Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A river runs through it.

Last evening, after Mrs. RWP and I had finished eating our meal -- kielbasa, buttered noodles, and a vegetable medley of broccoli florets, baby carrots, and snow peas, as I recall -- we sat through Wheel of Fortune with Pat Sajak and Vanna White on the telly, and had just begun watching Jeopardy with Alex Trebek when all of a sudden the skies grew dark and the winds increased -- the natives around here nod knowingly at such times and say, “It’s comin’ up a cloud and it’s fixin’ to rain” -- and a tremendous amount of rain fell in a very short period of time. The wind blew every which way. It wasn’t quite Hurricane Ivan, but almost. I thought of part of an old vaudeville routine: “The lightning flashed, the thunder roared, and the rain came down in sheets.” (Those of you who know the skit are now laughing and clapping appreciatively, and those of you who don’t know the skit (a) are scratching your heads, (b) have quizzical expressions on your faces, and (c) are thinking old rhymeswithplague may finally have gone off his rocker. Fat chance.)

At the kitchen window, I could see water gushing out at a rapid rate from the downspout at the corner of the house, and also from two drainpipes that the developers of our neighborhood thoughtfully installed at the base of the hill next door. Right on schedule, our old friend the river began to form in the back yard. Let me explain.

When we bought our house six years ago our lot was at the end of Phase 1 of our subdivision and there was nothing behind us but a field of wildflowers that stretched away into the distance, rising slowly all the way to the edge of the development property some distance away. I called our place “Little House on the Prairie.” Because we live in the foothills of the southern Appalachian range, there isn’t a lot of flat land hereabouts. Our subdivision is built on several hills and the homes march down their slopes in a series of terraced lots on several streets.

When Phase 2 of the subdivision began, the developers brought in big earth-moving equipment and trucks full of new dirt and began moving it around right behind our house. I began to call our place “Little House by a Strip Mine.” Eventually the developers created a large, long, flat-topped hill behind our house and erected several houses on a new street behind us. The foundation of every house on the new street is several feet above our roofline. After the houses were built and vegetation began to cover the hillside, for a while the people on our street and the people on the new street sat on their respective patios and looked up and down at one another, but desire for privacy prevailed and tall wooden fences now surround most of the houses behind us. All in all, it turned out not to be so bad, except that I do miss seeing the lovely sloping field of wildflowers that we used to enjoy.

Anyhoo, since the street behind us is elevated, the runoff water from the storm drains has to go somewhere, and where it goes is out two drainpipes, one in our side yard and one in our back yard. When the occasional monsoon rolls through north Georgia, a river runs through our back yard, down the hill through several more back yards, and eventually into what the developers call “a retention pond” at the bottom of the hill. Every yard on our street slopes upward on one side of the house and downward on the other side of the house, giving the whole neighborhood a sort of waterfall appearance to people driving cars up and down (literally) the street. The side yards are landscaped with pine trees, cedars, cypresses, ivy, various ground covers, juniper bushes, several kinds of flowering shrubs, and, in some cases, retaining walls. Even though the houses are fairly close together, the waterfall effect of the different lot elevations provides each home with a measure of privacy.

When we receive a lot of rain in a short period of time (for example, yesterday, when the rain gauge on my patio contained almost two inches of rain in less than half an hour), the water from the side yard drainpipe turns into a moving stream that crosses my side yard, where it joins the outflow from the back yard drainpipe. Yesterday we watched the Ohio River formed by this convergence of the Monongahela and Allegheny drainpipes move across our yard, deepening as it went. Eventually a real waterfall spilled down the hill into my neighbor’s yard, and onward it went from yard to yard, until it reached the retention pond at the bottom of the hill, eight houses away.

This was no rivulet I’m talking about. In our yard, which is contoured nicely so that the water avoids the house, our river yesterday was easily six or eight feet wide and at least six inches deep, and it moved along at a pretty fast clip. In my crazier moments, I have thought about having a small footbridge built and perhaps a gazebo.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite this bad:

but I swear, on scout’s honor, I could hear Andy Williams singing “Moon River” in the distance.


  1. If it actually were that bad, you could sell tickets! Just think: white water rafting in your own subdivision!

  2. To the River Of Jordan our Saviour went one day
    And we read that John The Baptist met Him there
    And when John baptized Jesus in Jordan's rushing waters
    The mighty power of God filled the air

    I'm on my way to the River Of Jordan
    Gonna wade right in to the rushing waters
    I'm going down to the River Of Jordan
    And let the cool waters cleanse my soul

  3. Yikes. It doesn't sound like they engineered it very well for water runoff. Our subdivision was graded very carefully to keep that sort of thing from happening. (And homeowners who changed the grade of their yard without permission from the city get in trouble.)

    I admire the way you turn your river into a source of humor.

  4. Pat - Maybe I should sell tickets anyway...the money would come in handy during this little recession of ours, and the neighborhood kids would have something new to do.

    YP - From now on, I shall think of your song instead of Andy Williams and "Moon River" when our phenomenon occurs.

    Ruth - We have the D.R. Horton company and its local contractors to thank for our situation. Actually, I disagree with you about the engineering. They engineered it very well for water runoff, just not very well for any human beings who happen to live nearby. Short of installing underground pipe all the way to the retention pond, I don't know what else they could have done.

  5. How exciting! But sorry to hear about Andy Williams.
    I can hear Kipling reciting '...the Great Grey-Green Greasy Limpopo' when OUR river is in flood.

    PS I wrote "Leaf by Niggle" on the whiteboard in class but few have even noticed yet. I live in hope they will eventually raise their eyes from their canvasses.