Upstream

I’m standing in the middle of redwood and tan oak trees. Still, unmoving. The silence is complete and absolute. My ears implode with the absence of sound, as if I’ve just skyrocketed up a thousand feet. Hands at my sides, face turned upwards… quiet sinks slowly into my bones and replaces the white noise I rarely even notice any more. I close my eyes and suddenly, like petals opening, the external silence has layers: a raven caws; a solo woodpecker keeps his own rhythm high above the ground. I know Salamander Creek is behind my right shoulder from the faint trickle of water and the louder sound of amphibious melody. I can almost hear the earth moving.

Amidst these redwoods, I stand on the spot where I first dreamt, first walked, first spoke, first realized. There is nothing here now between the thousand-year-old trees save bits of faded wood, overgrown scotch broom, deep gouges where irreverent dirt bikers from the City have cut into the earth with their tires. The disrespect of it makes me want to scream. A small voice reminds me that they don’t know the power of this place, or its history. If they did, would they have left these scars where I was conceived? To see the earth here so torn is physical pain for me. In my heart this place will always be as it was when I was a child: full of wonder and magic and fantasy. It is a part of me. I don’t want to remember it like this. Mentally, I lower the screen of my memory, returning the terrain to how it was when I was a child. In my mind the earth is glowing and it resonates within me.

Dad walks back down to the Millsite to maneuver the camper up towards where our cabin once stood, and I head up the creek towards the spring. Right away I greet my old friends. Boulder—my first palate with swirls of dissolved sienna, umber and ochre sandstone, standing moss-strewn and more rounded in the shoulders than I remember him; Stump—old carved logging footholds a ladder to the stage of so many fantastic performances. I see the overgrown trail (aka ‘the path of grownups’) curve up the bank to the right. I continue walking up the middle of the dry stream.

I know every bend, every crook and puddle in Salamander Creek from the Rose’s cabin to the spring. Even now, when fallen trees whose roots once loomed above me now only reach my shoulder, I know exactly where I am. I know this place in my bones, better than any city or neighborhood, despite the effects of time that have changed both of us. I can close my eyes and tell you the direction even if you spin me around. This place is in my blood.

I walk slowly upstream, stopping now and then to close my eyes and listen. I hold my breath, hoping the ecosystem I have interrupted will continue despite my presence. I pick my way over familiar slabs of rock and fallen logs, noticing the decay of certain once-firm crossings. Time has reached this place. Somehow I never thought it could.

When I reach the spring, the well is dry. Further up, the corrugated sheet metal that once protected the source is cast aside and silt and leaves have clogged up this gateway into the earth. Water, most stubborn of elements, continues to trickle through the mud, finding its way gradually into the stream and eventually out to sea. I kneel and lift a handful of silt from the hole, running it through my fingers, massaging it into the kitchen cuts and scrapes on my hands. If anything could heal me, it would be this. I cover myself to my wrists, working the mud over and into my skin. It feels good, and the smell of it is primitive and familiar. I find a spot nearby in the sun, turn my face and dyed hands to the rays, and I don’t move until I can feel the mud dry and crack on my skin. My body one again has absorbed this place, made it a part of my self like it always has been. When I open my eyes, there are tiny cracked trails running over my palms like a new layer of fortune to be told. I carefully, slowly, wash my hands clean in the creek, watching the dust become mud again and sink in the water. I feel a tumultuous part of myself settle with it.

I take the trail back downstream.

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