Paul Andersen: Fair Game
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Anyone who hiked up the Hunter Creek Trail during peak runoff this spring witnessed the phenomenal force of water and gravity. Hunter Creek was a roaring tumult that seemed to shake the very earth.
That was June. Rivers and creeks throughout the valley were murky with sediment. The water became a fluid conveyor belt carrying off the earth itself on an eternal journey from the mountains to the sea.
Those earthen sediments will make it only as far as Lake Powell, where silt and mud settle many feet thick in the former glories of Glen Canyon. Natural soil slurries have occurred before. The Maroon Bells reveal in their horizontal striations the deposition of streamflows that eroded a pair of mountain ranges 300 million years ago.
When the Ancestral Rockies were sluiced away to a Cretaceous seaway where the Bells stand today, the rivers flowed with far more vigor than even rip-roaring Hunter Creek. At that time the Earth spun on a different axis that put our region nearer the equator and subjected the land to torrential equatorial rains and erosion.
One mountain range washes away only to form the foundation of the next mountain range. The flood coming down Hunter Creek this spring carried sediments that will one day become the formations of a new world. “The Rockies may crumble/Gibraltar may tumble/They’re only made of clay…”
A few weeks ago I sat quietly on the banks of Conundrum Creek and simply watched the water flow. Gradually, the creek became more than the sum of its parts. It formed into a column of water, inexorable and unstoppable, seething between its banks like an enormous serpent driven by an unconscious desire for sea level.
I walked downstream and found a beaver dam where the column of water spread out, probing for a way through. The mighty column of water broke into rivulets that poured over here and there. It dissolved into droplets that seeped through a sieve of sticks and mud.
The creek got momentarily bunched up behind the beaver’s construction, but it seeped below the dams where it rejoined its many parts and continued downvalley with renewed vigor ” a churning, rushing, roaring, potent column of green water.
This arterial action has been going on for millennia. Even on the coldest winter nights the creek flows like a pulse from the heart of the Earth. It flows day and night. It flows throughout our lives, our joys, our heartbreaks, our births, our deaths. It flows through the rise and fall of civilizations, marking time by cutting deepening its channel in the Earth.
Sitting by the river, I saw man as an insignificant dam builder whose earthly works, like those of the beaver, are momentary impediments to far greater forces. Our constructs are as temporal as the sandbags forming walls along watercourses that roared out to us this spring for more space! More freedom!
Water is one of the great natural forces, whether it flows in the unity of a column or is broken into smaller parts. It grows giant sequoias. It decays, consumes, and erodes. It cracks apart mountains, shatters rock. It buries with snow, lashes with sleet, pounds with hail. It smashes the ocean shore with endless waves. It explodes as steam, becomes solid as ice. It cushions us in the womb and flows in our veins. It gives life and takes it away.
When you touch a stream you grasp the cycle of the seasons. You feel the motion of time and matter. Connect with it. The stream is part of you, part of us all, a fluid amalgam of drops and molecules and atoms. It flows within you and without you.
I sat by Conundrum Creek and put my hand in the water. It gently caressed my skin until my fingers were numb, my arm ached, my flesh burned. I withdrew my hand and held it with the other. The stream hand was deathly cold; the earth hand was warm. I pressed the damp stream hand against my forehead and savored the cold blood of Earth.
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