Off The Map: Week One: The Saturation Point

Rain. Rain. More rain. This was not the homecoming I had in mind. Back in Southern California, we could go a respectable five months out of the year without rainfall, but here in the Northeast, not a single day was passing without an inconvenient deluge. I couldn’t get away from it. Neither could the animals. I witnessed a bear doing the dog-paddle across Whitney Point Reservoir in a rainstorm, and I felt similarly out of place amid so much precipitation.

But regardless of monsoon conditions, the time had come to put pen to paper and begin another summertime collection of outdoor stories … if only I could find the right opportunity to go outside. The high rainfall had created countless pools of stagnant water, allowing mosquitoes to breed by the billions and making backcountry camping an unattractive proposition. Many trails had become boot-sucking swamps, and I wasn’t inspired to trudge through such unpleasant terrain.

Of course, several communities in upstate New York were dealing with more pressing issues than recreation, such as clearing mud from the streets and pumping out basements after the latest round of flooding. I had lived in drought-afflicted California for so long, I had to remember how to relate. In my own hometown, roads were temporarily closed and overrun with water from the Chenango River.

One night I stood atop a bridge near the flooded fairgrounds and noticed a river otter taking advantage of its expanded habitat. I mistook it for a floating branch at first, but then it veered from its downstream path and paddled to the muddy shore. Looking somewhat bedraggled for a creature supposedly adapted to water, the weasel hopped onto some rocks twenty feet away and turned its dark, beady eyes in my direction. It stared at me for a time, head tilted and whiskers twitching. Then other interests overcame curiosity, and the otter bounded off to work some mischief in the tall grasses beneath the bridge.

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