Monday, May 11, 2009

A Morning with Gilkey Creek

There's something I've been wanting to write about, something that's nudging at me, a bone in my throat, an agitation in my craw. (What is a craw, anyway? Note to self: Google "craw.")*

I begin with little winding Gilkey Creek, a feeder into the Flint River. It has been part of my life for about 25 years -- since my first husband, Danny, and I moved into our house on Seventh Street. Back then I started walking and jogging along the creek and over its three little foot bridges as part of a route through the neighborhood that has continued to this day.

Here's the thing: sometimes I am in denial about the huge chunk of my life that I've spent in Flint -- I don't know why, exactly, except that as I've said before in many other contexts, I never thought I'd stay this long, and sometimes it simply doesn't feel like "my kind of place" -- or the kind of place I thought I'd end up. Going there in my thinking dangerously leads to "it wasn't supposed to be like this," or, "I could have done better..." And thus to a tunnel of self-doubt if not outright self-recrimination, and nothing good comes of that.

But then, there's this little creek that I've been pausing to look at on its many curves and byways when it's crusted with ice in February and gushing with green life in early May; there are sometimes ducks noodling around under the bridge on Brookside. I've noted the way October leaves dapple the water in red and gold; I've delighted in the little rippling rapids at the footbridge by Kensington. This little creek has meandered its way into my daily life, and I've come to count on it. Maybe it's like an arranged marriage, where after years of just living one day after the other, you suddenly realize you've grown fond of the mate conjoined to you by fate.

There's passive aggression in keeping my feelings at bay about a place I've lived in much longer than the whole of my childhood, much longer than anyplace else I've ever lived, for that matter. It strikes me suddenly that one can take out one's individual resentment and disappointment on the land -- by withholding commitment, by ignoring its needs and travails. By simply refusing or failing to notice.

This dolorous line of reflection from individual circumstance leads me deeper: sometimes individual difficulties, unresolved baggage about ourselves, can become something bigger, taking a toll on Mother Earth. If we're not taking proper care of ourselves and unearthing (ohh...untentional but lucky "unearth" like digging potatoes out of the dirt, a gift, a consequence of our husbandry) thus, unearthing the meaning of our lives, perhaps we also stop paying attention to the natural world that sustains us.

So this is partly an argument for taking care of ourselves -- not just at the superficial "yes, I exercised today," but at the spiritual level -- "yes, I am finding a path to forgiveness, moving on from the griefs and disappointments of the past."

I woke up Saturday, in short, and decided to get up and go to Gilkey Creek, where good-hearted folks not as ambivalent or reclusive as me had organized a Flint River cleanup, including my little tributary. This new, uncharacteristic decisiveness, not without resistance or misanthropy, overall felt refreshing. I thoroughly enjoyed the morning, getting muddy on the banks while tugging out drenched plastic bags ("Toys 'r Us" being the predominant logo in my assigned stretch of creek), shards of styrofoam, candy wrappers -- the usual detritus of thoughtless humanity.

Hmm...that casual little reference just jarred me into insight -- "my little tributary" -- it IS my little creek, as it is all of ours. As I was arguing myself out of bed, dreading having to interact with "people" in my current not-quite-completed rehabilitative state, I thought "you don't have to make nice with the people. But you could care about the creek." That little creek in all its imperfections has given me many moments of pleasure. It's part of the land that was here before us and now, as always, is deserving of our love.

*Craw: a pouch in many birds and some lower animals that resembles a stomach for storage and preliminary maceration of food (

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