Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
It’s been raining nonstop here in lovely Northern California for what seems like the last two weeks, so yesterday my wife and I and our trusty pooch just had to get out for a walk along the American River. It was scheduled to start raining again at 9:30 am, forcing us out of the house at 7:30, but we found the air to be strangely warm and milky for that hour. As we drove from beautiful downtown Cool toward the confluence of the North and Middle Forks, we saw ghosts of fog hanging in the canyon’s creases, nearly obscuring the Foresthill Bridge when we glimpsed it through the trees.
When we got down to the trailhead, we found the river to be even higher than it was a couple of weeks ago, so high that the beaches and small islands at the confluence were completely covered and so was the monument of rocks in the middle of the river that form some impressive rapids under normal conditions. No rapids now. Just a wide, brown highway of water rolling along at about forty miles an hour. Huge logs that must have gotten levitated way upstream rumbled past like Styrofoam — they had to weigh at least a thousand pounds, but the river had no problem giving them the ride. Where smaller, spindlier trees had been growing along the banks were now just a few desperate fingers protruding from the water, only a matter of time before the slim trunks would be uprooted and shipped downriver on the express.
And the noise too. But it’s a good noise, the sound a rushing river makes, like a combination of wind, train, plane, the roar of a fire, and the whisper inside your own head. We walked to the path that we usually take down to the water, but it was cut off by the flow only ten feet from the top. Where I usually skip a few rocks across the calm surface was deep under all that flowing tonnage. The dog stood there looking like we were playing a trick on him.
Other years have had higher water there, we understand, including ‘97, and back in ’64 the river actually overwhelmed the bridge that was there at the time and they had to build the present one. A little further along is the No Hands Bridge which was built in 1912, I think, but it’s had no problem surviving these things. When you walk across it you feel like you’re flying over the river.
It started to rain on us before the halfway point. We decided to keep going, and went all the way to a spot where you can stand in a wide green meadow that overlooks the water. There we saw some rocks on one side of the river that had to have been as big as buses, but the water crashed and overwhelmed them, producing white spray all around and sounding like tympani. That part of the canyon, with tall green walls on each side and the foggy mist hanging in the air, looked like those Japanese ink paintings, making us the little figures that are sometimes included to show the scale. Even though it was raining harder now, we didn’t mind.
On the way back we kept saying it was worth it, getting wet, to be out there to see the river this way. No wind, so we weren’t getting overly soaked. The air still had that misty warmth, and all the rivulets we saw pouring down the hillsides looked like milk streams pouring their way into the chocolate river. Rain pings in the puddles made it look like it was coming down a lot harder than it felt.
It rained the rest of the day. Today too. With some luck, we’ll see the sun tomorrow.
(Earlier photo removed at photographer’s request.)