staying lifes course

Elizabeth Creek, a strong ribbon of mountain water, reflects who I am. Nature does that for us, to us. This is just the way it is.

Elizabeth Creek, a strong ribbon of mountain water, reflects who I am. Nature does that for us, to us. This is just the way it is.

This unpredictable flow of water rushes about painting the undersides of rocks and pulls small grains of sand, lichen and twigs into its strong current. I sit beside her watching and thinking many things.

Floating cautiously in the edge-water, a few fallen leaves pass by rather slowly. Some move more quickly than others, as if on a predestined journey charted by something other than the water and territory it must flow through.

Others catch for a moment or two, spinning, trapped in a temporary eddy and are held there for just the right amount of time. Then, all at once, they are set free and taken out of sight beyond the sharp bend just below me.

Rivers are, of course, metaphors for our lives. In Elizabeth Creek I am able to see much of my own.

What I discover today is that I often sit too close to the water. I hear only the overpowering rush of what is going by but fail to hear the more subtle messages water often delivers.

Western writer Wallace Stegner put it this way:

“By such a river it is impossible to believe that one will ever be tired or old. Watch its racing current, its steady renewal of force; it is transient and eternal. And listen again to its sounds: get far enough away so that the noise of falling tons of water does not stun the ears, and hear how much is going on underneath — a whole symphony of smaller sounds, hiss and splash and gurgle, the small talk of side channels, the whisper of blown and scattered spray gathering itself and beginning to flow again, secret and irresistible, among the wet rocks.”

This morning, sitting near the creek, the sky is a very bright blue and full of fast-moving clouds, I make a real effort to listen to the secret and irresistible spray, the underlying details of my life.

I imagine, with little effort, that I have been somehow born out of sequence in the larger scheme of things. While I am pleased to have been able to herald the beginning of the 21st century, I would have preferred to welcome the 20th. Better still, the 19th.

If I could have travelled to this place by horseback to sit alongside this creek I believe I would be happier.

I have always imagined there to be a gentleness to older times that is not here and now in the present. There was a quality to life in past centuries that has been usurped somehow by the rush of today.

Now I see my life as a series of confrontations with technologies, ideas and motivations that are gratifying in the short term but fizzle in the grander scheme.

Because I learned the trick to being quiet and slow, fast moving machines — automobiles, airplanes and the like — neither inspire nor amuse me. I prefer the much older pattern of walking from place to place, hands held behind me, shoulders pulled back, chin up.

And while I fully realize the benefits of the computer chip, I am a sucker for holding a book between two hands, eyes and mind held in suspense as one page gives way to the next.

Books, as John Milton reminds us, are “the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”

So maybe this is why I am here this morning listening to the flow of Elizabeth Creek — searching for and hopefully finding a life beyond life.

Watching these leaves spiraling down between tight granite boulders, I quickly come to the realization that what I should pay attention to is the constant friction I experience between actually living in one time period and yearning for another.

My willingness to shape a style of living in which long periods of walking are not only a possibility, but a necessity, arises from this friction.

Walking, therefore, has become a conscious act of rebellion for me. It is my way of thumbing my nose at a period of time I am not all together comfortable in.

And when I turn the pages of some great novel I am turning away from the harsh glare of present-day technology.

Both walking and reading are my way of living out the friction between time and place. They are conscious acts, along with sitting quietly along Elizabeth Creek, which have become my guarantee that I, as a homo sapien, continue to remain sapient.