Woody Packard

Words + Pictures

River Stopping

The Buyant River is spilling out of its banks now. The water is freezing into chunks that collect, dam up, and divert the flow over ground that is nearly flat. Although I am within walking distance of the same latitude as Emerson Orchard on Flathead Lake, the weather here comes from Siberia and not the Pacific Ocean, and we are at twice the altitude. During the long nights the temperature has been dropping to -10, -20, and a few nights ago, nearly -30°F. The feeble sun has been bringing the thermometer back above 0°F in the daytime, but not by more than a digit. The water that flows over this ground does not stay liquid for long. Low ground fills with ice, frozen from the surface all the way to the grass or gravel below. Shallow washes created by floods become main arteries as the primary flow is re-routed. They, in turn, ice over, solidify, and divert the water to the next lowest ground. One month ago I could run along the main bank of the river, but now I cannot even find it. On my way out of town to the west, the branch of the river spanned by the bridge is completely dry, reappearing mysteriously a half mile further downstream.

Although the imagery is several years out of date, the view from Google Earth shows this winter pileup of ice. On the ground the view changes daily as areas that were part of the main river are flooded, freeze, accumulate into a deeper and deeper barrier, and force the flow around the sides. Although it is a gradual process, the river's flow is being saved until spring.

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River Stopping

New Channel

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As one channel plugs up, another one forms, freezing from the edges to the middle when the flow is fast.