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Summer rain

The air today is pregnant with rain. I can feel it in the wind, ahead of the storm that is building this afternoon behind the mountains to the west. When they crest the ridge, the rain will spill from the underbelly of the dragging clouds.

I imagine I hear kettledrums in the gathering storm, watch spear points of lightning against that ominous sky.

The rain comes in white sheets, the banners of a gray host riding down from the mountains in a wide front. In a matter of minutes there will be steam in the streets of my town in the wake of the passing storm.

Up there on the Riga Plateau are ephemeral brooks that flow only with snowmelt, or after a heavy rain like this. There are others that dive beneath their beds and burrow through limestone caverns, only to emerge from cracks in the bedrock far downstream.

This rain will fall on forested highlands where colliers once burned mounds for charcoal and the mountain furnace reeked in flame. Out of blast now since 1856, the old furnace no longer makes demands on the water that overtops the spillway, where a newer dam made one big lake out of two smaller ponds.

As with some of our local roads that seem to change their names with each coming and going, the brook takes on new identities on its journey from source to Sound.

From South Pond on Mt. Riga, the water plunges down Wachocastinook Falls — one of many local names that retain the echo of the first peoples of this place. It next becomes Factory Brook, when it reaches the settlements below, where all that Salisbury iron was once put in service of enterprises that turned out everything from cannons to cutlery.

It soon accepts another tributary, and with it the effluvia of treated sewage, before taking on the name Salmon Kill — though there are neither salmon here nor the orignial Dutch settlers who used the word “Kill†for their rivers. Some of the descendants of these remain, however, with venerable names like Whitbeck, Van Deusen and Spurr.

Salmon Kill runs through pasture and ravine until it passes through Lime Rock — once home to a quarry, now a speedway — and enters the Housatonic near where the oldest rocks of our region, their years measured by the billion, meet the upstart, newer soils of a long vanished sea.

The Housatonic has its own Great Falls upstream, now in service of the Falls Village hydroelectric plant, but below its confluence with Salmon Kill the river makes its way through some of the loveliest eight miles of whitewater gorge you could ever hope to see (and that I am privileged to see everyday on my drive to work).

Along the way it runs beneath the Covered Bridge at West Cornwall, dating from the 1840s, its classic trellis design a Connecticut invention. The Housatonic finds one more covered bridge downriver at Bulls Bridge before making the inevitable transition from a rural landscape to exurban, and finally to fully built out, the closer it approaches the Sound.

Finally, after more impoundments and broadenings, the river crosses the bar and is out on the blue water. Whitman’s Montauk is in view on the other side, and then nothing but the broad Atlantic.

And above all this, the invisible river is there as well: the one that returns water to clouds that one day, perhaps, will come again with rain to the mountain.

Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.

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