Our first house had a creek in the back yard. In southern California, creeks fluctuate with the seasons. In summer, it was a steep-walled, dry canyon that hosted many adventures to imaginery lands in the shade of the live oak trees. Even though the mountains were typically covered with scrub brush, called chaparral, these majestic trees congregated by any reliable water source.
In the winter the creek taught us about the environment and our inability to control it. People far from us grew tired of the creek overflowing. They replaced it with a concrete channel so the water would speed away from their homes. As a result, our downstream creek flooded every year.
One year the county flood control people built a check dam to slow the flow. Our creek just knocked the dam down. The flood control people took this as a challenge. Destroying many trees just to access the site with their earth moving equipment, they built a bigger dam — one made of concrete and steel. This new dam held.
But our creek didn’t care. It simply turned left and dug a new channel, moving yards and yards of material, while seeming to laugh at the concrete and steel dam now high and dry and completely outside of the water course.
That winter we all learned to respect nature.
Each spring we played with the water alternately building wading pools behind porous rock dams or arranging those same rocks to cross the creek with getting wet. Year after year this creek was a dynamic playground always welcoming, always changing, but ultimately never being changed by us.
Years later in different mountains, we hiked cross-coutry to reach our creek. This was a bigger creek with year-around water. All this life-giving water supported horsetails and other marsh plants, along with dry land brush and vines, perhaps the closest thing to a jungle in California.
The sport here was creek walking. Once in the creek, we were committed for a long walk before we’d find a break to the brush offering a chance to exit the creek. Forced to nagivate the narrow channel, we were challenged by fallen trees and boulders. Everything was green and slippery from running water, moss, and algae.
While we could climb up, we did not have the skills to go the other way. Here we learned to trust ourselves to surmount all obstacles until we ultimately came to a clearing.
Creeks fed our imaginations, taught us about the environment, and built self-reliance and confidence. Somehow creeks felt primal, as if something deep in our DNA recalls that millions of years ago a creek meant life that fed us during the day and sang lullabies during the night.