My idea of going to church is visiting a river or creek on Sunday mornings. I clean the riverbanks and pull out buried soda cans from the stream beds as tithing. I know this is sacred work, because when I forget to bring a bag, or fill one with trash too quickly, another will appear. The Goddess provides, I told a friend, only for her to be astounded at the next bend, where we found a sturdy plastic toolbox. Next she'll be leaving us a matching set of luggage, I joked.
Water witches tend to be an earthy, practical lot, so in addition to getting my hands muddy with river housekeeping, I join conservation organizations and lend them financial support. I vow to attend City Council meetings about local development in areas that affect waterways and to lobby for their legislative protection.
I have learned much from living waters that act as the circulatory system for Mother Earth's heart. I have learned there is strength in fluidity and grace in change. Discovering a 60-million-year-old fossil in Monument Creek, I know nothing is lost, and yet nothing is left unaltered. Those things that endure are made smooth and strong by time and persistence, like the flat round loaves of river stones that were once jagged and tentative.
Native American writer Elizabeth Woody, in her essay, "Why I Love With Admiration Every Salmon I See," tells of a beloved worship song about light inspired by . . . the river's light. We spent so much time by the river, the sun on the river gave us songs. Like Elizabeth's grandmother, I also have days when I need to be near a river. My grandpa would load us into the car with a paper sack of food, and we would drive to the river to watch it, listen to it, smell it. ...
For some lost time, I will sit and listen to the sound of water as I would a friend, in respectful silence. I hear not words, but emotion: sometimes mirth, sometimes anxious droning, sometimes a lament. In quiet acceptance, I trail its silken surface with my fingers and whisper a blessing for its journey to the sea.
When I was young and unrequitedly in love, I tossed a bouquet of wildflowers on Beaver Creek in southern New Hampshire and imagined that the rambunctious waters transported my unspoken feelings to the beloved -- a kind of pagan telegram. When my husband was tormented by depression, I sat all day in the glacially cold waters of the Cache La Poudre, pulling up embryonic boulders as I searched for the blessed fairy stone that would protect him from ill. I found and he improved. River magic.
In communion with rivers, I have even discovered their sense of humor. A friend walks waterways with me in search of artifacts for her unique Zen art. On Monument Creek, we discovered amazing remnants of ancient marine life, still shimmering with prehistoric mother-of-pearl. Later and alone, I secretly slipped a large white conch shell from Myrtle Beach into the same creek, a way of saying thanks to the living waters.
As an urban child in the shadow of dying factories, I used to pretend the sound of rushing street traffic was water and that I strode beside wild streams. I was first blessed by the indignant glare of a sleepy otter on the banks of a river. It is there I was entranced by the aerial dance of swallows, embellishing the current's sonorous melody like grace notes.
When my own life is as sere and spent as an old cottonwood leaf, I hope its dust will dance its last on the sinuous body of a river, as did those of a dear friend who died at the doorway of youth. Like mighty rivers and wandering creeks everywhere, some of us are restless spirits, arriving yet never home, not naming a beginning nor fearing an end. Our journeys, like theirs -- happily, tragically, paradoxically -- are never done.
Rebekah Shardy is a Colorado Springs freelance writer who reminds readers that winter is an ideal times to clean local rivers, streams and creeks.