A good StoryTeller is a creek…...
….This became clear to me driving home once more from visiting family in Colorado. We take an off-the-beaten-path route through small towns and open prairie, and in so doing, cross over one after another dry, sunken ground marked by a bridge, and a green sign, proclaiming it to be a creek: Wild Horse Creek, Black Squirrel Creek, Rush Creek. They are almost always dry as a bone.
Yet, they are clearly significant enough to be worthy of the permanent declaration of their essence, dry or not. I had never reflected upon this until a few months ago. We had such a wet summer! Hurtling through the scrubby hills in August, we were overjoyed to see all the creeks gurgling with life. Water was everywhere, but it was all of it flowing over thirsty ground, through cracks and crevices in the dirt, on down and into the waiting arms of any available creek.
Fast forward to mid-November. Once again, I am speeding through these soft and lonely hills. Once again, every “creek” is dry and silent. The empty creeks call to my mind, and I am struck: What actually makes a creek a creek? Surely not the presence of water, because 95% of the time then, these hollow channels would NOT be creeks, even though 100% of the time, those signs attest to the permanence of their state of being creeks. So what, then?
I realized that it is their very readiness, through dust and drought, to receive the water, whenever it comes, fast or slow, trickle or flow. And it is the creek’s sunken state that renders it ready. It is of the earth around it, but deeper. Creeks draw into themselves all the moisture missed, rejected, and ignored by the hills, run it over and through their gravelly hearts and silty souls, and pass it on downstream, to be absorbed whenever the nearby ground is ready.
There is a little mouse named Frederick, in a picture book of the same name by Leo Leonni, who perches on the warm stones soaking up the sun all summer while his fellow mice work gathering stores for the winter. Once in a while they chide him about his inactivity, but mostly, they ignore him as irrelevant. Winter sets in, and the mouse clan hunkers down to a well-earned rest deep within a cozy den well stocked with the fruits of their labor.
Yet, eventually, their supplies grow low, and they grow restless and depressed in their cramped quarters. They are cranky and short tempered with each other, even as the wind and snow continue to blow full force outside, promising no early spring. Finally, one of the mice remembers Frederick. “‘What about your supplies, Frederick?’ they asked.” They are now ready to receive what he has been holding for them.
He tells them all to close their eyes as he speaks in beautiful words about the sun, and the colors of the summer. They all begin to feel warmer, and to see the colors in their imaginations as he artfully weaves words. They slowly move closer to each other. He reminds them of the world they were despairing of ever seeing again. He reminds them they have reason to hope. When he is done, they are a community once more, and Frederick is rewarded with the recognition by them that he is a poet. The acknowledgment is important to Frederick, but it is not news. He “blushed, took a bow, and said shyly ‘I know it.’”
Frederick knew he was a creek. When the sun was shining, and the world was flowing with life and color and busy-ness, he was silent, and still, but he was always wherever his fellow mice were. When they were in the grainery, he was in the grainery; when they were in the fields, he was there too. He was part of the group, but deeper, because of his contemplative nature. He soaked it all up and held it until his world was ready to soak it up from him. He was able to hold what washed over and past the others because he longed for it, and reflected upon it constantly. He did not create the warmth, or the colors, or the words; he merely absorbed them, then released them when his community was ready to receive them.
Writing is a lonely calling, because it asks us to be a part, yet apart. It asks us to remember, longer and more clearly, the beauty and the hope and the water that comes to us in droplets as well as deluge, from clouds and clods, cracks and crevices, and to hold it deep in our soil souls to finally flow out and over the page, to feed our others as they may be lost in the darkness of a long winter, or drought. It is lonely because that water is often rejected by the very soil that needs it, and in order for us to appreciate it, we must be looking deeper, and longer, and more slowly, at the run-off around us.
But what makes a creek a creek? What makes a writer a writer, a poet a poet? It is not merely the words! It is the waiting, and watching, and seeing, and holding...we collect and give back, and thereby, affect our world, but also ourselves. We also are transformed by the very act of serving as the creek. By receiving and then passing along the water, we ourselves are carved even deeper, and grow ever closer to the very core, the Truth, behind life itself. We do not create the Truth, we merely recognize it and collect it. And then we share it with a busy but thirsty world.