Thursday, March 15, 2007

The river spirit is not amused

As I write this, I'm sitting in a window seat at Capitol Grounds in Montpelier. Next to me is the Winooski River, which is rising by the hour. The city is on official "flood watch." There are sandbags stacked along the sidewalk in front of the storefronts, and some streets are closed so that the big trucks hauling more sandbags can get around. The newspaper says the next 18 hours are critical.

As I sit here drinking my cafe au lait and tapping away, people keep coming up to peer nervously over my shoulder at the river. "It's risen a couple of inches since I've been here," one man says. "Look, I could see the dirt at the bottom of that bank, but now it's covered up. Now there's only six feet clear under the bridge." The young baristas are all rooting for a flood so they can go home and get out of work. They keep popping out from the kitchen door like prairie dogs and making disgusted comments about how slowly the waters are rising. Out the window, I watch as people walking over the bridge each stop and look speculatively down at the brown, swollen river. Everyone stops and looks.

Yesterday they held a ritual ceremony on the riverbank to direct energies toward promoting "a gentle thaw." People made offerings to the river spirit. I heard about this, and was intrigued. I asked one of the organizers, a healer who has office space right next door to my yoga studio, what kind of offerings they would be making. She considered this question for a moment. "It could be anything that's really special to you, anything you think would please the river spirit," she said serenely. "A bead you made, maybe... or a cookie." A cookie. Of course. You've got to love Montpelier. There really is no place like it.

Their cookies and beads may not have been enough; The river spirit still seems uneasy. The water level has risen a couple of inches since I've been here. Now it's covering the bottom of a funny-shaped paint mark on the riverbed wall that I've been keeping my eye on. The cafe has emptied out, and I wonder what I'm still doing here, braving it out. Maybe it's time to go.

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