Beside a Mountain Stream

I always seem to be more myself in the mountains. It doesn’t matter what the season might be. The deep snows of winter afford me my favorite pastime and I look for every chance I get to ski. Spring is a short time, as is Autumn. One is full of the most beautiful flowers (and mud). The other is a stunning palette of gold and green and red (and mud). Summer, short as it is, presents the Rockies in all of their purple majesty, and hiking through the valleys and up the steep slopes to dizzying vistas is always exhilarating.

Whatever the season may be, there is always something new to see—wildlife and wildflowers and trees and clouds and lakes and streams. I do love mountain streams. The Snake River runs nearby our second home here. We wander along its banks or sit beside it and listen to its conversation with the mountain.

A nice walking path follows the Snake for a few miles and we walk it quite often. We meet many fellow walkers, and joggers, and bicyclists and sometimes they stop to chat. Always part of the conversation is “Where is your home?” Hardly anyone is actually a native. We call ourselves “part-time locals.” Quite often we’re asked for directions or recommendations.

We find ourselves stopping all along the river just to sit and watch it move along its course. Some places have deep pools; a quick bend might create a shallow eddy; a tumble of boulders offers a noisy cascade. Now and then we will catch a glimpse of a quick brown flash or even get a few moments to watch a trout lazily sweep its tail in the current before darting away. Among the human footprints we might find the tracks of a fox or moose or even a bear.

The seasonal changes along the stream are like costumes at a masquerade. We have photographed and tried to identify hundreds of mountain flowers and watched them change from early spring to fall. The trees offer the same challenges although there aren’t nearly as many different types. The birds are always fun. Crows are ubiquitous. Mountain Jays offer a note more shrill to join the cawing. A real prize is sighting a mountain blue bird flitting among the aspen and firs. In the Midwest we laugh at the squirrels and their antics. Here the chickarees are as much fun.

I can sit for hours beside a mountain stream and listen to its music, watch it swirl and tumble over and around the rocks, enjoy the flowers and trees that grow along its banks, wonder in amazement at the animals that come to it. I think about the snowpack higher up the mountain that is the source of the waters and the centuries that have passed with its constant rushing to carve the path that carries it away. In the short time I have been here I have seen it change over and over with the seasons. It is a rushing torrent sweeping away everything in its way from early May to late June; a burbling freshet in August and September that I can walk across in most places; and in mid-winter it plays hide-and-seek under the ice and snow, peeking out in pools where the sunlight gives it an opening or slipping down growing icicles in the steep drops.

But always it is the river. Beside it, I am me.

At the mountaintop, even before the river begins, I stand and look out over the world and enjoy what I see no matter how it changes. It is a limited perspective, of course. I only see what I can see, but I also see what I choose to see, and I can come down from the mountaintop and see the river and the forests and the flowers and the animals much closer and more closely. I know the closer I get to the village the more likely it is that I will see the detritus of human existence.

I have waded in the waters, pushed against the current, and I have yelled with delight while crashing otter-like over a Class IV rapid. I have struggled through the chest-deep snows and swooped down the mountainside like a stooping eagle.

You figure out the metaphors. I do live in this world and I am conscious of the tragedies and the triumphs on all levels because I choose to be a thinking person. I choose to be myself.

One of my favorite descriptions comes from a woman who is one of this country’s great writers and least heard voices. When I first read these words, my breath caught. Here they are quite out of context, I suppose, except that I love the independence they express. Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “… I am a dark rock surged upon, and overswept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.”

 

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