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Evening at Streamside

Monday, January 15, 2007

Oh, if only I could put a soundtrack on tonight's walk. I wanted to see what our stream looked like after three inches of rain. I can hear it from the house! Roaring and singing...It has been raining for three days, Noah's rain, on and on, and while I'm glad for Baker, because he's laid up and he hates rain anyway, I had to get out to see my streamfriend in its glory.I put dinner in the oven and took off at 4:30--ill advised, I know, and without telling a soul I was leaving. The kids were home for MLK Day, and Bill was home reading copy, and I just slipped out. I hadn't been alone for days; they had Friday off, too, and Bill was gone the whole time...and it rained and rained and rained...I'm out of here. Nobody knew I was gone. One fine day I'm going to break my ankle on one of these slippery slopes and nobody will know where to start looking for me, but while I'm still youngish and strong I exult in conquering the slippery slopes without falling. Stupid, I know, but we all have our little rebellions. I find myself thinking, "Well, I could crawl home from here. I'll be OK."

How I love the white of fast water, especially when it's in a stream that's normally all but dry. It made me think of obituary pictures. I look at them, and I see someone in the bloom of youth, and then read that they died in their 90's, and I think, Well, that's nice that they used a picture of her in her 20's, but is it really representative? And then I muse about whether an elderly person should use a recent, recognizable picture of themselves in an obituary, or whether we are free to choose the face we wish people would remember. Which, of course, we are. Which leads to some interesting issues about author far I've been truthful.

And that brings me back to our stream. Today, the stream was in its glory, in its twenties, roaring and ripping over the rocks. And I thought, This is really the stream. That dry trickle I see 90% of the time is the stream in its dotage. So I decided to capture it today, now, even though there was little light and worse footing on the slopes, so you'd all know it as I'd like you to know it, beautiful and vital and young.

These tributaries I call Bridal Veil Falls, because the water fans out like lace. Like a train, being dragged down the center aisle of a church. Fanning out at the bottom, perfect.

They only flow when the rain has pounded for a couple of days, but oh, they are lovely! When ice forms they're even better.

I took the old Olympus, because if I'm going to roll down a slope and onto a camera, smashing it on a rock, I'd rather smash a $400 camera than my Digital Rebel. And frankly, the Olympus does a much better job in the purblind dark than the Rebel ever could. I fell back in love with my tiny good camera.

The roar of the stream covered any sound I made, and three deer made their way up the opposite bank, totally unaware that I was watching and smiling. Of course, without light they were but ghost deer for the lens, but they made nice images anyway. I love watching wild things when they don't know I'm there.There is a spot I was working to reach, and it is no small thing, because once you get there you're boxed in and you can't get back out. But I knew it would be a sight, the split rock with white water rushing out of it. So I crept and slid along the impossibly steep face, the ground saturated and treacherous, thankful that I didn't have my heavy SLR to worry about and favor like a child around my neck. I wore my green Wellies, and was glad of it, because I had to wade in the stream for much of the trek, as the slopes were too treacherous. Finally I could hear the roar of water through the enormous split rock, a rock about the size of an institutional refrigerator.

The thing about this stream is that it gets more beautiful the farther you go, and before I knew it I was caught up in its siren song, pushing farther and farther down the hollow even as the light died and I got farther from home. After a certain point, I didn't care how I was going to get back out of the box canyon I'd gotten myself into. I had to see the Ice Cave, a place where Shila and I almost died last winter. We were photographing the amazing ice formations under the falls when --thunk--just as quick as that, a piece of ice that probably weighed 800 pounds smashed down inches from where we were kneeling. Oh. We laughed our heads off, but wondered: Is this how we'll die?

Tonight, the ice cave was pure magic, well worth cheating broken bones to witness. It sang and hollered , exulting in an explosion of white down onto the rocks below. The scene, made all the more enchanting by the dying light. My God! I stood rooted. Wondering if the bobcat were watching me. Thinking about Indians sheltering there, showering there. I know they did.
Wonders appreciated, death cheated, I knew it was time to turn for home. I was a good 30 minutes away, and the light was all but gone. Having once run a cedar twig into an eye at dusk, I never want to do that again. So I all-foured up a ridiculously steep and slick cliff face and headed for the nearest pasture, where I could climb the slope unimpeded by brush and briars.The shagbark hickory that died last summer, in such a hurry to decay. How I'll miss it.
Where to roll under the fence? Why, where the deer do, of course. Look for the muddy patch, where hooves have pawed the mud; for the hair caught in the barbed wire, and you will have found the spot with the greatest clearance for people, too. I did a limbo, got under it without a speck of mud on my comfy fleece pants.
Watched the lights twinkle on in the valley below.
Heard my footsteps fall on the familiar trail home, walked to the rhythm of my breath. There: the lights of home.
The wind roared and giant drops sluiced down on me, a wall of water, thankfully warm, and I doubled over my optics, bundled them in my jacket and ran the rest of the way home, water flying from my boothits.
Nobody had missed me; nobody knew I was even gone. I stood in the front hall, panting and grinning. I had gotten away with it. But Chet had seen me go, had missed me terribly, and while everyone else went about their business, he showered me with kisses. Just another thing to love about dogs: they notice our leaving, they mourn our every absence, no matter how fleeting. And so they grant us importance, and for that and the scent of their fur and the honesty in their eyes, we love them.

This, taken on our last walk to Beechy Crash.


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