The Day The River Stood Still

The continuing discoveries of a 21st century artist and naturalist …

 We had a traffic jam this morning in front of our house  – not on the road – on the river.
Our home faces part of the North Fork of the New River which has gathered more ice this winter than in any of my five winters here.  Of course I’ve seen rivers, even large lakes, freeze, but I never lived with one and watched its gradual change from smooth and rippling to solid and silent.
As the banks reached out to each other with their icy grasping, they resembled a highway with one lane closed as traffic tries to merge – stopping instead on ramps and side lanes.  The river eventually came to a complete standstill with pile-ups gradually increasing.
My gut assessment was that this phenomenon was unusual – and not just to me.  My husband, Jim, reminded me of a local man telling us that when he was in high school, many years ago, people drove cars on the river.  The first winter I was here Jim took me down to see the completely frozen South Fork of the New River.  The unique nature of this event on ‘our’ river was confirmed when I went to the USGS site to check on the river’s discharge rate.  It seems today the South Fork, where discharge rates are measured, set a new record.  The record minimum discharge rate of 1989 was 157 cubic feet per second.  Today’s rate at 10:30 a.m. was 96 cfps and I suppose it may go even lower as the wind chills stay near zero all day.
The 1912 Soil Survey of Ashe County established its average pool depths at around 4 feet during the summer months so freezing wouldn’t seem to be so rare.   And since this river existed before the old, rolling Appalachian mountains formed, I’m sure it’s seen more than it’s share of winter freezes.  This event is only unusual for me as I watch it unfold, take note of the changes, and mark it in my personal history.
If this continues we may be able to walk to the other bank of the river one day soon.



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