Call this creek Melodius, our name for a stream that skips like a light-footed child. Melodius sings into the Metolius, and that’s all I’ll say. Some places have to be kept secret. I’d come here with Wes and our dog Pepper to set up camp away from people. For two days, I alternated writing at the camp table with nearby strolls in a sensory inventory, inspired by the finely tuned nature author David Haskell.
In the cool of morning, I brush through ferns, ocean spray, and wild rose, and climb over fallen trees blackened by wildfire. The creek is a syncopated ripple over stones. Sunlight slants into the fine-webbed globe of a salsify seedhead, the size of a baseball. Up close, I note stems radiating from the center to form saucer-shaped, filamentous seeds that are feather light, an offering to the winds. Take me. Sail me to my planting place.
The scent of seven a.m. is smoky charcoal of old fire and a faint hint of humus and fir incense. Two hours later, the sun heats the kiln of forest aromas– a mingle of resinous firs, vanilla wafting from elder ponderosas, of cedar, spicy larch needles, and all laced in a sweetness of blooms. Looking skyward, I’m spiring up like a larch snag spearing the azure sky.
Crinkle the frilled edge of a bracken fern. Inhale the cut-grass hay and celery scent. Whirl back in time. I’m nine-years-old, and scrambling through bracken thickets to find the blackberry bushes, where my brothers and I will pick the juicy, sweet purple berries and stain our fingers, tongues, and chins. We’re close by our home, outside Mt. Rainier National Park, and the day is hot and the ferns press a memory keepsake.
Touch the nubile Douglas fir needles, the prickle tips of Oregon grape, the leathery seaweed-shaped cedar fronds, and the knitting needle-sharp quills of ponderosa. A velvety, jagged-edged alder leaf chewed by insects captures the sun. Can texture, too, take us home to a distant memory? Yes, I think, drifting back to my twenties when I stumbled upon a spongy, glowing emerald moss bed on top of a flat and immense boulder near the Selway River.
Away from the creek, my sandaled feet crunch in last year’s needles. Within 20 feet of the streambank, all is moist and watered below ground. Immersed in this riparian ribbon, I’ve flown back not just to childhood, but to the time of dinosaurs, of tropical, exuberant, flamboyantly lush and giant plant life. I’m even finding equisetum, or horsetail, the living fossil plant that grew in the Mesozoic, and the first to recolonize Mt. St. Helens after the eruption.
Wading into Melodious, I gasp at the frigid tug of knee-deep waters, and stand still until my feet are numb. Only then can I continue upstream beneath the malachite, lime, and shadowed greenery that arches over the creek. At last, I become the song. Know the heartbeat of headwater springs. Catch the refrain of tenor and soprano. The chorus? A slice of pure wind. Birds chime in with hummingbird clickity-clicks, Cassin’s Vireo grace notes, and Song Sparrow riffs of joy.
Clambering out to stable ground, I raise my arms. Stand on one leg. Tree pose. Wonder at who I am within this place. Like the salsify seedhead, my presence is ephemeral, and yet I hold feathery seeds of promise on each fingertip. While I live, I hope to plant them in ways that nourish like Melodious Creek.