The Summer Creek, Version 1

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I don’t miss the snow of Montana. I love it, but I don’t miss it, not in that deep-in-the-bones achy sort of way.  

What I do miss about it, every day, is the summer, and more specifically the narrow creek that runs behind our family home. 

It was – is –  a unique home. We weren’t rich, but I was lucky. An 80 acre backyard in Western Montana. My grandparents bought it in the 50s, and we moved in when I was twelve, after my grandfather passed and my grandmother moved to town for easier care.

It was once a working ranch, complete with a barn, a granary, a chicken coop, and more, all long since retired from service by the time I showed up. The barn’s more likely to house hantavirus than horses at this point, and all the other out-buildings are slowly and comfortably settling into disrepair.  

There were fences of a sort; mostly of the sort that started falling down and wearing out. There were aspen trees, but they began to die when the local district’s irrigation ditch fell into disrepair and no one had the interest or money to overhaul it.

But one constant was – is – the creek. 

Canyon Creek is not majestic, but it’s also not so small you could cross it by accident. It’s an average-sized creek of average beauty. Slow bends by the bank where the water is cool and dark, hinting at young fish; narrow rapids clattering over pebbles; a few deep pools behind dams made of piled stones (when you’re a kid in Montana, of course you build dams) or fallen logs swept downstream before wedging against the sandy bottom. 

Canyon Creek: a respectable, average name for a creek. Not the most innovative, but there are so many watersheds along the Rocky Mountains that I imagine the surveyor was starving for the saloon when he got around to this particular waterway: “Argh, why, just put down Canyon Crick”. 

I spent long summer hours walking the creek from one end of the property to the other, where it joined up with the Bitterroot River flowing north (which is why we would go down, not up, to Missoula; we knew north is a direction, not a measure of verticality). 

You think a lot about nothing at all when you stare at a creek, which, in the spirit of Winnie the Pooh, is sometimes the very best something to think about. Sitting on a sun-bleached log, tossing stones that hit the water – “glunk” – you feel everything slow down. 

But life carries you along. College, moving to California, falling in love, a family. It’s been years since I sat alone beneath pine trees on the bank of Canyon Creek, pretty much as long as it’s been since I’ve been back to Hamilton in the summer. I just … haven’t gone back.
to be continued …
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