The afternoon rain continued into the evening and by the morning the flood was complete. The water came not in a surge, or a rapidly rising wave, but imperceptibly, rising as if from below, filling the valley, first taking away the streets and the curbs nearest the lower bridge; then the steps on all the buildings on the two bottom blocks of Main Street and the picnic tables in the park near the lower bridge. Eventually the water crossed the highway coming into town from the west, from Mineral Point, and the only highway access from then on was to the north, on the road that climbs out of the valley and runs along the hill tops to New Glarus.
As the water rose, the bottom of everything within five hundred feet of the river was submerged in water, the world in Darlington appeared shorter, abbreviated from the bottom up. The trees, buildings, and whatever cars were not moved appear to be moored, floating and temporarily held in place by roots, foundations, and wheels that could be assumed but not seen beneath the car. A seeming lake formed, and a town that day before was about buying paint at Osterday’s Hardware Store and about breakfast at the Corner Cafe and conversations that formed and broke apart on street corners had overnight become a photograph, something to be looked at from a safe distance–the target of pointing fingers by those standing on the streets not yet submerged.
But if the part of the valley near the river appeared shortened, submerged up to its knees and sometimes waist in water, the illusion of a lake was interrupted by debris passing across the water–plastic bottles, pieces of wood from construction sites, discarded clothing, and colored objects too affected by the water to identify; but even more than the human debris were the discards from the river itself–tree branches that turned about in the current, clumps of tall grass floating like little islands, and occassionally a small carcass that had been trapped in backwaters, all of it the river’s cleansing of itself, rinsing away everything that had accumulated since the last flood, sending downrivereverything that no longer belonged; and on this day, that included Nelson’s Carnival.