Last week's steady rain is resulting in a slow rising Ohio river. Expected to crest at about 48 feet sometime tomorrow below the official flood stage... but well after it has swallowed our familiar riverfront park.
"Why does it only flood in Indiana?" my son asked.
"I assure you the river rises on both sides equally," I told him, "It's just that here- the banks on the Kentucky side are so steep, and we are on the flood plain, so we see more water here- but as you follow the river the floodplains switch sides."
This conversation gave me the opportunity to explain about the river's oxbows and how fertile floodplains are formed. I wanted to follow up our discussion with a good look at the elevations on a topographic map. Unfortunately I was not able to find a free map of the Ohio River basin, so we looked at the Aeriel photo on Google maps. The Aeriel photographs revealed much more than I expected because the patchwork of the farm fields of the floodplain stood in sharp contrast to the wooded hills with clefts of creeks which almost inevitably lay directly opposite.
The farmland lays on the inside of the curve of each oxbow. I found great beauty in the intricate levels of texture, color, land, water, straight and curvilinear, flat and jagged - all displayed like a rich textile, evidence of an ancient flow that carves and deposits the river silt. As we traced our way down the river from our town to Louisville- my son noticed a few dart shaped islands and I mentioned that sometimes in a slightly different situation, the curves of an oxbow become so exaggerated that they touch- cutting off an island and allowing the river to follow a new path. Just a little further on our aerial river trek we saw an amazing figure in the landscape- just across the river from Alton Indiana, can you see it?
If the path of the Ohio River interests you, I recommend this historical novel which is based on a true story which played out locally right along this river and along the backwaters. "Follow the River" By James Alexander Thom. It's the story of Mary Ingalls who was kidnapped from Virginia by Shawnee in 1755, escaped at Big Bone Lick Kentucky and was guided and tormented by the Ohio River as she used it to find her way home through the wilderness. Another suggestion if you like Historical Novels is "The Frontiersman" by Alan Eckert which details the life of Simon Kenton.