The Driftless, where we live, is an ancient, fragile place. Missed by the many glaciers that rounded the rocks and leveled the mountains that once covered much of the state, The Driftless stands much as it did before the ice age. Geologically anyway. We are surrounded by eroded mountains, the Ocooch Mountains, and crystal-studded rocks line every creek. There are sinkholes and caves peppering the land. Beneath the city of Viroqua lies a vast cave, it's open mouth standing in a park in the center of town.
The earth here is delicate.
The Driftless region flooded once in the 1950's. And once more in the 1970's. All the old timers remember them both in surprising details. But In the past five years the 100 year floods have come annually. Each year since we arrived in the Driftless the floods have raced down these creeks each summer, carving new paths in the hillsides and stranding many of our friends in their country homes.
Because of the nature of the landscape each flood changes what we see in many of our favorite places. The swimming hole pictured above did not exist until two weeks ago. The latest flood arrived in the night. It was a Sunday, two weeks ago. And my friend who lives on this creek woke in the middle of the night to a specific sound of rain on roof that only means a flood. She jumped out of bed and took care of what she could, and then surrendered to the inevitable. The rains would fall. By morning her driveway bridge over the creek (normally 10+ feet above the water) was submerged, again, a huge tree wedged between its supports, and the raging waters carved out this former hillside into a 12 foot rock wall.
Each summer we find a new place to swim. The old beaches are washed away by the latest flood, and new beaches appear when the water goes down. This year we will swim here week after week. The water is clean and icy cold, the floor is bedrock, and the sand it gold.
In my mind it is the counter-point to each flood. We go back to the creeks. We baptise ourselves in the Driftless. We step into that once wild and dangerous water – our expression of trust. We make peace again.
We don't bring many toys to the river because we don't need them. There are rocks. Crystals. Stick boats. So we get to know the rivers and creeks again, in their new context and we play. We make castles. Dams. Harbors. And at the end of the day, tired and cool despite the 100 F temperatures we say goodbye and hope that our newly discovered beaches will last until the end of summer.