When it comes to water, talk these days is darker than night. Too much in the oceans, not enough in the wells. El nino brings bucket fulls this season yet the coffers are so dry, here in California at least, that it will take 11 trillion gallons of water to fill the empty reservoirs.
Well, you want water? Come to Hiouchi because we are getting slammed repeatedly with rain. Probably not enough to make a dent in seven years of drought, but mother nature sure is trying. Twenty-four days into December and we are on course to see three times the usual monthly rainfall. The river is up today and there’s no sign of it dropping.
Like old times, people are saying to each each. And it’s true. winters used to be so predictable. Like clockwork the rains would come during the month of October, November at the latest. The first rain — the first real rain — would arrive in a deluge. Gutters would overflow, previously dry cliffsides would suddenly sprout small, gushing waterfalls, needles from roadside redwoods and other conifers would blanket the asphalt and turn driving the twists and turns of 199 into a not-so-funny comedy show replete with rock slides and small collisions.
For the next four or so months a reliable mix of rain, sun, thunder and wind would entertain and endanger.
But then the long years of drought arrived. Summers were drier. Winters too. It’s hard to get numbers from folks around here but from my vantage point on the river, last winter especially, there seemed far fewer boats on the Smith — I can’t recall seeing a single fisherman at the Hamlet weighing out the day’s catch on the oversize public scales in front. The mushroom season was non-existent. That dry winter turned into a parched summer. Hell, we used to take nighttime drives along South Fork Road, just a few miles east, to watch the wildfires burn. We’d come back with video clips on our cell phones and breathy reports of flames lapping the roadbed. It was surreal.
But oh what a difference a year makes. As I write, the roof is alive with rain, water collects in the driveway, the beach below the house is MIA, covered in water, and the Smith is high.
It makes for a great experience. Not once in a lifetime — that has a slightly morbid ring to it — but the river is fast, high, full of logs, and even the occasional kayaker (see video below).
The Smith has already approached flood stage this month once and a neighbor came by tonight bearing cookies and news of a another high.
People call and ask, is it safe to travel? Are the roads still open? How’s the fishing? Do you expect much rain in the next few days?
Well, the weather report can’t always be trusted and I’m no good at predicting. But if you have the time to visit the Smith now, in a season of high water and near-flooding, head this way. Stay here, stay there, or just drive on by, but do yourself a favor and see the Smith in action. See the redwoods dripping in rain and walk trails with hardly anyone else around.
We already know that water is one of the next flash points that will determine the fate of the species. Some of us have too much, others too little. I don’t have much of a say in the matter, but for the next few months the Smith is going to put on a great show. Maybe the last great show. You should think about having a look.