Bundled in warm clothes, we breakfast along the American River enjoying a temporary parting of clouds after weeks of rain. We eat in silent reverence for the landscape we call home, absorbing the transformed land.
The river rose an estimated 15 feet, burying trees to their canopies, swallowing the island between its two forks, and marooning logs and entangling debris atop bushes. This spooky sea climbed up the bank towards our home.
Our resident Osprey flies by the first time this year. I exhale, relieved. I noted its absence and wondered if this unrecognizable river drove it away. I noted the unusually close proximity of the Red-tailed Hawk resting on our breakfast table, then the Cooper’s Hawk waiting on the nearby perch we mounted for passerines.
We talk about the ground dwelling creatures of the island and riparian corridor that were washed away. What happened to the coyote pack that ruled the riverbanks and met our gaze on frequent encounters? The beaver dam upstream has been swept away too. No wading birds, except a lone Great Egret braves the turbulence, standing upon a snarl of tree branches and roots in the middle of this sea, staring into the white-capped muddy current.
I want to interpret this as destruction, but nature has other ideas. The Great Blue Herons fly in on schedule and claim their nests in the rookery. Abundant Tree Swallows fly at sharp angles and dips. Winter’s diving ducks have repositioned themselves away from the swift current to feed, bobbing on the choppy surface between dives. The cottontails and quail moved out of the floodplain and into our hedges. Canada Geese settle onto the first land exposed as the river recedes. My husband spots a California sea lion upstream, chasing this year’s healthy run of fish more than 80 miles up the Delta.
It’s dusk. I’m out at the river again. I admire the silhouettes of the naked trees and the sky’s light that illuminates the river. I note the biorhythms of the natural world. I am awed and comforted by its ability to adapt and carry on.