Los Brazos de Dios

The Lower Brazos, unbanked (Photo: Doug Whipple)

In 1951, flooding rains filled the Missouri and Kansas rivers. One by one, bridges throughout Kansas City were closed, and our vacationing family was trapped. When engineers judged one bridge passable and opened it temporarily, my father, grim and determined, said, “We’re going home.” Only five years old, I was horrified, fascinated, and strangely numb as we crossed over the bridge, watching dead cattle and box cars pass only feet below our own car as we headed for Iowa, and higher ground.

I remember that flood each time a river begins to rise: whether the Mississippi; the Fox; the Red River of the North; the Guadalupe; the Blanco; or the Trinity. Each time, I remember the words and wisdom of T.S. Eliot — that transplanted midwesterner who was formed in part by a great American river:

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting: watching and waiting.

By the time we remember the river, it can be too late. Flash flooding sweeps away cars, or houses, or neighbors. Snow melt builds behind nature’s own cold dams until the ice breaks free, and water inundates the land. Upstream rains bring a slow, inexorable rise, accompanied by a surging crest of grief and fear.

Today, it is the Brazos that has risen: sullen, untamed, and intractable.

But rivers, too, are a part of nature. They nourish as well as destroy. They sustain life as well as devastating communities, and even in flood they can be beautiful.  Before the roads closed and my favorite spots on the lower Brazos became inaccessible, I traveled the area, purely for the pleasure of seeing.

beneath green willows
mockingbirds cease their singing
hushed by falling rain
Old Brazos River Bridge Support ~ East Columbia (click to enlarge)

rising rivulets
stitch their way through verdant banks
pulled taut by the sea
Bell’s Landing, East Columbia (click to enlarge)
reluctant cattle
cross the river’s mud-slick flow
hoof-sore and weary
Sometimes the old ways are best (Brazoria County, photographer unknown)

soiled, the river
sighs beneath a cleansing rain
ripples spread and shine
Sunset rain on the Brazos (click to enlarge)

Today, a few roads have re-opened. In time, cattle will graze again in peace, and people return to their homes. Leaning against fences and tailgates, taking a breath and swapping a river story or two, they’ll sing, in their own way, a song to the river the Spanish called Los Brazos de Dios: “the arms of God.” Years ago, Nora Sweetland, raised on the Brazos, composed her own psalm to the river beloved of us all.

I will sing a song to the Brazos de Dios, my green river, my blue river, my crystal clear river with its sand bars gleaming.
I will sing a song to my raging red river when the torrents from the red hills come pouring into it, to my roaring, rampaging river with its uprooted tree monsters rushing along, trailing their treetops like dragons’ tails.
I will sing a song to the white foam lashing angrily at the river’s banks, to the roof tops, to the canoes, to the dead cattle and to all things whirling away with my river.
Oh, my river, my Brazos de Dios, I have bathed in your waters, and oh, my river, my Brazos de Dios, I have been cradled in the arms of God.

Comments always are welcome. Photos, except where otherwise indicated, are mine.
Please note that I’ll be without reliable internet access for the weekend, and may be a little slow in responding to comments. Thanks!

96 thoughts on “Los Brazos de Dios

  1. Evocative poems and photos to describe the power and the beauty of the Brazos. Lovely. We may just see it before long. We’ve ordered a Casita trailer from Rice, Texas and will be coming that way in October. Ben finally decided he was ready to retire, which means selling the house and going traveling, writing a blog again, writing the memoir (I pray), taking photos…and seeing the country.

    1. Martha! What a delight to see you. And what good news you bring. Knowing how you love all those activities you mentioned — travel, writing, photography — it sounds as though a good time awaits you and Ben.

      There’s no question that October is one of the best times to be in Texas. Hurricane season’s over, the temperatures are cooling, and the blue skies can be breathtaking. Despite the downside, the rains we’ve had have produced unbelievable crops of wildflowers, and it may be that this will be a year for autumn color, too. It’s hard to say what the summer will bring — we may be in drought again before it’s over — but it’s glorious now.

      Seeing’s still key, isn’t it? And there are a lot of rivers in Texas to see. Maybe this will be the year I visit them all. I’ve often thought that would be a terrific project.

  2. Floods have got to be scary things to witness. Seeing one at such a young age engraved Mother Nature’s power into your soul. Otherwise, I don’t think you could write so beautifully about so many of her creations.

    1. I’ve been sitting here trying to decide if that’s true — that I was sensitive to the natural world as a child. I’m not sure I was: at least, not to the extent that I am now. For one thing, my mother was fairly well convinced that no lady ever would get her hands dirty, go out in the world unprotected and alone, or move much beyond collecting fireflies in a jar as a nature project. Her attitudes limited me somewhat when I was young.

      On the other hand, my dad made sure to teach me the constellations, the way to build a good snow fort,the names of rocks, and how to chop wood. And, he valued exploring without fear. So, the basis was there.

      Nature deserves to be written about beautifully, as well as accurately. Both are important, but I suspect it’s the stories that will pull people away from their iGadgets, to look at the world with affection and understanding.

    1. Thank you, Myra. Josiah Bell and his landing are worth a post of their own — as is the plantation system along the lower Brazos — but for the flood, a little poetry, and a little tale-telling, seemed just right. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. In 2008, the Iowa River flooded the valleys including much of the U of IA campus. We lost the performing arts center, music buildings, art buildings, and more. Today, we are still waiting for completion of some of their replacements.

    Floods leave lasting scars and change lives.

    1. Indeed they do. I well remember that flood — it happened just a couple of months after I started blogging, and I wrote about it: albeit awkwardly. It was so strange to see my childhood rivers in flood, and it was terrible to see the damage in Iowa City, where I’d taken some summer classes.

      I’d forgotten that I quoted the Eliot poem in that blog, too. In one of those funny coincidences, the woman who left the first comment, Diana Losciale, became a very good friend and edited an anthology that included a couple of my poems. She died of cancer in 2014 — a great loss to everyone.

      1. I enjoyed that post. I hadn’t seen it before. You captured so many of the essential elements of the midwest people. People who come here from other parts of the world to study or work comment often about how polite, practical, and helpful people are in the midwest. I think we all know the importance of caring for your neighbors. Flood, storm, tornado…these can change the landscape and the lives drastically in a short time. Plus, life is more fun when you have good neighbors to share it with.

  4. Oh, what a dismal picture Eliot paints of the river. I’ve never been affected by a flood, but I have been affected by drought. I suppose this contributes to my overall love of rivers. They represent abundance to me. Dry river beds would be my Eliot complaint. With Nora Sweetland I can identify!

    1. It interests me how different people can respond so differently to the same words. I’ve never thought of the Eliot passage as “dismal.” To me, it seems strong, and realistic: perhaps even bracing. On the other hand, it may simply feel right to me because most of my rivers have been muddy ones.

      I can appreciate your view of rivers as a source of abundance, though, especially after our most recent, extended drought. Waiting for rain can try patience. The irony is that both drought and a certain kind of flood are slow-motion disasters: unlike tornados or flash flooding. I suspect that’s part of what makes them so nerve-wracking.

  5. This is a wonderful post. I have lived on or near the Brazos River for 50 of my 54 years. I wonder what the area of around Hwy 35 will be like after this in terms of the the rural settlements along the river and the river itself.

    1. I’ve wondered that myself, Susan. This isn’t a course-changing flood for the river, but there’s no question that many, many lives will be changed. I’d always meant to take time for some photos of the historic homes in East Columbia, but didn’t. I hope I don’t regret it.

  6. The flood of 1953 in Holland is something I still remember. Over 1800 people lost their lives. On the day after my brother and I went to the beach near The Hague to witness the angry seas. German bunkers previously covered by dunes became exposed and we had to run for our lives to escape the fury of the waves on the beach.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Sea_flood_of_1953

    Last week in Australia, we had a monster storm combined with king-tides. Many beach front properties along the coast were re-claimed by the sea. People sent out Face-book and Twitter messages asking for volunteers to help sandbag when the next king-tide was due the same evening. In no time hundreds of volunteers turned up, some from far away. Tens of thousands of sand-bags were filled and hurled down the embankments in front of houses that had already half been taken and demolished by the sea, but still worthy of saving.Volunteers were providing Bbq sausages and tea. The king-tide came and went but the houses were saved.

    1. That was quite an interesting article you linked, Gerard: not only for what it tells of the storm, but also for a tiny detail that revealed how little I know of your part of the world. I saw that one area of Holland affected in 1953 was Zeeland — it’s the first time I’d wondered if New Zealand was somehow related. It didn’t take long to meet Abel Tasman (the Tasman sea! Tasmania!) and learn that he was the first European to see New Zealand. Then, there’s that whole Staten Landt/Staten island connection. More reading is required.

      There was a good bit of sandbagging done here, as well. In fact, on the day I took these photos, some homes in East Columbia already had their dikes in place. It occurred to me that the people had learned to deal with the river much as we deal with hurricanes: they knew what to do to prepare, and they’d done it.

      I was surprised by the decision to go ahead with cloud seeding ahead of forecast heavy rains. It’s going to be interesting to follow that inquiry.

  7. As the rainy season progresses, our memory of the drought is slowly fading away and the reality of floods are the story of the day. We have several rivers swelling and destroying homes and businesses.

    The pain, sorrow, and destruction are too hurtful to watch on the evening news. And like you mentioned in your blog, the water is murky and brown, like fresh chocolate.

    Water is good because it brings life after a torching drought, but the excess of it is not a welcomed scene.

    I liked the title of your post, “Los Brazos de Dios”, those words I can fully understand. :-).

    1. The drought/flood cycle is a familiar aspect of life in Texas, and has been since the days of the early explorers. Like rattlesnakes, humidity, mosquitos, and dust storms, the phenomena get negative reviews by the people affected by them, but they certainly aren’t “unnatural.”

      I was laughing with a fellow worker-on-the-docks the other day about the sudden surge in conversation about the heat and humidity. In January, we complain about the cold, and long for summer. Now that summer’s here, we complain about the heat, and wish for October. The same goes for drought and flood. Whichever’s around, we tend to long for its opposite.

      There are several stories about the naming of the river as “Los Brazos de Dios.” The one that seems most reasonable to me goes like this: some explorers, at sea, were dying of thirst, their stores of fresh water depleted. When one sailor noticed a long, muddy swath extending into the clear waters of the Gulf, they assumed it was a river emptying, and followed the mud. It was the Brazos, and they were saved: hence, the name.

      This photo shows how obvious the effect can be.

  8. In elementary school we learned about the annual flooding of the Nile and how it made the land fertile. I don’t recall ever seeing a flooding river in person till long after I moved away from the New York of my childhood. Texas in the decades since then has compensated for my growing-up lack of floods, and it’s thrown in some droughts as well. Here in Zion, Illinois, there’s a river that occasionally builds up behind sand dunes, gets higher than Lake Michigan, then bursts the sand dike and flows suddenly forth. People have gotten caught unawares and been swept away.

    1. I thought about the Nile as I was writing this, along with the Tigris, Euphrates, and Indus. The Brazos is a baby compared to those, but the dynamics of its life are amazingly similar.

      It seems as though you’ve made some time for the Dead River and Illinois Beach State Park. I see that 650 plant species have been recorded in the dunes there — photographic heaven. And it’s interesting that the breaking of the dunes seems to have a purpose — draining the marsh, and continuing the cycles.

  9. Thank you for the post. I have lived on or near the Brazos River for 50 of my 54 years. When I was in High School, I lived a stones throw away from the river North of the the I10 Bridge between San Felipe and Brookshire. I have learned the necessity of rivers flooding for the health of the surrounding habitats, all be it tragic for humans and other living creatures. I keep thinking about, how different a flood in the coastal plain is so different in feel than the memorial day flood in the hill country. Difference between a sprint and a marathon.
    Susan

    1. That distinction between sprint and marathon is the perfect analogy. You’re so right that a flood isn’t just a flood. Like the rivers themselves, each has its own characteristics.

      While I was watching the slow rise of the Brazos, I remembered the 1987 Guadalupe flood that swept away the school bus filled with children in Comfort. A woman was swept away by Cypress Creek in Comfort over Memorial day, and I was reminded that one of my photos of that creek appeared in my very first blog entry — not here, but on Weather Underground. How quickly a river or creek — even a dry riverbed — can change.

  10. Similarly to you, I have very strong memories of a river flooding when I was young – in my case the Susquehanna. I can remember them rescuing people in row boats, the bridges being closed, helping clean mud out of stores after the waters went down . . .

    1. I always liked the name of the Susquehanna. We grew up with rivers named Fox, Skunk, Raccoon. I envied people in the east, who had such lovely names for their rivers. For that matter, people in the south had some good names, too. Sidney Lanier’s “The Song Of The Chattahoochee” was a favorite poem, just because of that name.

      There’s nothing worse than flood water. There was a time I believed it was similar to what comes out of the tap — only in greater quantities. When I learned what it truly contains, it was a bit of a shock. The mud was one thing — the rest of it was worse.

  11. Lovely poem from Sweetland. Spot on, Eliot. Since the flooding of the Mississippi in 1993 I gained a whole new awareness of rivers. And vowed to avoid living near bodies of water. Even little streams. I can’t quite appreciate these as “arms of God”, but can and do anthropomorphize much of nature. Even on a good day rivers get my respectful terror. I don’t like to think of being terrified of God’s arms, but outside of my problem, the concept is charming.

    1. It occurs to me that Arizona has its own form of flooding: those flash floods that roar down the canyons. Be careful about where you pitch your tent, even if the sky is clear. You just never know. It would be more than a little ironic to be flooded out or worse, with nary a regular stream in sight.

      The flood on the Mississippi I found especially compelling was the one that occasioned the opening of the Morganza spillway, and the flooding of the Atchafalaya basin. One of these days, the Mississippi is going to have her way, as she has in the past, and a lot of history and geography are going to be re-written.

  12. Doug Whipple’s photo looks similar to what we had 2 weeks ago when Spring Creek flooded Riley Fuzzle/I45 area of The Woodlands & Spring.

    Your post is lovely, even it it grips (or numbs) the hearts of those who know what it is like to be completely helpless and at the mercy of flooding…even to be washed away by a flood.

    1. That sense of helplessness arrived in my life with Tropical Storm Allison, in 2001. The house was just north of I-10, near TC Jester, where, instead of boxcars, there were semis floating along. I wrote about that one here. It really is amazing, how many floods and hurricanes I’ve written about — but each is different, with a different lesson to teach.

      I suppose, in a way, “beautiful flood” is a phrase akin to “peaceful death.” On the surface, it seems oxymoronic, but still: there’s some truth to be plumbed.

      I hope you and yours didn’t suffer too badly, or at all, in the flooding up there. Heaven knows many did.

  13. Linda, nicely woven as usual. A real tapestry of words and images, prose and poetry, news and history (both historical and personal).

    My wife and I took a drive after lunch on Sunday. We weren’t really looking for the flood just running the perimeter. Drove 1462 to 521 where the checkpoint blocks the road west. Turned south planning to drive to Hwy 35 and head back home. Every county road leading west had a law officer set up at the head of the road. At the business 288 junction an electronic sign advised that 521 was closed to all traffic ahead… We continued on. By the time we reached Chenango, water was becoming visible on the west side of the road. This is 5 miles from the river, and we were already seeing homes flooded or within feet of being flooded. County road 32 loops along here going back in towards the river. The northern end of the loop had a checkpoint, but you could see down the road. The water crossed the road almost immediately. As we proceeded south I could see flashing lights as we got closer to the southern en of CR 32. Water now was solid on both sides of the road…So I turned around and headed home.

    In my life I have seen the Brazos flooded many times. I have driven the bridge over Cow Creek when it was under water. I have watched the water run up the ditches away from the river on 1462. I have seen the Colorado River in flood, the San Jacinto River out of it’s banks. I have stood at the edge of the flooded Nueces River in McMullen County, 2 miles from the river bed, and all I could see was water. I was trapped by the Frio River in the same county in 1971 when it flooded every road away from the ranch my grandparents owned. We were there for two weeks with no way to town. There is nothing quite like seeing miles of water where water isn’t meant to be, especially in the south Texas brush country.

    I have spent hours over many years exploring the county roads up and down both sides of the Brazos in both Brazoria and Fort Bend Counties from above Richmond to the mouth fo the river. I know how many families call this area home. My heart goes out to all of them during this time.

    Yesterday I saw an announcement the the lake formed by the confluence of the Brazos River and Oyster Creek was 4 1/2 miles wide and 15-20 miles long and slowly moving towards the gulf.

    1. The great irony of my time away is that twice I wasn’t able to get to places I wanted to visit without detours: low water crossings at the Guadalupe and Cypress Creek still were enough in flood that I wasn’t willing to cross them. I left that to the pickups with a little more weight and clearance.

      Out of curiosity, I dropped down to 35 yesterday, below El Campo, just to see what I could see — and to see if I could get through. A fellow at TexDot had suggested it was possible the road would open yesterday, around noon. The detour from West Columbia still was in place, so I took 36 north to 1462, and came into Alvin that way. I’m not surprised by the 4-1/2 mile confluence. The water’s down now (although the ditches still are full) but it’s obvious how far the water spread by the amount of land that’s been scrubbed clean, and the waterlines on the houses. As I’m sure you know, Oyster and Caney still are running bankful.

      I’ve already heard people grumping about the heat that’s settling in this week, but I remember how happy we were for the sunshine and heat after Ike. There’s a lot of drying out to be done, and the sooner the better.

  14. Linda, I haven’t experienced flooding like this, but do remember the Salt River when it was a torrent far exceeding its trickily, sandy banks. The roar as it passed under the bridge to Phoenix was phenomenal!

    Although not quite the same, it caused me concern when my little apartment in Pensacola was near to flooding. (1973?) We watched holding our breath as the water in the bay, pushed by a hurricane, inched its way to our road and attempted to breach it! If it had made it our whole apartment would have been sitting in water!

    1. You surely know the old saying, Lynda: hide from wind, run from water. It’s the storm surge that’s the problem, and it can cause flooding even if the wind doesn’t pay a visit. There’s a road that fronts the bay here that can flood even with a strong, constant east wind, although they finally raised it a bit after Hurricane Ike.

      One of my weirdest hurricane memories involves Pensacola. I was there not long after Ivan (2004) and there was a small Catalina sailboat up in a tree. Needless to say, both the boat and the tree were a little worse for the wear.

  15. I’ve been wondering how you’re getting along, Linda. Seeing the photos on TV has been most discouraging. While I know the people of Texas are made of strong stuff, I also know how difficult it can be, weathering the challenges of Mother Nature.

    I’ve been fortunate in not seeing such flooding…ever. Sure, we’ve had tornadoes, heavy snows, and ice storms. The Mississippi Coast has had hurricanes. But watching your rivers crest and overflow their banks, knowing the critters that come in with the waters, worrying about property and life must be overwhelming. I wonder how people handled the stress in olden times? Perhaps by moving further west?

    Enjoy your break from civilization — stay safe whatever you do!

    1. The phrase I hear in the hill country from time to time is “watered in.” It’s apt — people there keep supplies on hand for being flooded in if they’re low, or being iced in if they’re at the top of the hill. Preparation’s the key — and being smart. There’s a reason for the flood gauges at every low water crossing, and a reason not to drive across them when the water’s running like this.

      I don’t know this — and it would be interesting to explore — but I’ve always assumed the early pioneers, settlers, and such dealt with weather phenomenon of all sorts much as sailors do. When I was sailing regularly, if it was foggy, or storming, we stayed in port. There are accounts aplenty of people waiting at the banks of a river for the water to recede so that they finally could cross. I suspect patience was a virtue for them, too.

  16. I have never had the pleasure of experiencing a flood. If I had a bucket list, which I don’t, it would never make it there either. It’s always better to see pictures, stories, etc. about floods. I am so thankful for where I live, where I can experience earthquakes (my city is located on a fault, we are in a valley,and that means sinkholes. Just the past week, a huge sinkhole appeared in the downtown core. This particular area is under A LOT of construction( will be until 2018). Thankfully, no one was hurt, it only took an empty van. They were quick to turn off the gas manes, so there were no explosions – just a road to repair, which often, it is joked that summer( in my city) is actually construction season. But no floods, which I know from all the pictures, media can and will cause a lot of havoc. A lot of rebuilding in left in its wake.

    1. I had to smile at your phrase — the “construction season.” It occurs to me that the other side of that coin is a season without construction, and around here, that sounds pretty good. I try and exercise patience, and check the roads before I travel, but it doesn’t always end well, since construction sites can pop up overnight, like mushrooms.

      Sinkholes are something I never think about. I can’t remember even hearing about one in our area, although I know Florida is prone to them. I think in Florida it’s the composition of their bedrock that’s the reason. In any event, that’s a good addition to the list of naturally occurring events that can make life difficult. It seems as though every place has its specialty: tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, avalanches — or sinkholes. The thought of the earth just opening up and swallowing a van is amazing to me.

  17. And Bailey’s Prairie is flooded. San Leon oystermen are talking about the fresh water impact. The land and nature will do as it will. Bottom land is always nice to own, but the old farmers said to never build there and have a dry hill available to drive the cattle to when necessary. Some things are worth remembering even if it doesn’t make sense at the time?

    I won’t camp in a canyon either. We used to camp out all summer as kids as it cost less than staying home. One state canyon was so pretty and cool, but after a day of exploring, dad made us pack and leave. That night a flood came through and people had to scramble up cliffs. Not everyone made it.

    My mom despaired of me being so grubby and outside – the lady not getting dirty thing – but like your dad there are things you only learn by being outside – some of them can save your life.

    Enjoy the lack of internet! A luxury of peace and space to breath!

    1. It’s not just the oystermen who’ve been fussing about all that fresh water. I’ve lost track of the floods, but I think it was after this year’s Memorial Day washout that I heard some fishing guides laughing about the guys catching catfish down at the jetties. True? I can’t be sure, but it’s logical enough.

      Speaking of cattle, you should have seen the flocks of cattle egrets the day we were out and about. We finally decided that driving the cattle to higher ground occasioned the movement of the birds. Yesterday, there was so much standing water the herons and other egrets were just as thick.

      The one place I didn’t get to this weekend was Garner State Park. It was a little far afield, since we wanted to prowl around Vanderpool and Leaky, but I’ll bet the Frio was gorgeous. I did happen onto something interesting when I stopped at William’s Paradise Cemetery, just north of El Campo off 71. A woman who lives next to it told me it was an all-black cemetery, but when I looked it up online, I noticed several Kuykendalls buried there. Some of the Kuykendall clan who were related to members of the Old Three Hundred are buried in the Hawley Cemetery near Blessing. I couldn’t help wondering if the black Kuykendalls might have taken the name of the white Kuykendalls, back in the plantation days.

      Of course, since I was minus internet access, I was forced to talk to the woman who lived next to the cemetery. In the process, I learned several interesting things, including where to buy Watusi cattle.

      1. One of the best parts about El Campo is the people. Taking the family served/farm/plantation owner’s name was fairly typical in East Texas. (traveling the land uncovers so many stories – cool)
        Ah, it is Garner State Park time…hmmm…going after that song now.

  18. The Brazos is one heck of a river and supplies the water to several lakes here in Texas. It flows through part of my town and currently it is running high and mighty. Your photos are great to accompany your words.

    1. I knew about the Brazos’s length, but I’d never taken a good look at its headwaters. It would be fun to head up to where it begins, and see it there. I’ve walked across the Mississippi in Minnesota — why not the Brazos?

      One of the early folks songs I learned from Alan Lomax was “Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos.” It was a prison work song — the prisoners cut cane along the river, back in the day. Ironically, three of the prisons in the area had to be evacuated during this last flood. I couldn’t help laughing when I looked up a couple of the units online, to see how many people were housed in each of them — I discovered there are Google reviews. It never would have occurred to me to rate a prison, but I don’t even rate Amazon purchases, so there’s that.

  19. Sometimes I think the ancient Egyptians are the only world civilization who who understood how to live on the banks of a river. They never tried to contain their river with dams and levees. They knew it was going to flood, they were prepared for it, made provisions to deal with it, and even saw it as a blessing. It’s when we try to control nature that we get into trouble every time. The biggest lesson western civilization has never learned is how to live in harmony with nature.

    Hopefully, the flood waters will recede soon and those affected by the flooding can get back to their lives. My cousin had the foresight to build her house on a hill.

    1. I still had to detour when I came home yesterday, but 35 is open now. There’s some water in the outside lanes, but at least people who live along the river can get from place to place without having to drive those extra miles.

      Have you read John M. Barry’s “Rising Tide”? It’s one of the best books written about the Mississippi (particularly the 1927 flood) and it certainly shines a light on the problems that accompany trying to control nature. Perhaps even better is a chapter from John McPhee’s book, “The Control of Nature.’ Titled “Atchafalaya,” it’s available online — here. It’s one of those that’s become a regular read: partly because of the subject matter, and partly because McPhee’s writing makes me swoon.

    1. I’d never heard of a braided river. When I read the page you linked, this sentence caught my attention: “Channels move sideways via differential velocity: On the outside of a curve, deeper, swift water picks up sediment (usually gravel or larger stones), which is re-deposited in slow-moving water on the inside of a bend.”

      The action may not be identical, but the description reminds me of what I’ve read about the formation of oxbow lakes. Many oxbows have formed along the length of the Mississippi, particularly in its lower reaches.

      The descriptions of the Nile in Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet” are varied: lush here, harsh and crackling there. I suppose the differences are linked to the seasons. I need to go back and re-read with the river in mind.

      I was unsure how common floods are for you. From what I just read, the answer is: common, and current. It seems there’s been flooding there quite recently. I hope it stays well away from you!

  20. There is power in a rampaging river that can draw as well as repel. Even our quiet Applegate can rage when the conditions are right, adding spice to rainy days. We are perched high above it, beyond its most towering floods. So we can appreciate its power without fearing its might. But I always respect it, and feel for those who have chosen to settle on its banks, desiring its calm coolness on hot summer days. Enjoyed your photos and writing, Linda. Those cowboys crossing must have been riding so closely together for safety. –Curt

    1. I wish I knew who took that photo of the cowboys, Curt. It was passed on to me by a friend who’d found it on social media, but no matter how we searched — even using Tineye — we couldn’t find the source. I don’t know a thing about fording rivers on horseback, but it certainly does look as though they’re in an intentional formation, doesn’t it?

      During the summer, our hill country rivers are magnets for people wanting to cool off: particularly families, tubers and kayakers. Those rivers aren’t like the Brazos or San Bernard: muddy, and truly unappealing for water sports. They’re limestone bedded, cool or cold, and in the summer fairly lazy in their flow. Perfect.

      We have our river-dwellers, too, a group that simply can’t give up their fish camps, vacation cottages, second homes, first homes, or simple bits of land. The rivers rise; the people leave (or not); they come back. Some families have been coming back for generations.

      1. Peggy is very much a water-type, Linda. Her buy in for where we live was on the basis that it has a beautiful river flowing through the front. Mine was the national forest that abuts our back property line. We are far enough out in the woods that the property didn’t cost an arm and a leg, but close enough for shopping and culture. In other words, we lucked out. I figure by the time we reach the age we can’t drive, a self-driving car will take us where we need to go. :) –Curt

  21. I have comfort in knowing your post will supply interesting information. Whether it is history or current topics or combination of the two. Enjoyed your Haiku interspersed through out with accompanying photos. We have rising waterways, and road closures. Since water is traveling from the North, the Emergency management cannot let out any water from the dam … yet! A few days of above 90 and sunny skies should assist the situation. Have a great weekend! ♡♡♡

    1. I hope things have eased up in your area, Becca. It’s been quite a spring and early summer, hasn’t it? In another two months we could be back in drought (that’s Texas, after all), but for now, things are looking good.

      I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a lush spring, particulary in the hill country. I even saw ferns growing among the rock cliffs alongside the roads. I can’t remember ever seeing ferns along the highway — but Kerr County, which usually has about 12″ of rain by this time of year, has had 26″ or so. That could explain it!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the combination of photos, haiku, and such. Sometimes, it seems as though a “mixed approach” is the best way to communicate such a complex event as a flood.

  22. I’ve never experienced a true flood – seems odd, since I’ve always lived near lots of lakes and rivers. It’s one experience I’ll be glad to do without. (John Barry’s Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America was one of the best books I’ve ever read, but it gave me nightmares.) May your beloved Brazos tuck itself back into its banks soon.

    1. I mentioned “Rising Tide’ to WOL, up above. I’m glad to know you’ve read it, too, and appreciated it.

      When I went with a friend to the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, MS, we stopped in Bolivar County and talked with an older black man who was tending his roses. As it turned out, his grandfather was at the levee the night the river broke through. He told us a few stories, and I have a feeling if we were still there, he’d still be talking.

      Now that I think about it, the river was high then, too. It wasn’t bad — we were able to drive the levees — but it was flowing fast, and it wasn’t hard to imagine what it could do under the worst of circumstances. On the other hand, we didn’t think too much about that sort of thing. We were too busy admiring the red clover and white wisteria draped through the trees.

      1. That book moved me deeply, and taught me a lot. I’m sorry I didn’t read through all the comments above – sometimes I do, and it’s always rewarding. You have an extraordinary group of followers. I’ve been away for a bit – must catch up. Sometimes I think about what might happen if people as far apart – and yet not so far apart – as we are could truly show each other our home grounds.

          1. Why on earth are we up at this hour catching up with these things??? Miss Sadie and the Cowboy are both gray-muzzled, and I am gone all wrinkly. How do these atrocities happen? All of it is a great mystery. Fortunately, I am fond of mysteries.

    1. It’s funny — when I think of you, and floods I still think about the Atchafalaya. In fact, I may even revive one of my Atchafalaya flood posts. I just looked at it, and was a little startled to see the 2011 date. I knew it’s been that long of course, but still: tempus fidgets, as my great-aunt used to say.

      I didn’t keep the photos — they just didn’t capture what I’d hoped — but I did smile as I was walking some ditches last weekend. The rushing water had laid the grasses flat and scoured away the flowers: nothing much was left but a few deer bones and muddy grass. On the other hand, there already were gaillardia and cowpen daisy growing and blooming in the muck. It doesn’t take long for recovery to begin.

  23. There is indeed a fascination and beauty about a river, whether it is at flood stage, a comfortable early summer flow or in its pools in late autumn. The Brazos must be a beauty at all those times and romantic as well throughout its history.

    1. I sometimes forget how pretty the Brazos can be, simply because I live at the end of its extraordinarily long length. By the time it gets here, it slows and spreads like the coastal plain, and is remarkable mostly for the amount of silt it carries.

      But, history? Oh, my. It’s been the site of plantations. Steamboats plied its waters, and sank beneath them. Towns are named after the people who lived along its banks. It’s a wonderful river — even if it isn’t the most photogenic in the world.

  24. I like the second Haiku and its accompanying photo best. The image of the river being composed by stitches, like a sweater or such, appeals to me. It also teases out the mystery of the way water seems to work. I was hiking just Friday, and on the path finding tiny drizzles of water, that connected and so on. I sometimes am astounded by the very idea of a river. Where does all this water come from? I know the science of it, in pieces, but the execution still stops me in my tracks.

    1. One of my favorite photos from my childhood shows me with a cousin, stepping across the beginning of the Mississippi. After that experience, every time we crossed the Mississippi on our way to visit relatives in Illinois, I marveled at its size. By the time I finally saw its delta in Louisiana — well, it was amazing.

      I’ll bet you’d like one of my favorite water songs, by Holly Near. She captures so well the beauty and mystery of seeing “Water Come Down.”

  25. We are fortunate in New England to experience natural disaster infrequently. Mostly it will be the tail end of an expiring hurricane or, rarely, a tornado such as one which tore apart a few local towns 5 years ago. I am impressed with the resilience folks along the Gulf Coast have in dealing with the hurricanes and now some flooding.
    Nature is a powerful force and we have to adapt and learn to live with whatever is thrown at us. There certainly is no controlling that force in whatever form it takes.
    I hope recovery is not long for your neighbors and that you are able to begin to enjoy some of your favorite locations again.
    I like your shot of the rain drops landing on the river. Nice.

    1. I thought the raindrops on the river were nice, too, but I brought back something just for you — a photo of the “waterfall” at a low water crossing I wasn’t willing to cross. It’s amazing how much difference a nice limestone creekbed can make in terms of the water’s attractiveness. Later this summer, when the flow’s lessened, the pools will be beautiful blues and greens.

      I tend to think of New England as a pretty stormy place. I suppose that’s because of all the nor’easters — those tail ends you mentioned. Out of curiosity, I took a look at the hurricane list, and discovered your last land-falling hurricane was in 1991. It was named Bob, for heaven’s sakes. “Bob” just doesn’t seem quite right for a hurricane, but maybe the name has more cachet up there. Some meteorologists here have banded together to try and persuade the naming board to use “Bubba.” If it made land in Texas, it would be perfect.

      1. I like the parallel composition with the fallen tree. I hope you will share an image or two later in the season when the color returns to the pools. Your mention of the pools which are currently (!) overwhelmed with the flooding reminded me one of my maps of the Quabbin Reservoir which shows where many of the former ponds are now beneath the waters.

        Yes, we do get our share of Nor’easters, but they are usually relatively minor and especially so compared to what TX sees annually. We did have one incredible flood in 1927 that overwhelmed the dams and destroyed many of the towns surrounding the Connecticut River through Vermont and Massachusetts.

        1. This is really, really interesting. The great Mississippi flood that’s the subject of John Barry’s “Rising Tide” took place in April, 1927. The flood you referenced (which I wasn’t aware of) took place in November of that same year. Obviously, they weren’t related in terms of a specific weather system, but I can’t help wondering if there was something in the overall conditions that helped to create both events. Someone, somewhere, has explored that, and I believe I’ll go looking for their conclusions.

  26. Wow — the photos are great and certainly help detail the flooding. I think water is one of the worst — and I’ve really felt for those of you in TX with all the flooding. I admire those who live in the hurricane and storm belts like you, others in FL and up the coast. It’s completely frightening.

    Closest I’ve had to flooding in my house was a sewer backup of five inches. Ugly and lots of destruction but life went on and the rest undamaged. This just freaks me out.

    Thanks for sharing the history and stories along with it all. Off to hurricane territory — Myrtle Beach — today. I hope we don’t see one.

    1. If I had a choice (which we sometimes don’t) I’d certainly take a flood like this, or a hurricane, over a tornado. Water disasters are nerve-wracking and destructive, but you can prepare for them. There’s time to move away from the threat. Flash flooding is a little different, but even then there’s usually time to find your common sense and put it to use. Tornados? Spare me.

      It’s a shame you’re getting rain there, but it seems you’ll miss out on any newsworthy weather. Enjoy it all. I hope we’ll get a report. I have this thing about Myrtle Beach. I know myrtle is a plant, but I can’t help feeling the town was named after someone’s great-great-grandmother.

  27. Rivers really are one of nature’s elemental forces. In spate, magnificent to watch, but merciless of anything and anyone in their path. Each day I walk through woodland close to a little brook – currently despite episodes of torrential rain it is a quiet little stream. Muted, tamed and peaceful. Hard to comprehend how in winter it became a furious, unstoppable torrent – inundating the wood and carrying all before it.

    1. It’s true that the natural world is mutable — a reality not always appreciated by people who value predictability and control. I have a friend who seems to take every day that’s too hot (or wet, or cold, or humid) as a personal affront. It’s funny, and just a tiny bit sad, since she never seems to find a day that suits her.

      The beauty of it, of course, is that no day is precisely like any other. The sea sparkles differently today, just as the reflections in the building glass will change tomorrow. In flood, the brook shows a different face: perhaps disconcerting, but still worth observing.

  28. I’ve never lived anywhere that had a danger of flooding. Oh sure, I’ve lived near rivers, but always on the high ground – & not near enough that a flood would inconvenience me. I guess I’m lucky, but there’s a wonder in living near the water, even if it might be dangerous.

    1. That sounds like smart planning to me, Dana — close enough to the water to enjoy it, but not so close that it can cause problems.

      On the other hand, if someone were to give me a place on a river or beach, I wouldn’t say no. I’m more ambivalent about lakes — they just don’t appeal in the same way — but you’re right that there is wonder in being near any water.

      1. You might feel less ambivalent—or not at all ambivalent—about a lake the size of Lake Michigan, which had waves and swells on it yesterday that could have passed for those of an ocean.

        1. Actually, it’s not the size that makes lakes seem less attractive to me. Irrational as it is, land-locked lakes make me feel claustrophobic. A bay, a bayou, or a river can take you somewhere: quite often to the ocean. Once there, a new port or a new continent is only a decision away.

          That’s why I don’t think of the Great Lakes in quite the same way as I think of various inland lakes I’ve known. They’re not land-locked, as there are three routes to the ocean from them: the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Erie Canal (including the Trent-Severn Waterway, Welland and Oswego Canals), and the Mississippi.

          I’d love to do even part of what cruisers call “the Great Loop.” If you left southern Lake Michigan via the Chicago River, you’d soon meet the Des Plaines. Eventually, the Illinois River would dump you into the Mississippi north of St. Louis, Missouri. You could go up the Ohio River near Cairo, Illinois, join the Tennessee River, and follow the very popular Ten-Tom (Tennessee-Tombigbee) Waterway to Mobile, Alabama. Or, you could stay on the Mississippi past Memphis and Greenville, and end up in New Orleans.

          This video shows some of what it would be like to travel from Chicago to Mobile. I’m certain the section from 3:10 to about 3:28 is the Mississippi Palisades in northern Illinois: one of my favorite midwestern spots.

  29. Your writing is very moving. A flooding river is a powerful and destructive force, how awful for all those involved. I do hope people pick up the pieces and try to return to normal as soon as possible.xxx

    1. The good news is that the roads are open now, and the mandatory evacuations have been lifted. What the land looks like, and how much damage there is, are different issues.

      On the other hand, here’s a bit of news that will warm your heart. Even in the midst of such chaos, a tiny bird was given shelter. And yesterday, I watched a man stop to move a turtle off the highway. It’s wonderful to see people taking time not only for other people, but for the smallest creatures, too.

  30. I heard something of the floods while I was out of town. Reading your words of crossing a scary river at age five brings that fear and sense of helplessness in the face of that relentlessly rising water.

    1. It was quite an experience. I wrote about that Kansas City flood specifically — and its portrayal by artist Thomas Benton — here. I don’t think I’ll re-post it, but I enjoyed re-reading it, particularly for its reminders of Benton.

  31. From a nature point of view, flooding is natural and Mother Nature’s way of rejuvenate. But with our man made construction and modern life, flooding means destruction. Your perspective is really interesting as you can make threads back in time when you were only five. The words of T.S. Eliot and Nora Sweetland adds depth to this interesting post.

    1. One of my favorite quotations from Flannery O’Connor is, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” The longer I live, the more true that seems. I learned all I needed to know about floods when I was five. Since then, every additional flood has been a variation on a theme.

      Interestingly, I bumped into a certain downstream resentment during this last flood: a resentment I’ve read about in the past, but never heard directly expressed.

      Many of the lakes in Texas have been formed by damming our rivers: that man-made construction you mentioned. Over the past weeks, releases from those dams increased flooding along several rivers. It was necessary — no one wants the disaster of a dam failure. But I heard plenty about the state’s “preference” for rich recreationalists over the ranchers and farmers below the dams. I suspect those comments were born of frustration and fear as much as anything, but it certainly points to a need for more than scientific information when trying to manage these events.

        1. Under normal conditions, they do just that. The lakes created by the dams provide opportunities for recreation, drinking water for urban areas, and so on. But, like anything, dams have their limits. This year, the amount of water being released from one reached about 80,000 cubic feet per second — as I recall, a record release for the dam. Balancing the need for release with the inevitable consequences for those downstream no doubt kept an engineer or two awake some nights.

  32. Oh, how we all love and sometimes fear our rivers, no matter where we live on this amazing planet. The photos in this essay were enhanced so beautifully by the added poetry. TS Eliot has long been a favourite and Nora Sweetland introduced another different but fascinating facet of the river. With floods and droughts a plenty here in Australia, we know the many moods of our rivers very well.

    1. That flood/drought cycle is a natural part of our life, too. Five years ago, we were suffering a terrible drought. Today, the rains have come, and lakes and reservoirs across the state are refilling: to everyone’s relief.

      One of the remarkable quirks of Texas is that, being such a large state, we can contain every sort of weather on the same day. Even as the last of the flooded roads opened in my area, one of our primary roads in the Panhandle was closed because of an accident caused by this dust storm. I suspect the scene shown in the photo will seem familiar to you.

    1. The best thing about that name for the Brazos is that no one seems quite sure which of several explanations is the “right” one. In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter.

      What does intrigue me is what a reversal it represented to a sailor’s usual way of looking at things. Usually, it’s the sight of land that brings relief. In this case, it was the sight of muddy water: although I suppose that muddy water could be considered land-held-in-suspension.

    1. Many thanks, Bob. Photographing a river in flood is a bit like photographing a cormorant. It may not be the “prettiest” subject, but it’s still interesting, and can even be appealing.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Kayti — and we’re all glad that you’re still reading! The good news is that life along the river has become less of an immediate crisis, although there still is an immense amount of work and healing to be done.

      Now, Brazoria County is posting about ways to avoid post-flood scams — a sure sign of recovery in process — and I just looked to see what their last tweet was about. Lo and behold, it was an invitation to come and celebrate the Brazoria County Library Systems 75th birthday!

    1. Floods are not the only scary thing, as you so well know. I hope you can take solace in nature: sunrise, sunset, shepherds, and more. It will be a hard time for your country now, but there are better times ahead. Love, Linda

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