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Floodwaters on a phenomenally beautiful June Monday created a paradoxical image in a part of the state that has experienced so much destruction.

Jess Essex of DeWitt, a fellow 16-gauge shotgun enthusiast and member of the Purple Hull Society honoring such, treated me to a day-long tour of flood affected areas in southeast Arkansas. The flood has affected Essex personally, as it has so many of his Arkansas County neighbors, by inflicting certain damage to his cabin on Big Bayou Meto near its confluence with the Arkansas River. He doesn't know the extent of the damage yet because floodwaters have prevented him from reaching his cabin. The water had fallen several feet over the weekend, but it clearly had been high enough to hurt.

Arkansas Sportsman

We drove as close as the water allowed Monday, and t0he scene from a distance gave Essex cause for concern. Resigned to the worst, Essex refused to indulge in self pity. The waters of the state concentrate in this low country. People that live here grudgingly acknowledge the water's volatile temper.

The Big Bayou Meto boat access was deep underwater. The only thing separating it from the Arkansas River was a line of trees. The state highway leading away from the access was also deep underwater for as far as we could see.

We reached the access on a high levee road. Near Gillette, the woods on both sides of the levee were dry and looked as if water had not reached them. Pockets of water appeared as we neared the river, eventually giving way to flooded woods.

Raccoons were numerous on the levee in the middle of the day. They appeared to be scavenging. One scampered off the levee with something in its jaws, either carrion or a fresh kill.

A big black snake with a bluish hue scrambled off the road, whipping its body violently.

"I'll bet there are more snakes per capita on these levees right now than at any other place in Arkansas County," Essex said.

Visitors told us as much over breakfast while Essex held court at a DeWitt eatery. We were told where we might find alligators on a levee, but we didn't see one.

Essex told me about a quail hunter in Georgia that contacted a mutual friend about an English setter puppy our friend has for sale. The Georgian had a superb setter that he ran in the offseason to keep his nose and instincts sharp. They were walking a familiar route when the setter jumped in to cross a slough, as it had done countless times in the past.

"The fellow said he heard a yelp, and he got there just in time to see the gator take his dog down," Essex said. A veteran dog man, Essex was appalled that a treasured companion worth thousands of dollars would be nothing more than a meal to a reptile.

The Arkansas River at Pendleton was as wide as a Gulf of Mexico estuary. The current cut wakes against bridge pilings and navigation buoys. Residential communities on both sides of the Pendleton Bridge were inundated, and roads leading to the neighborhoods were closed.

Mill Bayou, the main venue for the Purple Society's annual duck hunts, was very high. However, it struck me how pretty the water was. Flood water is usually silty and stained. The water rushing through the swollen bayous and sloughs of Arkansas County were clear and tea colored. Even the Arkansas River at Pendleton had that quality.

"I noticed that, too," Essex said. "I have on occasion drank water from Mill Bayou. It horrifies people when I tell them that, but people in olden times drank from it."

Finally, we visited a non-functioning pump station at Reydell. It exists to drain water from a large area that includes Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area. Power poles are near the big brown building, but no wires run to the pump building.

While the Arkansas River has taken much over the weeks, it will prove to have given much, too. The flood stocked thousands of acres of sloughs and oxbows with game fish, many of which will remain after the floods recede and the river returns to its banks.

Furthermore, the high waters have also created outstanding spawning conditions for bass, bream and crappie. This year's spawn will provide excellent fishing in the backwaters for a long time.

Sports on 06/13/2019

Print Headline: Tour reveals effects from flood

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