Katherine had no more expected to die that day than a tree expects a blast of lightning. It just happened, and then she was gone.
Her daughter, Casey, only four at the time, had been a witness, though much of the detail eluded her now. She had closed herself up like a flower, burying much of what she might have understood, letting it work its way downward to harden and form new ground—a bedrock—that for all its beginnings was what the future had come to rest upon.
That is why her father had been so uneasy, twelve years later, listening to the rain fall, watching as the engineers and townspeople shored up the banks of the great Mississippi, neighbors all sandbagging their homes, rearranging their lives, moving furniture upstairs. They'd read in the papers about the rising of the Missouri, the Kaskaskia, the Sangamon and Ohio Rivers. They'd heard report after report on TV. There had been no such warning twelve years before. With the perspective of so much time, Marston would have thought that at least he could observe the present deluge with some sense of impunity, even though Casey could not. He was a hydrogeologist, after all, familiar with the movements of water and the nature of floods. He had studied hydrogeological phenomena, calculating infiltration, permeability, and groundwater sublimation—whereby water in the solid state vaporizes without passing through the liquid, an occurrence Marston had always thought amazing, like a trick of nature that somehow cheats its own laws, bypassing a necessary step, leaving him with a sense of wonder and awe.
He had worked for years on wetland depletion in the Upper Mississippi Basin, helped build the giant levees, and so knew the habits of water and its effects on the environment with a reverence almost spiritual in its grasp. As a student he had read A Sand County Almanac, had carried it with him like a holy book, so the science was more than just a set of numbers to him—though he was also a man of practical inclination. Understanding the natural forces on a larger scale meant freeing himself from the disabilities of lunar misgivings and millennial predictions and all such hysterical belief unsupported by good common sense and scientific data. So he now thought he could assist with the sandbagging and look at the muddy flow as one sees any extraordinary work of nature—a gorge, a glacier, hydro-sublimation—and not suffer so much pain from the past.
Had they not already suffered enough, he asked himself over and over as the river continued to rise. Certainly Casey had. And although it was to be expected she'd still have nightmares, or turn immediately from TV accounts of the river's interminable rising, he never thought he'd be so vulnerable himself. They were miles from Jefferson City, now, and she a junior in high school, a beautiful young girl with dark brown hair like his hair, and her mother's eyes, one of which had a piece of his own brown eyes wedged in a quadrant of one blue eye like an island adrift in a sea. Through this piece of himself he felt bound to her. He saw himself lodged there, fast as a cinder, stranded in the ocean of her gaze.