The Water Keeper

By Bernheim

A large sycamore tree

A sycamore tree taught me the value of water. More specifically, it taught me that water when protected, sustained life.  I was a child who loved wandering in or along the creek that meandered through the last remaining farm at the end of our neighborhood street.  In my mind, I still see that beautiful old gnarly sycamore that grew in the bend of that small stream. On clear days, the sky looked bluer as a backdrop to the white bark, splashed in shades of olive green, beige, and brown.  Here this great tree spread its anaconda like roots and held back the steep bank; thus creating a bowl of deep water. I’d often sit barefoot and on my haunches peering into that deeper pool, acquainting my young naturalist self with the life found there.

Water strider

Water striders glided over the surface like skaters, and whirligig beetles maneuvered like bumper cars. Silvery minnows darted about, and in the shade beneath the overhanging roots – the ones closest to the massive trunk, I sometimes saw the shadow of a larger fish – a young bass perhaps. There were also crawdads visible in the shallows, moving on the creek bottom like armored tanks. Of course, sometimes I’d scamper from that sycamore root and wade out to catch them. I’d carefully lift the flat rocks they seemed to prefer as hiding places. I learned quickly that when startled they swim backwards, and fast!

At other times, I remained motionless on my perch, imitating the belted kingfisher who often shared this riparian setting with me. This “old river captain” (my favorite nickname of this fishing bird) fished from a branch spanning the width of the creek.  Both of us eyeing for movement.  Occasionally, the kingfisher dove headfirst into the water, then with water spilling behind him, shot back to the branch to eat his catch.  Motionless, I watched the slow glide of fallen leaves over the blue green surface of that pool, or the swirl and concentric circles where a minnow grabbed an invertebrate snack. Upstream, the creek narrowed, the water glinted and gurgled as it spilled over small stones. This portion of the creek sculpted gray creek clay into smooth and slick sheets. Sometimes I scooped handfuls of this clay to fashion images of fish, birds, and even our Russian Blue cat, Frisky.  I’d then place my offerings in the sun to dry.

In late summer, the stream sometimes dried up, but never beneath this tree.  Its roots carved out this deep bowl of water that remained even during times of severe drought. It was always brimming with activity. The sycamore was the water-keeper for this community of life. It held back the creek bank and kept the stream from filling with silt.  Its massive canopy of leaves provided shade that tempered summer’s heat. This sycamore offered sanctuary for myriads of small creatures, and perhaps some larger ones. It definitely provided a haven for a small child, one who grew up nurtured by the lessons learned there.

Under the tutelage of this magnificent sycamore, I first realized the importance of water to life. As a child. I noticed what was in front of me, what sparkled and caught my eye and my imaginings.  As an adult, I know the water we see is only a small part of the story. Hidden water is all around us and within us. Water percolates and seeps underground in aquafers and springs. Water pulses through living organisms and hovers in clouds, in the air we breathe.  Water runs through the veins of this planet, but more than that, earth IS the water planet, a living blue green luminous jewel.  Let’s keep it that way and do our part.

Supporting nonprofit organizations such as Bernheim is one way to be a water keeper to learn others, click here.

To learn more about creatures in a creek, click here.







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