On and Over the Hills

"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle

The Story of an Unnamed Creek

The geographical elevation of any location plays a pivotal role in all of life. Here, at 1200 metres, as a factor in our climate and growing season (fewer frost-free days, cooler nights), and our weather (warm air aloft can be a good thing), the elevation determines what plants can grow here and thus what animals will survive.

Beyond climate though, and only as a matter of physics, elevation determines the relative size of watercourses. So much of the mighty rivers and so the oceans begin on the tops of the hills. What falls as rain and snow percolates through the flora, and what excess runs through the mosses and seeps below the roots trickles above and below ground, gathering in the low places and gaining volume and momentum as the slope declines. What we call a creek here, at the apex of a high ridge, others might consider a mere trickle; our rivers would barely qualify as streams at lower elevations.

My little creek meanders along and down a natural ravine along the eastern side of Swan Hills: my town. It starts underground, gathering water by the droplet from oozing seepage and dribbling rivulets along and between hillside spurs. It appears and disappears. It divides and reforms. It gushes after the rains and glides during dry spells. It spreads through marshes and fens tangled with willows and swamp spruce, continually filtering its pristine waters through the mosses. In the deepest places it clears away the thin soil and peat and tumbles over fallen branches and the smooth, round rocks that line the subsurface. In the steepest places it cascades over these rocks playfully splashing and gurgling.

Though deserving it may be, my little creek has no name. Humbly nourishing a myriad of plant life including orchids and currants, it pullulates placidly southward where it quietly joins another unnamed course. This stream comes from a slightly higher elevation to the north and east, and it flows west, emptying into the Morse River east of Highway 32. The Morse gushes southeast until it discharges into Freeman River directly south of the second southward crossing on Highway 33 between Trapper Lea’s Cabin and the Centre of Alberta Natural Area. The oxbow-rich and debris-ridden Freeman, with a beautiful shimmer of nutrient rich green, then joins the dark glacier waters of the mighty Athabasca at Fort Assiniboine.

The peaceful shush and gurgle of the waters of my little creek have now been transformed. Each droplet that has not been drunk by a moose or the thirsty roots of a balsam fir or returned to the clouds by evaporation is now in the company of the melted snow and ice from the Athabasca Glacier. They are now part of one of the most ecologically and historically important rivers in Canada, which played an essential part in the early fur trade and the opening up of the north to Europeans. So long before that, the Athabasca River would presumably have been a factor in the distribution of First Nations people after the last Ice Age.

These droplets now travel at breakneck speeds as they race northeast to join with another important river: the historically named Peace, in the Peace-Athabasca Delta. The Slave River is formed from the melded waters and courses north into the Great Slave Lake, where the water from my little creek may rest a while before continuing the northward course as the mighty Mackenzie River. Eventually and finally, barring an earlier loop in the water cycle they may reach every creek’s destination – the ocean. Here, in the Arctic Ocean, our little droplets may circulate year-round under the surface for a while, and then they may rise to the surface to kiss the shores with the tides and to freeze and thaw, evaporate and return to the earth at another place as the seasons dictate.

I sit humbly on the trunk of a fallen spruce beside my little creek on a early June afternoon. It’s barely a stride wide at this point. Tall poplar, spruce and thick willows are all around me, the willow leaves just beginning to unfold; their catkins attracting a few early flies and wasps. I’ve avoided sitting too close to the prickles of a small gooseberry bush and the tiny blossoms of a delicate violet. I can barely hear a fat furry bee as it visits the little yellow anemones abloom all around me.

Nearby in the shade of a circle of pines a fern is teasingly unrolling its fronds. Across the creek I know there’s a lone and vulnerable orchid: a Venus’ Slipper, dancing a quiet, sultry ballet in the breeze. Tenacious horsetails spring up through the mud where the little creek had overflowed its tenuous banks with the snowmelt just weeks before. Above it I drink in the rich greens of the many species of moss that cover the hillside under the towering pine and spruce, pale lichens shining among them. I wonder at the astounding variety and beauty of the plant life around me and I listen to the cheerful melodies of the water and of the birds that are attracted to the stream-sustained deciduous trees. A squirrel chirps from amid a thick fir, possibly concerned that I am a potential danger. And possibly, I am.

Contemplating the awe-inspiring journey of a little drop of rain or melted snowflake I am deeply aware of my dependence on this little trickle of water that I meditate beside and of all those like it. I am struck by the importance and the fragility of their ecosystems. I wonder and worry about what I can do to ensure that this system, this incredibly intricate network of life will endure for my dear grandchildren, and for theirs.

Addendum: Just discovered this great interactive website from the Canadian Geograpic – Explore Canada’s Ocean Watersheds.

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27 comments on “The Story of an Unnamed Creek

  1. pixilated2
    June 19, 2011

    I think we could have seen it all even without the photos. But, I’m glad you included them.
    They are so lovely! ~ Lynda

    • missusk76
      June 26, 2011

      Thank you, Lynda. So glad you could see the walk from the narrative. It’s so hard to know if what’s in the brain is actually getting out in the words.

      • pixilated2
        June 26, 2011

        I feel that way every time I post on my blog. I think we are ultra critical of our writing and our message because its out there for everyone to read… You needn’t worry, but then again, that is probably why your posts always shine.

  2. Bob Zeller
    June 19, 2011

    I agree with Lynda. I can see it in my mind’s eye and hear the trickling water. Your narrative just grabs me and holds me in rapturous joy. Another masterpiece, Cindy.

    • missusk76
      June 26, 2011

      “…rapturous joy.” Wow, Bob. What a wonderful compliment.

  3. Heather
    June 20, 2011

    This is beautiful, Cindy. You’ve created such a sense of place that I feel I’m sitting there with you. I have many little streams like yours running through the woods of the provincial park that is my backyard and like you, I’m always in awe of the intricate fabric of life that is woven along the water’s edge.
    Watersheds are of particular interest to Manitobans these days, with flooding in the west and nutrient loading of our great lakes. I can only hope that these imminent disasters wake up the public to the importance of maintaining our waterways and their natural filters for generations to come… before it’s too late.

    • missusk76
      June 26, 2011

      I think people are getting to the point where it’s difficult to put your head in the sand and pretend you don’t know what’s going on. The next step is getting people to sacrifice a little bit to begin to make the necessary changes. I’m so glad you felt like you were there. It is my goal to share the experience itself.

  4. julianhoffman
    June 21, 2011

    Seeing the journey of your creek, or each particle of water vapour, through its cycle of existence is a marvellous way of exploring the interconnectedness of all things, Cindy. You reveal the life of a droplet as a constituent of great rivers and oceans, as playing a part in the cultural history of a continent and as water for moose and orchids. Always passing through in some form. Like Heather, I can only hope that these important connections that you’ve so elegantly made become more wide-reaching in our societies. Thanks for the journey you’ve taken me on this morning.

    • missusk76
      June 26, 2011

      You are so welcome, Julian. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I wish everyone could spend some time getting to know water better – the journies it takes, the reasons that we need to be concerned about it and what we need to do to protect it.

  5. tms
    June 21, 2011

    Wow, this is both gripping and moving. You give drama to the mechanics of nature, allowing us to travel creeks, rivers, oceans and the skies with that little droplet. I may add that your post answers to my recent interest in the weather (I actually listen to the BBC shipping forecast for fun, and because it is such an institution in Britain). Thank you for sharing these pictures and thoughts!.

    • missusk76
      June 26, 2011

      The weather is a fascination of mine as well, Tobias. I’ve tried to record statistics for many years and never managed to stick with it for long. There is no offical weather station where I live (and certainly no shipping forecast, which must be fascinating) and the altitude makes the weather unique in the region, so there’s never any proof when folks discuss past patterns. I do know that my memory is not to be relied on. Photographs, however, are very helpful: snow on June 3rd and wildflowers that bloomed two weeks later this year than last are very helpful images.

      You are welcome, I’m glad you liked the post. Sharing is what feels so good. Thank you for your visit.

      • tms
        June 27, 2011

        Every now and then we feel like the weather deteriorates over the years. I seem to remember bright and beautiful summers, while we get lots of cold and rain nowadays. Today is the first fine day since the end of May.
        Last week however, I came across a quote by poet Heinrich Heine claiming that our summer were “only a winter someone had painted green.” He wrote this just about 200 years ago.

  6. photosbymartina
    June 23, 2011

    You certainly have a way with words and your awesome adventure you just took me on has taught me even more about our fragile ecosystem. Thanks for sharing this.

    • missusk76
      June 26, 2011

      Thank you, Martina! You have given me a wonderful compliment by suggesting that I have taught you something. I love to write and to play with photography, but if I can share knowledge, I am doubly gratified. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.

  7. Jim Rook
    July 3, 2011

    Thanks again Cindy for taking us along on your journey and sharing the local delights with us. It’s hard to pick a favorite here as so many of the pictures are so appealing and beg you to jump in to their world. I guess #0928, the third to last one with the little water falls and the brilliant red rock captures my eye. Although it basically is the same scene as in the last click, the distance and angle really bring out the beauty. A wonderful story and grouping of pictures.

    • missusk76
      July 6, 2011

      It is certainly the same scene, just zoomed in. Couldn’t decide between the two, so I used them both! Not much time right now (I have company) but I wanted to say that I’m so glad you enjoyed the story and pictures, thanks for stopping by.

  8. Sybil
    July 4, 2011

    Cindy, I love the wonderful effect of the water. It looks like flowing mist. And of course, the words are perfect.

    • missusk76
      July 6, 2011

      The ‘misty’ water is the first time I’ve managed to more-or-less succeed with that effect. I was pretty proud of myself :), so I’m delighted you like them. I appreciate your stopping in to say so.

  9. Jill Harrison
    July 5, 2011

    I adore your images on Flickr – and now I can see them on your blog too. Thanks Cindy for taking the time to stop by my blog, I am glad you enjoyed the Grevilleas.
    Have a wonderful week.

    • missusk76
      July 6, 2011

      You’re so welcome, Jill. The Grevilleas are intriguing flowers and your images of them, so lovely. Thank you for stopping in here!

  10. Deb W
    July 6, 2011

    Thank you so much Cindy! That first shot of the Marsh Marigold just grabbed me right by the throat… We are currently in a fight to preserve the integrity of wetlands beside my mother’s farm (a headland of the Ganaraska River Watershed, here in Ontario) attempting to curb the impact of a development which is all but a fait a compli, in spite of the “Oak Ridges Moraine Act” and it’s supposed protection.
    Thank you for the voyage from unspoiled headland to shining sea. Canada at it’s best “a mare usque ad mare” (Please excuse any spelling mistakes.) xo

    • missusk76
      July 8, 2011

      Hi Deb. I hope you don’t give up the fight. Even if you don’t win, your efforts will raise awareness that will hopefully contribute to saving the next parcel of wetlands. It is so very important that we limit our expansion into valuable natural lands as well as the farmlands that feed us. The disappointment and disillusionment can be debilitating when promises and laws made to win votes at the opportune time are broken to appease another faction. Please don’t let it overwhelm you. If we don’t protect our watersheds there won’t be much point protecting anything else. I thank you for your efforts and for telling about it here.

  11. Kia and Zeno
    July 13, 2011

    Delightful! All your lovely photos and words carry us right along with you during your walk. 🙂 We love-love-love how you talk about things, like when you say: “Contemplating the awe-inspiring journey of a little drop of rain or melted snowflake I am deeply aware of my dependence on this little trickle of water that I meditate beside and of all those like it.” You are so talented with words, Cindy! 🙂 Alas, we are not this good with words, esp. in English, but your fab blog finally made us change our blog layout and look. Thanks for being an inspiration! Enjoy your day.

    • missusk76
      July 15, 2011

      I think you do quite well with words – English included, but thank you for your compliments. I’ll head right over to your new blog and see what you’ve done.

  12. Shelly
    July 22, 2011

    Another beautiful post! Small, intimate streams tucked away really are treasures to find. I especially like the moods created by using (I presume?) slow shutter speed to create that milky white in the water. Your post makes me yearn for a gentle drizzle on a spring or fall day along a sleepy little creek…

  13. missusk76
    July 22, 2011

    The water photos are blended from bracketed exposures (HDR), the overexposed image would have been a longer exposure and smoothed out the water. I find the tonemapping process works well for me in the ‘depths of the forest’ as I can retain more detail and image quality than with a necessarily high ISO. Hmmm – you didn’t ask for all that. In short, you’re right – long exposure. 🙂 Thanks, Shelley – that place is solace for me, rain or shine. (Rubber boots required either way.)

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This entry was posted on June 19, 2011 by in The Journey and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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