I am getting out of my car at the Rock Run trailhead. As I step out, I look back. I see that the creek bed behind the parking area is dry. Instead of crossing the road to the information board, I head down into the creek bed and cross under the bridge. There is a pool of water, but I’m able to sneak around it today, since it hasn’t rained for some time.
Walking the creek bed at Rock Run has always been a meditation for me. I’ve traveled it alone, in peaceful silence, and I’ve travelled it with a group of 25 or so excited students behind me. My family will often head down Rock Run on a hot summer day and picnic at the pool by the spot where the trail crosses the creek.
Today, as I walk up the trail, I’m alone. Alone meaning by myself, but not truly alone. I am joined for a while by a Louisiana water thrush that is making its opinion on my presence known. I am joined for a moment by a frog that quickly disappears with a splash into a muddy pool. An eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly visits a pool in front of me, and flutters on.
As I continue my journey up the trail, I am struck by the realization that although I’m walking up the trail, I’m actually walking down the stream. The water is flowing in my direction of travel, so at times I can hear the riffles of flowing water, although they are few and far between with the water being so low. I occasionally have to step into water to my ankle, but for the most part, if I’m careful, I can avoid the water by stepping on the cobble that makes up most of the stream bed.
I stop and imagine what this creek bed must look like when it rains. On both sides of the creek, steep hills would funnel water down, as the creek plows through the spot that I stand, pushing gravel and silt, and leaving the larger rocks where I find my footing. With more water would come more power, flowing downstream with the force of a bulldozer, breaking down rock, moving it, and carving out a place for the next flood.
Looking down now, I can see the peace that is left behind: Rocks too large to be moved by flowing water, banks carved out at the turns in the creek, gravel piled up on the inside turns. There is no water here now, at least not much, but its marks have been made.
As I come to the place where the Rock Run Loop crosses down into the stream, I make the decision to forego the trail, and keep walking the creek bed. Walking further down, I come to the culvert that carries Rock Run Creek into Long Lick Creek. One creeks journey ends to fill another, larger one as they flow together towards the even larger Salt River.
I wonder for a moment what would happen if I were to turn around and walk upstream. If I walked far enough upstream, would I find the place where the creek begins? It’s at this point that I realize that no matter how far upstream I walk, I will never make it to the source, since the source is above me and around me, everywhere I look.
Without the rain that comes to fill this creek, there is no creek. Without the hills to funnel the rain down, there is no creek. Without the water that has already flowed past, there would be no water in the clouds. Everything is connected in a delicate cycle of water coming and going, its arrival and departure depending on what one considers the destination. Creeks don’t start and end at one point, they are cyclical. The water that has flowed will fly; the water in the clouds will revisit the ground.
I think it’s fitting that the areas of land that separate watersheds are called divides. I’ve been reading and hearing about how the world is so divided these days. If only those divided populations would realize that no matter where the water flows, it’s all going to end up somewhere else, maybe in another watershed altogether. The way we treat our water is the way we treat everyone’s water. We should be worried about water everywhere, because in the grand scheme of things, the water everywhere is water for us, just as the way we treat each other is the way we treat ourselves.
I am suddenly shaken out of my wandering brain to the sound of a red-bellied woodpecker flying overhead. Maybe it’s scolding me for thinking that my thoughts are important enough to be lost in when there’s an entire forest around me to be found in.
I turn around and head back upstream, down the trail that has taken me on many journeys and adventures. I’m looking forward to the next one.