“The Pit” is a dirt pullout way down our country road. Teens congregate. Drifters camp. Drug dealers slide in and speed away in sketchy cars.
Really it's just a pullout beside a pretty stream, wedged between two mountains. A row of boulders attempt to keep cars out. Trash barrels overflow. “Keep Out” signs abound. But creek access is rare—so people stop. Everyone loves a stream.
There’s a fire pit here, constantly dismantled by authorities; just as quickly rebuilt by pit-enthusiasts. Maybe this is where it got its name. Or maybe, as roadside pullouts go—this place is just really the pits. Even though I’m the slowest jogger in America, I speed up when I pass the Pit.
But last week, no one lurked at the Pit when I jogged by. I felt brave-- because I had my two disreputable hounds and my big, stern-looking husband alongside me. I suggested we stop for a minute to let the dogs get a drink.
It was a lovely, early-fall afternoon. As we waited for the dogs, my husband pointed out a well-crafted stone wall I'd never noticed--because I always run past like a scared rabbit. Then he spotted a spring, seeping out of the ground beneath a thicket. I'd never seen that either.
Following the trickle of water, peering into a tangle of bushes, I found two sets of old stone stairs. At the base of stairs, cradled between the two flights, was a perfect stone circle, an artisan well. It was clogged with leaves, but brimming with ice-cold, fresh water. Someone long ago had circled it with rock and mortar, making it the perfect place to dip a bucket beside the road.
Suddenly, “the pit” looked different to me. Friendly and welcoming. Beautiful even. Maybe the well and stone work was once part of a beloved homestead, now long gone. Or maybe it was just a wayside rest; a place where travelers refilled water jugs and refreshed their oxen or horses before pulling their rigs over the steep mountain pass.
I was struck with the realization that “The Pit” is more than I'd realized. It's still a pit, but it is also the home of a historical, clear-flowing well, artfully crafted by caring hands. Homesteaders or travelers passed this way, with all their stories and history, long before it was a rough spot in the neighborhood.
A week passed, and I went by, once again, this time with just the hounds. I didn't stop at the Pit, but Gus found a pool to wallow in, just around the bend. We had to scramble over some big rocks to reach the pool. While I watched him cool off, I spotted something even more ancient than the old well: hollows in the boulders where women once sat, stream-side, grinding acorns into flour. Native Americans lived along this stream, hunting and gathering here long before the well or the Pit. They too, had their stories and their history. Who knows what came before them? Who knows what will come after us?
I’m not about to start camping out at The Pit, but I will see it through a wider lens. I hope it reminds me that there is much more going on than what I perceive-- especially when I fall into my own little narrow-canyoned pits. I hope I remember to look around, to see what assumptions I've made, what I've overlooked. Maybe lots of things that seem like the pits have a well-spring just waiting to be discovered. Maybe every pit is actually just a well I haven't finished digging. At any rate, next time I pass, I'll bring a little rake to clear out the leaves--and a cup to leave by the well.
Welcome to Streamriffs.com, a place for fellow creek- walkers and nature lovers. Lori Fisher Peelen lives in California with her family.