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25th April 2012: Rain, rain, rain … rain! This has been the majority of our weather lately. Hoo Brook was around 4 feet higher than normal this evening. The River Stour is higher than I have ever seen it: inches from overflowing into North Pond. For the last three years, I have walked past a bend in the river where a large accumulation of floating rubbish has been held-up behind a fallen tree branch. It wasn’t there this evening; it had all been washed a few hundred yards downstream, coming to rest behind another fallen tree branch.
I walked down to the south marsh entrance in diving rain, keeping a wary eye on the river level. Some small-minded person had ripped the polite access restriction notices from the new gate to the bird nesting area again. They probably do this so that they can say they didn’t see any notices, if they are caught. This is the second time I have replaced the notices this week. I have plenty of replacement notices in my rucksack.
The new weirs are constructed from large rocks. Big logs rush down the river when it’s in flood and knock some of the rock out of position, reducing the effectiveness of the weirs and potentially lowering the marsh water levels.
Walking back past North Pond, I stood watching the river level creep up the bank. It had risen a few inches whilst I was down at the south end of the marsh. I heard a loud crack, a grinding sound, a worrying whooshing noise, and then a groaning that grew steadily in intensity. The water was rising before my eyes, and the noises were getting louder. I was a little concerned that the river might be about to break its bank, leaving me stranded.
Sometimes I dream that I am in this very same situation: standing on the riverbank during a flood. In my dream, I see a body floating towards me. It’s the body of a female. Her dress has washed up over her head. She floats into slack water, coming to rest at my feet. Her head bobs and weaves in the water. Her body undulates with the current. I reach down and lift her dress from her face. Her dim lifeless eyes stare vacantly into mine… Yuk! I was thinking about this dream as the river heaved, belched, creaked, groaned and hissed at me this evening.
I was thinking it might be a good idea to get to higher ground, when something looking remarkably like a human head caught my eye. It was wedged under a fallen tree branch. It appeared for a few second and then disappeared beneath the water, only to surface again a few seconds later. A large red liquefied gas bottle zoomed up and hit the head shaped thing, breaking the tree branch. Following closely behind the gas bottle was a huge raft of floating rubbish. As the line of debris thinned out, the head was still there, bobbing in and out of the water, lolling from side to side. Various clumps of mixed floating rubbish pushed it under the water, but it would resurface again. Whatever it was must be snagged on the riverbed.
Finding a body in the river is no joke! You can’t pretend that you haven’t seen it, can you? You can’t just walk away and leave it for someone else to deal with. I wouldn’t be able to do that! I wouldn’t be able walk away from a dead body in a river and just forget about it. You can’t phone the police to tell them you think you have seen a dead body in the river, either. What if it turns out to be a shop manikin? You would look a right idiot watching the emergency services pull a manikin out of a swollen river, possibly risking their lives in the process.
The more I looked at the head bobbing and sinking in that fast flowing swollen river, with all kinds of rubbish zooming by, the more I am convincing myself that it really might be a dead person’s head. At one point I was certain I could see hair and on occasion, a hand breaking the surface. I was in a bit of a quandary: do I get the hell out of there, before I am the one needing the emergency services , or do I stay put to establish if there really is a body body in the river? All I could think about was my standing on the riverbank watching the emergency services rescue a dummy. As I struggled with this thought, my hand was reaching for my phone. All of a sudden, loud cracking, screeching and tearing sounds from upstream broke my train of thought. A large heaving mass of broken tree trunks, branches and an unbelievable amount and variety of rubbish tore down the river. The water surged over the river bank and the decision was made. In seconds I was up and away on my way to the north pasture.
I still don’t know if I was looking at the head of a dead body or not….