The Land Informs

In New England in the spring of 2006 it started raining and never stopped. The rivers soon overflowed their banks, creating lakes where there was once roads, parking lots and lawns. The Spicket River closed large sections of Salem, New Hampshire and downstream in Methuen and Lawrence, Massachusetts. Ponds too were overflowing, and dams were reaching a breaking point.

It was at this point that officials in my town decided it was best to release the floodgates on the dam on a pond not far from me. Releasing the water would immediately relieve the pressure on the earthwork holding back the flood waters, which may have been catastrophic had it burst. I live downstream of this dam. When the flood waters were released the stream quickly became a churning serpent racing downhill, picking up momentum in a race to the Spicket River. It reached its first choke point at a culvert up the hill on my street, filled rapidly at this new dam and flowed sideways across a neighbor’s lawn onto the street, which became a riverbed. The crest on the road soon channeled this river onto the lawns of each neighbor in succession until it reached mine.

When we built this house in 1999 I planted a rugosa rose at the end of the driveway. In seven years it had filled into a fragrant shrub occupying a challenging spot where not much else would grow. It served as the perfect dam for the raging white water racing to meet it. The water swirled around the shrub creating an eddy, which quickly started working on the driveway before continuing on to the end of the street into Hog Hill Brook, which in turn flowed to the Spicket River, then the Merrimack River and finally to the Atlantic Ocean.

When the rains stopped and the waters receded, a chunk of the driveway was gone. The street fared worse, with long sections of asphalt peeled away. And the bridges downstream still worse than that. But the houses were spared and nobody died, so all told it could have been much worse. As events go it was memorable for those who witnessed it, a triviality to those who hear the stories of that day.

Memories fade, people move away. but the land often informs if you pay attention. Today that resilient rugosa rose still stands watch at the end of the driveway. The street was repaired and you can still see those patchwork repairs as you walk up the hill, tracking the path of the water that day. The town put in a larger culvert and dumped a pile of dirt leading to it to channel future floods better. My neighbor plants tomatoes on top of it. He’s moving soon, another memory of that day moving away from the site. There are now three bridges dated 2006 or 2007 spanning the Hogs Hill Brook and the Spicket River that betray what happened that spring. The driveway is patched but has never been quite the same. When I walk on the beach near the mouth of the Merrimack River I wonder sometimes if I’m walking on bits of that driveway mixed in with the sand, reunited once again with my feet.

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