Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Creek Runs Through It

A creek is my favorite body of water. It has a sense of adventure, but unlike a river, it doesn't wander anywhere too far, too dangerous, or too unfamiliar. It is not massive and impersonal like a lake nor small and muddy like a pond. Though it lacks the awesome majesty of the ocean, it has its own sacred rhythm beneath trees and bluffs.

I had a wonderful childhood, and a creek ran through it. I loved that creek at least as well as I loved the woods behind my childhood home.

But now my own family lives in a huge, sprawling city in the desert with a big, arid backyard.

Every so often I ask my husband if we can take our children to play in a creek.

Matthew needs warning. He appreciates nature, but he doesn't feel the need to visit its wilder places too often, and he certainly does not appreciate the condition of the roads that lead there. So weeks in advance I told him I wanted to visit Clear Creek and hike West Clear Creek Trail.

However, on the Thursday before we were to go hiking I had a truly horrendous day with the kids (and they with me, to be fair). Due to exposure to apocalyptic levels of whining, squabbling, shrieking and nagging that day, my adventure and nature-seeking spirit was quelled. I told my man I no longer felt like going; the best thing I could hope for was to sleep in on that Saturday for a very long time, my head buried in his shoulder.

But when we awoke very late the next morning, the adventuress in me had reemerged. I researched anew the directions to the creek and - ever so nonchalantly - acted like plans for the hike had never wavered. My forbearing husband didn't even object when we set out at noon in the 100+ heat.

We had a pleasant drive north until we abandoned normal byways and took a forest road less traveled. As our poor minivan pitched and heaved on the rocky, gutted, narrow dirt track, I was reminded again, as my hands squeezed the armrests, that my sense of adventure only goes so far. I felt an immense gratitude for my stalwart partner in life's escapades, for he drives far more fearlessly and calmly than I do under duress!

Frustration, thwarted plans and occasional feelings of being hopelessly lost or misdirected must accompany any adventure, I think, and we had our share.

Apparently, signs on roads or paths are undesirable in nature.

The forest road seemed to go on for much longer than was implied in the directions. We turned off at a likely and quite pretty spot only to find we were not at the trail head yet. When we finally found the hiking trail, parked and set out in relief, we soon discovered that it was not as "clear" as we would have liked.

There were many footpaths that deserted the trail to head toward the nearest pool of water. They looked like they could have been part of the trail that was supposed to cross the creek several times, but they dead-ended at precisely where there seemed to be a small crowd of people sharing a large swimming hole and perching on coolers. When we asked the patrons of such spots about West Clear Creek trail, we were met with confused faces.

And so we backtracked and took the high, dry ground (marked by pink ribbons) that seemed to eschew the water, and upon the advice of a young man with a backpack and a puppy who seemed to have some wilderness sense, we followed it until it befriended that stream once more and we came to a wide, pristine hole beneath some red rocks. Another family of four was there, enjoying the less frequented places.

It was at this swimming hole that I shed frustration and felt joy while watching my children revel in the water, enjoying nature giddily. They splashed around and fought the current and scrambled up slippery rocks and waded through deep narrow places in the stream, laughing, and I was right behind them, reliving my childhood and drinking from the fountain of youth in the only and best way.

Wading in the creek was an exhilarating experience for me. The water was not the expected frigidity that I had always encountered in the creek of my childhood or in many streams since. Perhaps it was the desert sun and its dry, crackling heat playing on the surface, for though the water was decidedly chilly against my legs, it was invigoratingly so.

We left the kind family who shared space and conversation so generously with us, and I urged my family farther along the trail. We saw a little grotto and crossed the stream once more before coming to a secluded spot with a tiny waterfall. Here our kids tested their strength against the current where it ran no more than a foot deep and two feet wide but surged with concentrated power. This was my husband's favorite spot.

There we also lost the trail, and, anyhow, Gabriella and the other kids were anxious to return to the magical swimming hole. Matthew was anxious to head home, but I whispered to the kids as we kicked up red clay from the path onto our wet shoes and legs that I hoped we would have more time to swim and play.

The large red rock that jutted out into the water over the swimming hole was a perfect place from which to launch yourself into the deep water below. At least, this was what the dad of the other family told me, as they were leaving, when I mentioned it was hot on the trail. He didn't seem the fearful type with his shoulder length black hair, square face and broad upper body, so I doubt he would have understood my hesitation to make such a leap. Berto and Ana? They jumped off that huge red rock repeatedly.

And this is what I did:

My little guy waits for Mama to take the plunge

I sat and looked and looked again. I couldn't quite get past thinking of exactly what would happen if I pushed off that rock into the water.

That's always my issue. I think too much.

Matthew told me to do it; we needed to go! And all the while he waited for the photo op of me overcoming my fear. Berto and Ana went from the rock to the water with words of encouragement for me, my own coaching and cheering squad. So many times, I inched forward, swallowing thoughts and hesitation, only to fall back on my heels. I watched my children be fearless but couldn't seem to catch the brave bug as they dove past me.

Have you ever said a prayer to the Holy Spirit for something you know is silly? Well, I prayed for courage to jump off that rock, because somehow it meant a great deal to me to be brave at this creek in this small way and to have the memory of it.

Matthew had put back on his socks and shoes and gathered up our stuff. His phone was tucked away in his pocket without the moment with his wife he'd waited semi-patiently for, and the kids were moving away from me.

Standing resolutely, Matthew announced,  "Alright, let's go!"

And I jumped without knowing I had made the decision. I hit the cool water and struggled up in the dark, green shadows, sputtering when I reached air.

I felt as happy as I have felt in some time.

"I did it!" I cried, elated, as I did a victory lap in that beautiful, deep water.

And Berto and Ana congratulated me exuberantly.


Only later did I see the carnage on my side of our poor van. Long, wicked scratches ran along the whole length of it, scratches obtained by passing within inches of other vehicles on an uneven, exceptionally narrow forest dirt road bordered by brush.

Adventure always costs a little something, I guess. But my darling Matthew didn't complain.


  1. Do you ever feel you've done all you can do with a creative endeavor, and it'll just have to be good enough? I have edited this post a bit too much already, and even so it's still a bit too long. I hope it kept you engaged. I would have loved to share pictures of my children in that creek; you would then understand better what joy it gave me to see them there. But Matthew is not comfortable with sharing such photos here, and I must respect that.

  2. Glad you and your family had such a great day.
    Beautifully written, by the way.

  3. Sounds like a great adventure! Good for you for taking the "plunge". Good for Matthew for off-roading willingly! Haha. Sounds like the kids had a blast.


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