017On Sunday afternoon, as I stood in the middle of a stream, water running over my feet and then between tall, moss-covered cliffs on its determined way to somewhere else, I remembered – again – that my husband and I do the same thing for play now that we did when we were twelve: ply the creek beds. We’ve added some adult accompaniments to this pastime; I carry my camera, we notice more detail, we pay attention to dragonflies. But the basic activity is the same. Although as adults, we breathe more deeply and more consciously, because we are more aware of what we are trying to shed out here – the stifling noise of an urban setting, the pressures of a life trying to hold it all together.

I love the natural world, and being in the places where it holds the most sway. When I’m in one of these landscapes, fully engaged in it, I always get a feeling of transcendence.  This feeling isn’t exactly the same in all the places I go, though. Just as the foods I love all have different flavors, so do my favorite natural areas. Some places, like the North Fork Wilderness in Glacier National Park, stun me into silence one moment, and the next have me joyfully sticking my parched head into a frigid meltwater creek. The Silver River in Florida is changeable: in the morning it’s blue, misty and serene as a cathedral. But when the sun comes out for the day, so do the monkeys, and as they shove each other into the water or fling themselves in from the trees, they instantly change the character of the river from reverent to mirthful.

This place – Fall Creek, in western Indiana, near the Nature Conservancy site Fall Creek Gorge, is soothing. It’s a clear, walkable creek, dotted with circular indentations in the bed that force you to slow down and watch every step, so you don’t snap an ankle. At this time of year, the green of the tree canopy shelters the creek, filtering the sunlight into long, luminous beams. The cliffs are covered in cool green moss, and groundwater drips through the rocks here and there. About a month ago, columbines growing from cracks in the rocks were in full bloom, but by last weekend they were gone. The sight of the columbines was replaced by the enthusiastic chirping of cliff swallow chicks, tucked safely into nests their parents had carefully built inside gaps in the rocks.

There are always – always – surprises on the banks of the creek – an electric blue dragonfly, a tiny frog, a small water snake. There’s a particular rock beach that always seems to harbor puddling butterflies as they take in their minerals. Once, it was a large group of yellow Eastern Swallowtails. This time it was a handful of Question Marks. On the way back, we noticed a small, prehistoric looking creature, almost like a tiny horseshoe crab, lounging in the sand, half-in and half-out of the water. On closer inspection, we realized it was a snapping turtle hatchling, probably only a week or so old.

There are always surprises.

After a day of this, my calves were on fire and my joints were angry — another adult accompaniment to the endeavor — but my mind had quieted. Nature does this, at least for some of us, the scientists say, but I still wonder what precise things different places do to our minds. I wish I could wire myself up during visits to various places and find out: What part of my brain lights up like neon in a cool, green place like this? What about the vast and lunar Badlands? The New Mexico desert in September? What about the prairie patches that run along the busy city street near my home, where I’ve come away with so many images of micro-wilderness?

Most of my brain doesn’t really care, in the end. These are feelings of well-being, and addictive, so I keep seeking them out.

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16 thoughts on “A clear and walkable creek

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Spending unstructured time out in nature is where its at. Giving up control of everything and following the path (or creek bed in this case) wherever nature takes us.

    Thanks for taking us with you.

  2. When my Millennial was still a little squirt we (my ex and I) had a small vacation cottage in Highlands, NC, still do. One side of the property was marked by a crystalline mountain stream that ebbed and flowed at the whim of the weather gods: during a wet summer its roar would keep you awake at night, other times it fell silent. The black bears used it to navigate the mountain, Satulah—the same black bears who occasionally wandered over to our house across a groomed pine straw path for a look-see at what we were fixing for supper. My favorite thing about that stream though? Hours of entertainment for a beleaguered child whose teachers could not handle him in the classroom, whose ADHD ruled his life, but who for a glorious afternoon in the mountains was content—for hours on end—to turn over one stone and another for the sheer joy of seeing what creature would skitter out from under it. Thanks for taking me back to that place.

    1. I totally understand that. My kid, who can’t seem to focus on anything but video games indoors, becomes laser focused in a creek, looking for snakes, fish, you name it. It’s like you can see them slip into themselves.

  3. I went to Purdue and visited that area on several occasions! There is a wonderment that rises from a free flowing stream that elevates the senses and soothes the soul. Makes me want to take a hike in the woods – I’ll suggest it for this weekend!

    1. Hello fellow Boilermaker! I also went to Purdue, but for some reason didn’t find this place till I was in my late 20s, then again in my late 30’s because my husband’s family had property along Big Pine. I hope you enjoy that hike. 🙂

  4. I’m really enjoying your blog, having discovered it a few days ago via Jim Grey at Down The Road. I have a similar need to get out in nature going back to early childhood (maybe longer!) and whilst for a while I tried to be a street photographer I kept getting called back to photographing nature, trees, flowers, and nature reclaiming old decaying gates and doors and buildings… I feel most calm amongst the trees.

    Your posts are also inspiring me to write more thoughtfully and deeply on my blog, rather than “just” talking about the photography kit I use so much. Again it’s a return to a previous me that used to write as my predominant outlet before photography overtook that. No reason both can’t exist on the same platform.

    Looking forward to exploring the archives and reading more.

    (PS/ On a technical note, your site is really hard to navigate on my iPhone – when I try to navigate by touching the main header, or the menu icon (the three horizontal lines top right – is this meant to be a menu option?) it doesn’t go anywhere. I can only navigate by being on one specific post then scrolling right down and choosing “previous article” or “next article”. Is this just me? I can’t recall any other WP blogs where the navigation is limited/disabled like this. Thought you’d want to know!)

    1. Dan, thanks for your comment! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog. For me, the writing and the photography often, but not always, refuse to disentangle, and the one insists on following the other. I hope you do add some deep writing to your blog. I followed you so I can check it out.

      As for the technical issue, are you in the WP app or safari? I just got on the site on my iPhone in safari, and I had that same maddening three bars issue – BUT it did allow me to just scroll through the posts chronologically. I wonder if this is an issue with the particular theme I have installed.

      1. Hi Jennifer, I’ve only read maybe five posts but yes really enjoying so far.

        My blog began with more intention to be different from other photography blogs, where it’s often guys being all geeky about the kit. I wanted more poetry and romance and soul somehow. Need to get back on track. Because the whole point of photography is seeking (or hunting, to use the blog’s title) a balance and a beauty, externally and internally. And how photography aids and maybe sometimes hinders that.

        On the tech side it’s just in Safari I’m viewing, I don’t have the WP app. I realised also that although because I’m always signed into to WP on my phone, my usual toolbar appears at the top of the page, but again nothing happens when I click/tap the different icons like it does on other WP blogs. Or actually I do get a brief flicker of the menu that’s supposed to appear and stay there but then it disappears again. Maybe a template thing yes, but your template looks quite minimal and simple (a good thing in my book!) so I don’t know. Yeh I can just scroll down and read through all the posts chronologically too but I also like to read the comments, so I need to click into each post to see those. No big deal I’ll still keep reading, just curious it’s not activating all the icons/options. Hope you can figure it out!

  5. Loved reading ad it resonated deeply. I jave always been comforted, amazed, silenced and inspired by nature.
    Lately, I have found myself seeking natures landscapes to explore, be playful and to purge mentally and emotionally.
    I look forward to your blog!

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