Word Sketches

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Mountain Stream


I am mesmerized by a mountain stream moving rapidly through a pine forest. The crystal clear water is like flowing glass, throwing tiny, random reflections of sunlight from its surface. In a shady area beneath the branches of an over-hanging evergreen, I can see the brown bottom of the streambed, covered with small, smooth stones of various colors. Large boulders hold steadfast in the current, causing deep pools to form downstream of them. The water appears to stand still in those depths, but it is secretly flowing in and out, as if by magic.

Smaller boulders in mid-stream cause sprays of water to fly into the air, creating bubbles in the current and sending tiny waves against the shore. The fountains of water from these obstructions pulse, now strong, now weak. I wonder whether any two of the sprays are ever the same, with all the droplets cascading in exactly the same manner. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened in this world.

The water is icy cold, fresh from snow banks higher up the mountainsides. In older times, it was safe to drink and was immensely refreshing. It was so cold that it hurt my teeth. Now, it has to be boiled or treated before it can be ingested safely. What a loss!

Although it is not always apparent, the current is swift. If I tried to wade across it, I would run the very real risk of losing my footing and being swept away. It may look benign, but there is danger lurking within its depths and its powerful gravity-fed force. In the spring melt season and at times of sudden downpours, the stream is capable of moving large boulders and of carrying sizeable tree trunks many miles downstream. Each year, it undermines a number of huge trees, and causes them to slip into the stream’s domain. It may appear to be an innocent, safe feature of this environment, but its disguise is misleading. It can be a truly destructive force.

The sound of the rushing water, as it falls over sunken logs, crashes against huge boulders, and bubbles over rocks just below the surface, is music to my ears. Its noise is a cacophony -- boisterous, riotous, discordant, and chaotic; but it is like a beautiful symphony to me. As I sit on the bank, with my eyes closed, I hear a song of nature, wilderness, strength, and peace. The sound is soothing; it blocks out all other noises and allows me to concentrate on whatever my mind chooses. It does not distract me, but places a protective barrier around me, screening out other sounds that might disturb me. I find my thoughts drifting, stretching, relaxing, and I enjoy the sense of well-being produced by the solitude of the moment. What a wonderful therapy this mountain stream is for my psyche!

Gerald McDaniel, October 2003

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