There’s a thin, bubbly creek I walk to that spills out of the mountains and through a small meadow a mile or so above our home. The walk is easy enough. The terrain climbs gradually without the sheer slope you might expect and walking there is a meditative thing. Over the years it’s become a private joy and one of the treasures of our experience here.
I have a favorite log I sit on set back in the shade of spruce, fir and pine. The creek streams by a yard away. The sound there is magnificent; all cascading water, soughing breezes through the trees, birds and the deep, rich silence in the gaps that eases me. It’s a resting place. There’s nothing more peaceful than the time spent on that log becoming entranced by the world again.
When you come to the land there’s a sense that you’ve seen it before, even if you’ve never been to that particular place. It’s in the way it feels on your skin, the way its smell transports you, the way it floods you with recollection.
Sitting beside that tiny creek in the mountains I suddenly remembered how it felt to catch minnows in a jar. The goggle-eyed sense of wonder at those silvered, wriggling beams of light darting between stones and the feel of the water on my arms, cool and slick as the surface of dreams. I was 12. I lived on a farm in southwestern Ontario, far away from there.
I lived my life for the sudden flare of sunlight when I broke from the bush back then. The land beckoned through my bedroom window so that sometimes when the house was quiet I stood there just to hear the call of it, spoken in a language that I didn’t know. But I knew that it was calling me to it. Just knew it with that magic understanding of children we sadly allow to fade as we grow.
The creek ran out of that farmland and wound its way through the bush to a reservoir behind an old mill. I fished that creek when it widened. I spent many an hour watching my line and bobber with the voice of it a chuckle, its edges dappled by the shadows of old elms and its light like the dancing bluish green eyes of the girl on the bus I could never find a way to say a word to.
Back in the trees where it was still a slip of current, I’d lie across a long flat stone to dip a mason jar elbows deep into a pool. I hung there, suspended while minnows flitted about and nibbled at my fingertips. I would let that arm dangle until the feeling went away then I’d raise it with minnows frantic in the sudden absence of their world. They entranced me.
The fish of my dreams all wriggling fingerlings captured in my hand.
I couldn’t keep them. I knew that. I couldn’t just carry them home like a carnival prize, give them names or place them in a bowl on my desk. No, something in me understood even at 12 that some things ache to be free and the charm of them resides in their ability to be that freedom.
So I let them go. I let them swim away and I watched happily when they darted to the bottom of that pool and then joined the throng of other minnows again. Beams of light. Free as childhood wishes. There was a touch of sadness in releasing them. But I carried something of that creek, that cold against my arms, the sun-warmed stone against my belly, the breeze, the light and the idea of minnows away with me forever.
So that standing now on the edge of another creek at 55, it’s like the years haven’t happened at all. This mountain creek contains all the properties of the one I loved at 12. It still grants me a connection to myself. I just have to want to let that magic happen. That’s the trick of it, really, allowing wonder to happen. That’s the special enriching property of the land when you go to it openly – it reconnects you to the gift of wonder you carried as a child.
It’s a journey, this life. There are thousands of territories to navigate. There are landscapes rich and varied we trek in our journeys to ourselves. But I suppose I’ve learned that it’s not what you pick up along the way that comes to matter so much. It’s what you continue to pack along. Courage. Hope. Wonder. When you do that the journey becomes a crossing of creeks on stepping stones where so much comes to depend on maintaining balance with every careful placing of the foot.
Here's another article by Richard Wagamese you might enjoy "Grandfather Talking"