“I am haunted by waters.”-Norman Maclean in A River Runs Through It.
Rivers seem to hold magical sway over everywhere they flow. Their ecological and scientific qualities cannot be overstated, but the philosophical and spiritual aspects of a river impact us greatly as well. To be sure, the ecological questions are of vast importance, and protecting a river is a priority; however, the magic found in flowing water leaves an indelible mark on one’s soul, if one only pays attention.
I am blessed to live within a 10 minute drive of the major rivers of McDonald County. Big Sugar is close enough I consider it to be my “backyard,” and Indian Creek is only slightly further away, but to the north. The “Mighty” Elk forms in Pineville before meandering slowly to Oklahoma. Indian Creek, however, has become my favorite of these streams.
There is a bluff along Indian Creek that continues to haunt me. It sits on the south edge of a fast riffle, and falls off quickly to the west. The other side of the stream is formed by a small emerald pool, and a gravel bar just wide enough to sit and enjoy the scenery. The first time I visited this spot it was about noon, and the sunlight streamed down through the silver maples and sycamores up the ravine. Along the top of the bluff, cedars and little blue-stem hung on for dear life, while wild wildflowers proved their tenacity by not only sprouting, but blooming in the few places they managed to get a foothold along the bluff’s face. I had tried unsuccessfully to coax a small-mouth out of the pool, so I sat down on the cold gravel and stared at the bluff’s face. In my mind’s eye, I could see countless generations along the bluff and down into the ravine. Young Indians padded happily along under the ancestors of the maples and sycamores there now, while the ancestors of those Indians watched from the behind the cedars along the top of the bluff. I felt as if the ghosts of these generations past watched from the shadows of the trees. I would like to think they approved of my presence, and I remained reverent as I sat there. I certainly approve of their haunt.
The bluffs along all of my rivers have been worn down and smoothed out by time. These are Maclean’s “basement of time” and the river has slowly carved them into shape. Unfortunately, not all worshipers are as respectful of this ancient sanctuary and places where these bluffs are lined by the road bear marks attesting to stupidity. Mark may love Angie, but Hallmark is a better conveyor of that sentiment than Rustoleum. I can’t help but wonder how they could have missed the river’s magic. Probably alcohol.
And the trees! Sycamores hang vicariously right at the water’s edge, seemingly defying gravity. Occasionally, a flood provides the impetus for one to fall in the stream, adding a challenge to floater, but homes to the small-mouth. Maples grow in the shade of sycamores, and an occasional cottonwood. While I was paddling along Indian Creek as silently as possible, a soft breeze began blowing leaves out of the sycamores; a portend of autumn. In many places, the stream narrows, and the end of the branches begin growing into each other, forming a tunnel. I will have to go back once the leaves begin turning. The magic that grows from the stream into the wildflowers during spring and summer also grows into the trees in the fall, as bright yellows get interrupted by flames of red Virginia creeper. As if to show that the magic is still there, goldenrod and asters continue blooming into October, sweetening the breeze that knocks the leaves from the trees.
As I floated along, I was startled by a screeching from overhead. An osprey was clearly agitated by something. It kept diving toward the top of tree before doing a quick turn and diving again. As I rounded the corner, I saw the antagonist in the osprey’s story. A bald eagle was perched in the top of the tree. The town just wasn’t big enough for the two of ‘em. My presence in the kayak disrupted their debate, and both raptors flew off to other fishing grounds.
The osprey, eagle, and myself weren’t the only fishers there that day. Great Blue Herons stalked quietly along the edges, providing an example of intense patience and skill. Green herons hopped through the tops of downed trees, watching for small fish, and Belted Kingfishers announced their annoyance at my presence. I only hope they were experiencing better luck than I.
I never leave a stream the same person I was when I first put my kayak in the water. There’s too much magic in the water for that to happen, and I pray it never ceases to have an effect on me. I am haunted by Indian Creek. May it always be so.
Keith Jones Bio:
I grew up on a small farm outside of Anderson, Mo. Since I was a child I have loved spending time in the woods, and the small patch of woods near my house left an indelible mark on who I am. I joined Missouri Master Naturalist to meet like minded folks, and to find opportunities to expand my passion for nature. I have been a member for only two years, and have met some great friends in our chapter. One of my favorite past times is floating Indian, Big Sugar, or Elk River near my home, and I am blessed to live within 6 miles of all three creeks. I also enjoy hiking Big Sugar Creek State Park and Roaring River State Park. I am currently teaching Junior High Science at White Rock Junior High, near Little Sugar Creek in Jane, Missouri.