Pastel painting of Salmon Creek c Suzanne 2000
Eagle Woman, “Rattlesnake Singing ”
– rENEGADE pLANETS pRESS1998
Salmon Creek is a fusion, a blend of two worlds.
First, the Pacific ocean with its dark salty dramatic energies; outward, cold and loud.
Second, the creek, moving fresh; inward, soft-spoken and fertile.
The two meet and mate here. And Life with a capital L gave me a year at this place of solitude, wonder, and soul-searching. The experience was poignant, mysterious, and humorous. This is where I want my ashes to be scattered when it is my time to leave this world. The Creek is home.
Maybe so much writing and thinking about water at the university had propelled me to the place, or maybe it was an accident. After graduation I needed a job and a place to live, but in California there are no longer any “cheap” places to live, and until I had a “big job”, I had limited funds. I could choose to share a room in a home for $700.00 a month – just a room! – or, as I found in the classifieds, I could go out of the way to a more remote place and live in near wilderness. I chose the wilderness, for something in me needs it, despite having lived happily in Santa Monica and other citified places in Southern California.
I chose it at great sacrifice. After I landed a job in the city, I had to arise at 4:30 and drive down a dark and windy road to get to a bus stop which would get me to a city by 8 am. It was grueling, but on the weekends, the place was mostly mine.
I happily investigated, with other kindred souls, the place where two worlds met.
The tall, lean fire-eyed woman with wild hair, whom I saw on the sand nearly every day, turned out to be a writer who had moved there from an earthquake epicenter. She was preposterous and endearing as she worked in the community to save the marshland, that fragile area of land which serves as a kind of sieve between ocean and creek water.
Developers were always trying to fill it in and turn it into a new hotel or restaurant or other money – making machine which would most certainly destroy not only the habitats but also the treasured tranquility we still had there. She fought for preservation loudly and vociferously. She organized pickets at the site of proposed development. She chewed Nicorette gum by the crateful; it seems that during her quest to stop smoking she had developed a vengeful addiction to the gum. I visited her once and dozens of boxes of the gum were everywhere. Although I did not have time to participate in her ventures, I signed her petitions, and our visits provided thoughtful sharing of one another’s writing.
Another wanderer was a man who owned a combination pizza parlor/video store up around the bend. Every morning before work, he donned a wet suit and hit the waves with his wind sail. He and his wife were always sparring, and he would handle it by taking a little boat out around the bay to a small inlet where he could toke to his heart’s content.
During my “big job” search I helped him out in his store for a few hours a week. My pay was a fabulous pizza and a free movie rental and some money for gas. The simple life.
The job in the city did not work out, but as I continued to search for another I gave thanks for this beautiful place. There was a small enclave of houses near the beach which was a state park. There is a moratorium on further building; in Northern California the beaches have been spared from the awful commercialization that has put white noise into an otherwise peaceful setting in Southern California. Granted each has a place, but I am grateful for the appreciation of wilderness in Northern California, the place where I was raised.
Each morning that I wasn’t working, I walked maybe a hundred yards to the shore. The place came to know me. Each time I picked up a shell, or a piece of driftwood, or a stone, or seaweed, I offered something in return; usually a pinch of tobacco, as I had been taught to do by Indian friends. I said “thank you; here, have something back from me,” in the tradition of reciprocity which is such a strong value for Native Americans.
Often I would walk along the beach, then up over a dune, then around behind it to the path which led to the creek. Stands of Cypress trees seemed to hold the dune in place, and their shadows created many quiet corners similar to the trees in the foothills where I had lived as a child.
Each day the place looked different; tides flowed forward, backward. Winds created smaller dunes, or softened big ones. Logs and shells and other treasures rolled up in the morning, and were washed back out at night. Hawks and Sparrows and water birds, especially Egrets and Herons, shared the air space.
And the shoreline.
One day I looked out the window to see a big White Egret standing stock still looking down at the creek. A few moments later, in a commotion of gray and white, a big Blue Heron swooped down and bumped the Egret out of its place, took a still, one-leg position, staring down in to the water as if nothing had happened. The Egret, looking embarrassed, turned and traipsed away on foot and then winged his way to another place, never looking back. The Heron had displaced him for the prime fishing site.
Other winged neighbors included a family of about seven geese who seemed to have appointed an obnoxious re-eyed, red-billed duck as their leader. They would follow behind him as he swaggered over to every human being to harass them. He’d cock an eye and tilt his head as if to say “All right, I know you’ve got it, hand over the food.” I’d laugh as the geese would pop their heads out from behind him to see what, if anything I had to offer. If I was not forthcoming with bread or other food, the duck would snap at my pant legs to see if I was telling the truth. He reminded me of the belligerent duck in 1950’s cartoons.
I do not know about the stars or about astronomical mathematics or calculations. I appreciate the moon and its phases, and understand that during the full moon the tide was often high. Living in a place like the creek teaches you to pay attention to the cycles of life, and to the personality of a place. Due to its moods, water has been called “a woman,” by folklorists and sailors. I don’t know if I agree as to its gender but I do agree that moods and tones of places are eloquent.
As a child growing up I learned to look at “signs.” Some would call that hyper vigilance, and like all qualities, the ability to pay attention has its negative side, not necessarily for what you see but for what you tell yourself that it means. The phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” summed up how it was for me early in life.
The creek helped me to see beyond my solitude, and beyond my loneliness, for many of my friends were reluctant to make the long drive to see me. Often I would sleep in the “living room” of the small two bedroom cottage, with the fire burning in the wood-burning stove as my only company. Sometimes if the day had been particularly hard, with no luck on the job search, I became afraid, imagining outside intruders lurking. During those times I slept in my clothes, and kept a heavy flashlight under my pillow. Part of the growth provided by my year at the creek was to understand what I had chosen, and what I could chose next.
My children who were beginning families of their own, in Southern California, did not have time to visit. Later when the place no longer belonged to me, I would visit them. For now, I finally accepted the uncertainty, my solitude and silence, and opened my heart to what it gave me, which was sometimes luminous and numinous.
One day, while I was jogging up one of the hills that connected to a house there, I came upon a little blue baby bootie. This was a strange thing to find on that path. It made me wonder, until a few days later, my oldest son phoned. Immediately, I got the picture. “When is your baby due?” I asked him. “Mom, how did you know?” he asked. I proceeded to tell him about the finding and how I had put the two together.
A few weeks later, as I walked along the creek, thousands of inch-long fish called Alewin (Young Salmon) were jumping up and out of the water towards the ocean. They leap into danger and the unknown, into life. My first thought was about the fertility of the place; the fish were leaping for hours out to their destiny.
When, a few days later my youngest son called, again the two ideas meshed. “Son, when is your baby due?” I asked again. “Mom, how did you know?” was again asked. I told the story of the bootie and of the multitudes of fish as explanation of “how I knew.”
“Yeah, yeah!” I can hear someone saying. But in the “old days,” nature and humanity constantly communicated with one another, and the communication spawned rituals and ceremonies to keep balance between our human life and the life of the other creatures.
I believe we all have the ability to “read” what life and places are telling us; it’s just that other things, more tangible, but no more real, distract us. For me, achieving a balance between the imaginal and the rational is always a dance, which requires patience and willingness to tend to Life’s cycles.
As a child, I had only been able to watch for crisis, for it occurred regularly, and I was helpless in the face of it. Therefore “signs” had a negative quality, and I often walked under a cloud of doom.
A decision to live, to keep moving toward life, to embrace the passing of years and the cycles of life which I witnessed at the creek, helped to soften that cloudy propensity, so that I could let the message resonate and watch for the good.
Towards the end of my stay there, the Creek gave me two very clear, very important messages, in that gift year, which I will share in the next post. Meanwhile, I would like to hear from you about your relationship to water, to Mystery.
c Suzanne Z 2012
Eagle Woman, “Rattlesnake Singing ”
– rENEGADE pLANETS pRESS1998
Moore, Marijo, Spirit Voices of Bones – rENEGADE pLANETS pRESS1998
Outwater, Alice Water a Natural History Harper Collins Basic Books 1996
Van Dyke, Jerry National Geographic “Long Journey of Pacific Salmon” July 1990 pg 3-36
Childs, Craig The Secret Knowledge of Water -Back Bay Books/Little Brown and company New York, NY 2000
- Climate change spawns salmon dilemma for San Joaquin River (fresnobee.com)
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