where the river has gone, and why he is out here ten feet from the road, baking in the sun.
I walk past him at first, but then suddenly my heart understands what he is and what is happening, and I go back. Ease him onto a flat stone and carry him back to the water.
I nestle him close to a wet stone and wish him well.
I think about him for three days, as the water churns up the banks again — rises but does not crest.
I wonder if he makes it through. If he survives.
((We can survive so much more than we think.))
And I understand, then, that it is not always in my power to give somebody the rainbow. Not always in my power to make the trouble end, or to push back the curtain on the sun.
But I can bear the olive branch — almost there. Almost.
I bear it for for you and for me, for displaced crayfish and lost souls:
The wounded and the weary and the weak.
I am standing here on the first clear day, promising you that while the rain’s not over yet, the sun — always — comes again.
Of this I am sure. ❤