The Creek's Story
by Guy Dauncey
My oldest memory is one of ice.
My mother was a huge, maternal sea of ice who stretched forever, covering the land that would one day become Vancouver Island, on Canada's western shore. It was twelve thousand years ago, and for reasons that are beyond me, the world was slowly warming. As the sun shone down with greater warmth, our mother gave birth to us as a host of baby trickles, and over the first thousand years of my life, I gradually grew into a stream, flowing proudly down to the river which carries me to the sea.
The ice retreated, but Mother Water never died, and as the climate warmed she fell to the earth as rain, giving life to the land, feeding me water from a thousand tiny rivulets. The earth sprung forth with grasses, herbs and shrubs, and great woolly mammoths arrived, grazing on my banks. It was the dawn of creation.
As the seasons passed, alder and maple trees grew tall around me, dappling the sunlight and creating the shade I love so much, opening the world to a paradise of mosses and mushrooms, Indian plum, snowberry and salal, dippers, wrens and herons. Bobcats and bighorn sheep, bears and wolves, musk-ox and elk all came to my waters, and beauty of all things, from the ocean came salmon, seeking new homes to lay their eggs.
Then came the true masters, fir, hemlock and cedar, trees so tall and vast that they created a glory of sunlight and shadow. The whole forest knew them as king. Such joy, to feed their roots, to drain their soil. In dappled areas, the sweet Garry oak grew with its ocean of flowers, while everywhere, eagles soared overhead. Each fall, when the salmon returned to spawn, my waters would turn into a frenzy of life as the dying salmon dropped and fertilized their eggs. Eagles and bears, cougars, wolves and raccoons all jostled to eat their fill, while silently I flowed on by, nurturing the tiny salmon eggs in patches of gravel, shaded by the trees. It was a glorious conspiracy of life, breathing together, living together, dying together.
I can still recall the day when the humans first arrived, settling to build a village near my banks. Now my mornings were filled with the shrieks of children playing, and the quiet talk of women washing their clothes. The men also came down to wash, sometimes to pray, drawing their ancestors close, seeking my help. It was so touching to see the humans reach out, keeping alive the connection that the rest of us knew so well. Occasionally they fought among themselves, but they spoke to the cedar trees before they took planks for their housing. They understood the Great Spirit that flows through us all, and gave thanks for the salmon they caught in my waters.
For more than five thousands years, our life remained thus. The mammoths and the musk-ox disappeared, but with every season, the giant fir and cedar trees grew larger and older, the forest grew ever more rich, and I flowed on, sheltering my salmon spawn and my baby fry, nurturing all the creatures which shared my home.
Then less than a hundred and fifty years ago, another group of humans arrived from afar, shattering the calm and rhythm of our life. They were bold and courageous, but they came as conquerors, ignorant of the thousand tiny ways in which our world behaved. They brought a powerful vision that needed timber to construct great ships, to build great castles and houses, and they saw that timber in my forests. First with handsaws and boats, then with chainsaws, railways and enormous trucks, they moved through my woods like creatures possessed, felling and carrying away my giants.
They knew nothing of the salmon, these heroes from another world. They cared not about the dirt that silted up my gravel, making it impossible for the spawn to survive, or about the blockages of fallen timber that stopped the salmon from ever reaching my waters. As they grew in pride and power they began cutting everything, whatever they could see. Finally, there came that awful day when they arrived at my banks, chainsaws in hand, and felled every tree, every stick, every sapling. My forest was gone, and I was left, a muddy, battered ditch, bereft of fish, bereft of the play of sun and shadows, bereft of all joy. Just a mere, dirty channel to drain the waters from this wretched land. And deprived of shade, when the salmon did return one year, the sun had made my waters too warm for their eggs to survive. These were the loneliest years.
The seasons passed, however, and while I continued to flow, year by year, the forest slowly returned. Not the glorious forest of old, but a strange, thick-packed forest where a thousand fir trees rushed up to the sky, too close for the bears or deer to wander, too close for the trees to put on girth. It was, I learned one day, a 'tree farm', no longer the forest I had known and loved. In less than seventy years, my trees would all be cut, and once again, my banks would be stripped. Was this to be my future ? A drainage ditch for a tree farm ? Was this what it had been about, my twelve thousand year old journey ?
The larger world works in mysterious ways. One day, not many years ago, a group of schoolchildren came hiking along my bank, equipped with maps and cameras. The next year they returned and set to work to restore my banks, replacing my rocks and boulders, creating anew safe places for the salmon to spawn. Listening carefully, I heard the word 'stewardship' passed from lip to lip, and something felt good. Later, a group of adults walked through my forest, thinning the trees, choosing the strongest as future seed trees. Listening carefully once more, I heard the word 'sustainable'. In their hearts, I saw a vision of the forest restored and my waters running clear, of life returning.
A year later, the children returned to release small salmon fry into my waters, and as they did so, they cast in flowers and leaves, whispering small prayers of hope, asking that I be protected, as I protected their fish. I wanted to splash out "Thankyou ! Thankyou !" and tell them what beautiful ripples of joy their words caused me to feel, but hey, that's life as a creek. You just have to absorb it all, in silence.
And the future ? I fear that there are many years to go before I can flow once again surrounded by the glorious richness of life I once knew. My Mother Water is everywhere, in ice and snow, mist and fog, rain and ocean. She sees and feels all, and she tells me troublesome things about the sun, about worrying disturbances in the sky. The entire world is growing warmer, she says, and we will all be a lot busier. There will be more evaporation from her oceans, faster melting of her ice, greater tumults of rain and storm. She fears for our salmon, that her oceans will be too warm for them to return, that there will be years when she fails to fall at all, when our salmon fry will die for lack of water. She fears for the forest, that the heat will turn it all to fire, and fill it with insects against which it knows no defense. These things are the doing of the humans, she says, the ones who are so bold and full of visions, but who are so ignorant of our planet's ecology. The same ones who are learning these new words, 'stewardship' and 'sustainability'. They're the ones who're doing the harm, and they're the ones who're fixing it.
Meanwhile, we'll just keep flowing. That's my story.
About the author
Guy Dauncey is an author, organizer and sustainable communities consultant who specializes in developing a positive vision of an environmentally sustainable future, and translating that vision into action. He is the author of Stormy Weather : 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society Publishers, July 2001), and A Sustainable Energy Plan for the US (Earth Island Journal, August 2003). He is the publisher of EcoNews (a monthly newsletter), President of the BC Sustainable Anergy Association (www.bcsea.org), and a consultant in ecovillage and green building development. He lives in Victoria, on the west coast of Canada.
His website is www.earthfuture.com