One early morning a few weeks ago I stepped onto my porch and heard a roar coming from under the hill. It took me a moment to realize that the heavy rains and regional flooding that had washed out the low water bridges and turned our front yard into a lake had also taken the gentle little branch under the hill and turned it into a raging, overflowing creek. I stood still for a moment to listen. The fog was rolling in off Spring Mountain, the sun was rising between Nebo and Jones mountains, and Punky Rooster (our trusty, grumpy, little fowl of alarm clock) was crowing loudly. It was one of those mornings when I knew — despite the trials and questions and the worries of daily life — I had made it home.
A few days after that hard rain had passed, our family walked down to the creek to watch it spill over the banks. Even the dirt road was covered in places. Over the course of several days —and several rounds of spring rains — we’ve made multiple trips down to the water, taking note of how it waxes and wanes with the spring storms. At first it was too forceful for the kids to play in and we all just sat back and watched the water, amazed at its power. But soon it settled down and began to follow the well worn bank again. These days we throw rocks across the banks and wade into the puddles and send leaves sailing down the current.
I’ve written about this same creek in this same column once before, but the title of that previously published piece was “Running Dry,” and it was largely about the days when this branch is bone dry. As I mentioned in that original column back in 2015, when my father was a child in the 1940s and 1950s the water used to run year round. By the time I was a Dardanelle town kid in the 80s, and Dad would take me to visit this country creek on the weekends, the water was seasonal. But these days — some 60 years after my Dad’s childhood — it takes a hard rain for it to really flow.
Long story short, I have returned to this creek time and time again in both my life and in my writing. Over the decades its become touchstone for me in more ways than I can’t really name. Since we moved back to the area last year, making our home on the same land where my father was raised, for the first time in my life the creek is within walking distance from my own front porch. I’d like to find a way to summarize what this location, this proximity to that water, means to me. But nothing seems to sum it up adequately.
Have you ever spent a good portion of you life trying to return to a place you’ve never lived?
I’ve only stepped on the porch and heard the roar of the creek once. It was after the hardest rain, the one that flooded most places. But the sound sticks with me. When I told Dad about it, he knew exactly what I was talking about. “Oh yeah,” he replied. “I can remember many a time I’d hear it come a ‘roarin down the mountain. It’d come a good rain and you could hear from a ways off.”
I realized as I sat down to write this column that usually when I try to find words to talk about this little flow of water, I choose words for its absence. I write about it the sadness I feel as I try to dig into how something once strong ever-present becomes still and occasional. I write about the stories my dad tells that feel so different from my own. For example, I can’t imagine there being enough water in that creek to dip the cows in. But Dad saw it happen many a time. A few years ago I became fixated with the question of whether or not a dry creek might be able to reflow. Was that even possible?
And then I constantly googled. Short answer to that question was no, not really. But everything waxes and wanes.
We’ve had enough rain this spring that the creek was been flowing steadily for months. I realize now that I’d expected to move back and have to come face to face with the waters rarity. Instead I’m having to remind the kids not to jump in the places that might be over their heads.
I’d like to tie up this column with a nice little tightly wound ending sentiment, but somehow I can’t muster that right now. I thought about saying something about how it can feel like there are times in life when there’s not enough and there times when there’s too much, and though trite and accurate, this isn’t at all what’s on my mind.
Rather, I’m just trying to sit with this abundance. I know that summer will come and the creek will dry up. And I’ll look around at the other regional waterways and wonder where this dryness all leads. We should feel a kick in the gut every time a creek runs dry. We should feel a sharp pain and a deep ache. After all, who are we without water?
But the truth is I know much more about how to process a dry creek bed than a flowing one. And it’s going to take me a while to process those moments when water spills over the edges. And I am certain this is essential work.