North of town, in the hills above Calamine, three streams come together to form a river that moves south, hemmed in at first by the corridor of hills it passes by; then, the valley opens up, fanning into a flood plain on which the town’s earliest buildings were built. When the river is at its normal level, the water runs along a river bank that is wooded by pin oaks and willows, girdled by cattails and cardinal flowers, and crowded with buttonbush and wood nettles.
When the water rises in the spring, the river comes out of its channel and spreads across the floodplain. The car lot on the first block of main street moves its inventory to the high school parking lot overlooking the valley; the lumber yard moves its table saws to the second floor, and the bars on the bottom half of block of Main Street offer to ferry patrons via rowboats from dry land to a bar stool and back again .
During the high water, the dense vegetation on the river bank filters out the flood water, catching plastic bags, aluminum cans, tires, clothing, and carp that sought shallow water for food only to be stranded in shrinking pools when the water lowered. After the flood, boys would hunt the carp with spears, and a civic organization would clean the refuse away.
When the town found the money to create a camp ground along the river and laid out a walking trail, the vegetation was cleared way, and the first flood came into town as if a dam had burst, carrying the trash with it. A few people wondered then if it had been wise to cut away the vegetation along the river, but no one actually complained. Everything changes.