At ease by a creek in the wilderness

 

I am on my way to Kootenai Creek, a neighbor and laughing friend who spends all day, all year, all everything, tumbling down the western side of the Bitterroot Mountains in southwestern Montana.

This is the edge of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, over a million acres of forest that stretches between Montana and Idaho. Kootenai Creek empties into the Bitterroot River, which in turn empties into the Clark Fork River, which then swells the Columbia River for its long journey to the Pacific Ocean. I’m not sure that my creek has any thoughts of the sea, but I imagine there’s not a brook or stream in the world that doesn’t yearn for a lake, dreaming of the day it can fan out, rest in the open, caressing and supporting the bellies of fishes.

As always when I enter the woods, I step into an immense and ancient privacy. This is where the weighty and important decisions are made, where life and death hang in the balance, with the soil, the cleansing of the water, and the rejuvenation of air. Kootenai Creek is not wide -- 6 feet to 12 feet in most places -- but its acoustic gymnastics are subtle and grand.

I believe is a mistake to talk of the monotonous voice of a river or stream, worse yet to say that a brook babbles. A brook is fine literature, poetry of the first order, and if I had to guess, I’d say Kootenai Creek is reciting James Joyce, perhaps, even William Blake. In my mind there’s no more important vocabulary than that of running water, a continual talker. Kootenai Creek is also well-versed in the patterns of weather. Listen closely, and every landing of leaf and insect becomes a clause, a comma, or a word in the story. Every deer wading in for a drink is indenting a paragraph.

There are so many qualities of sound that come from this one stream, so many choral differences as it steps down the stones. There are the guttural, throaty undertones of its intense hiss. There are the small, individual drops that leap out of the spray, and larger drops, too, that plunk, plop and thunk louder.

Today, Kootenai Creek raises its voice to an extreme but tender whisper. It pours under masses of roots and rumbles out from the dark. Everywhere in the creek are the broken ends of trees, slick, black-green arms that let the water rush over them. To the water’s song they add a hint of melancholy I hadn’t noticed before.

Today, I am stalled by a creek, content to be a bump on a log, sitting out of the sun. It brings me a simple joy. My goal has not been to speak with this creek but to submerge myself, sink like a stone into a caring and genuine awareness of beauty. In the end, I’ve not heard a word I expected — not happiness, not peace. Instead, I’ve heard what all language, all literature, every breath of nature is repeating over and over until the very end: home.

I rise to leave. I take one last drink of water. To do this I lower my face close to the water, purse my lips. I kiss Kootenai Creek. I can see the smooth stones in the shallows. I can see the moss growing gently attached to their logs. In the rushing water is one moment of life. Then all is blurred. If not nature, who is my lover? If not in love, why not? I drink and breathe deeply. For a moment, all is bright and well in the world. 


Charles Finn is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News. He is a writer and recently moved to the Seattle area.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...