I always miss the beginning of a stream coming to life… Does it start with a trickle, slowly growing bigger and faster? Does it come in a wave, like a tsunami down the canyon? Or seep up from below, where the flow never stopped? I keep on checking, sure that the rainfall is finally enough to make my stream come to life—but there is nothing. Then one morning, I wake to find a madly rushing flood where there was a desolate streambed hours before.
My stream shoved over a massive, dead cottonwood tree in the night. It scoured the banks, flattening all plant life. It’s a muddy, swirling mess, unfit for fish or fowl right now. But a mallard flies overhead, quacking ecstatically. The water has returned—and life will quickly follow.
Our youngest son claimed he needed a big dog to fill a big hole left by his older brothers leaving for college and his Grandpa passing away. He’d found just the dog, at the local shelter: a two-year-old Saint Bernard, the size of my husband's Prius. Goofy, loving, and desperate to get out of the slammer, Gus leaned on me so hard I almost fell over. I couldn't say no. It occurred to me that Gus was an answered prayer, in a furry disguise.
Gus was fine-- for about a day, until it became clear that he had lots of baggage. He was sick. Unneutered. Had a pronounced limp. Had likely been neglected and abused. Was terrified of gunshots and thunder. He was territorial, and suddenly wanted to bite everyone that came to our house. We methodically addressed each problem, but we couldn't fix the aggression . Our huge dog was becoming a huge problem.
The pound said they would take him back--but a biting history would be a death sentence. We scoured rescues all over the country. Time after time I heard the same advice: the dog has to be put down. Still, we did not have the stomach to destroy the big, dumb, dog-- or break the kid’s heart. Me, the prayerful one, did not wish to spit in God's eye, in case Gus was my answered prayer. My husband just never gives up on a dog or a problem, for that matter. He's a good fixer.
We got lucky. A friend directed us to Marty at Rajun Kennels, who listened to our story and agreed to give him a chance. Marty trains problem dogs on the Central Coast of California. And he is awesome. Gus was a good student. He hasn’t tried to bite anyone for nearly a year now. With time, he is learning that he is safe and our home doesn't need such enthusiastic defending. He goes back for refresher courses. We stay vigilant. The stakes are high.
Gus will always be a challenge. He's lazy, dumb as a stump, has poor vision, lousy hearing, and tries to sneak onto our bed every chance he gets. He crashes into chairs tipping them over, nearly knocks us down when he bounds up to greet us. He snores like a tractor and leaves a trail, like Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs, of drool and hair. His bark is so thundering it stops my heart. His breed doesn't live long. His time to be a problem or answered prayer-- with anyone-- will be short.
I don't believe holes left by beloved people can ever be filled, but you can plant new love beside the hole in your heart, and it does help. Bad dogs love just as well as good dogs, maybe better. Gus is the most affectionate, grateful creature on this planet. Gentle with cats, chickens, and Grandmas. Joyfully accepting belly-rubs from each new friend . And he makes me laugh, every single day, even when I 'm grumpy and annoyed with life. Howling his funny dog songs, making ridiculous faces, begging to sleep on the couch, racing in circles through the orchard, until he turns too tightly and falls over—then bounding up for another go. I haven't laughed so much in years.
Why am I writing about Gus, the problem dog, on a stream blog? Because, Gus's favorite thing of all-- next to sleeping in the middle of the kitchen on his own pillowy bed--is playing in water. Splashing, cavorting, wallowing, fetching sticks, swimming. But this was before our creek dried up in the drought. Now Gus looks perplexed each time we walk the dry streambed. Where is all that wet stuff?
It’s been a long dry spell, but there are storms stacking up on the horizon and the ground is getting saturated from light rains earlier last week. Way upstream, I'm told, the stream is beginning to flow.
Streams are good medicine for the soul. Something about all that extravagant life and motion, ever changing, but ever the same. There is no situation that spending time by running water does not improve. If you are already joyful, stream-time adds calm to your joy. If you've got the blues, sitting by a stream lifts you up. Recently, lost in worry for a loved one, I fled to my creek for solace.
Except, my stream has been dry now, month after parched month, from our long California drought. No fish returning to spawn. No sign of beavers, or blue herons, turtles or raccoons. No crawdads, water skippers, or sparkling dragonflies. Only dry leaves rattling over dry stones. My heart aches for my stream. My heart aches for my loved one. Trudging over this desolate path, I am dogged by fearful questions:
How can I help my cherished one? How will the wild creatures survive this long, harsh stretch, with nowhere to find food, or get a drink? Will the steelhead ever return to their native homeland? Where is the promise of my cup, or my stream, overflowing?
I plod for a long while, trudging over cracked mud and dry, grey stones, until something stops me in my tracks. A peace sign, large enough for a whole family to take refuge in, built from white rocks, gleaming against the brown and grey. I step into its circle. I ponder the mystery of the artist. What drove him or her deep into this bleak, brushy stream-bed to build an alter of peace? I stand in wonder for a long while. The fear I've been harboring flaps its wings, and lifts off, heavy and ungainly as a great blue heron. I feel like I can breathe again.
Each stream tells a thousand stories. Stories of floods and droughts, earthquakes and bulldozers, stories of lives it nourishes, and lives of those who visit its shores. This is a story of a woman seeking refuge from fear, and of an unknown artist/warrior, fighting off the darkness, and offering peace. The two stories weave together, making a new story, a new kind of music.
All streams make music-- bass notes of roaring and crashing, silvery notes of water slipping over stone. But today, I understand that, even when streams run dry, there is music. Birds call out. Wind rattles dry leaves. And in between, there are the silent notes, holy preludes to new songs waiting in the wings.
I return home uplifted, knowing the rains will return, and my stream will flow once more. The fish will find their way home. Much later, I learn that the peace sign was created by the very loved one that propelled me, fearful and fraught, to the stream in the first place. I don't let on how astonished I am, but something light, like glittering dragonfly wings, dances across my heart. Wonder and thanksgiving overflowing. My loved one has discovered the secret: streams are good medicine.
This drought could last 100 years, or it could end, with the rain predicted later this week. Stream songs are always changing, and always unique, but the underlying riffs stay the same: Be still. Pay attention. There is so much you don’t yet understand.
Welcome to Streamriffs.com, a place for fellow creek- walkers and nature lovers. Lori Fisher Peelen lives in California with her family.