What it left behind is a historical record of its own making strung so thick on some overhanging branches that what remains seems like rogue kudzu this far north in ice and snow, or maybe the handiwork of some horrifying variety of tent caterpillars whose DNA got tampered with. Right here, for instance, this shawl of detritus marks water level so far above the river that last May's flood is almost beyond imagination. Look for yourself.
On Memorial Day, 2013, the Floyd River rose thirteen feet above flood stage, as if some demonic, unseen force told it to take up its bed and walk. When it did, it left behind thousands of telling tufts of brome grass it had swept away somewhere upstream.
They're everywhere. You come up on them in the woods, hanging from branches like this, like scalps from ancient warfare, bundles of weeds wound so tightly that even gusty prairie winds can't untangle them. They resemble the shrunken heads of enemies mounted on posts outside castle fortifications.
They're foreign. They shouldn't be here, their bushyness bears no resemblance to the cottonwoods all around. They're aliens, remnants of water levels so high that nothing will move them save time itself. Passing seasons, I suppose, will wear away their tenacity, untangle them finally.
But I don't look for that to happen soon. They'll be here for a while. That flood reupholstered the landscape where I walk, erased trails, felled trees, and, on the south edge of the land within the big loop the Floyd makes just south and west of our place, added a spongy foot of tundra, deep as a mattress by way of a corn stubble tsunami swept from farmland upstream. It changed things.
And it left these scars hanging Absalom-like from trees on the banks, nature's way of remembering, of bearing witness to what was and what will, in all likelihood, be again. For a while at least, we'll see them all over, ghastly adornments of detritus, like the remarkable unkept hair of witches.
But you can't not look. They're story-tellers, all of them, bearing silent witness.