This morning, like most mornings, I rode my bike to work along a creek, my pockets stuffed with peanuts.
I’ve been feeding the crows, you see. My best friend does this, and taught me. He holds his hand in front of his face before tossing unsalted whole-shell peanuts where the corvids will see them. It’d been a practice I’d long intended to pick up, but I’ve only started it recently, and only after finding the corpse of a dead crow on one of my rides home from work.
The name of the one gods I worship, the most haunting presence of the five to whom I’m devoted, Brân, means “raven” in Welsh. He’s also a god of Alder, and I’m still haunted by the time I saw a vision of Him torn to pieces by ravens while straddling the valley of the River Aulne (Alder) in Bretagne.
And so I’m feeding crows along a stream, aware I’m not feeding ravens along a river, but I don’t know how much this matters.
How men name rivers and streams (and its too often men, too often after themselves) in North America is rather ridiculous. It’s like they don’t actually ask the stream what it wants to be called.
Men named this one Amazon Creek, supposedly on account of the sudden way it swells in the rains. On some maps, it’s also called Amazon Slough. Eugene is surprisingly marshy; so much mud came with me into my home that I eventually relented a long-standing habit of not taking off my boots until I sleep. It takes a long time to unlace them, but it takes longer to scrub mud from carpet.
The water that doesn’t soak the marshes rushes into the creek, when it doesn’t rush into the rivers. Riding a bike in the rain is not always pleasant, but when it rains I know she’ll be happy, and so I don’t complain.
In other places I’ve lived, the creeks live under ground, traveling through pipes, fed by gutters, channeled far out of town into lakes or the sea. Creeks and streams aren’t supposed to be in cities anymore–doesn’t anyone remember the 1950’s? Creeks are hazards–things live in them, grow in them. In the last century, they attempted to channel and reshape Amazon Creek. much like most of the last century brilliant men have been trying to drain the Everglades.
Bridges pass over it, the creek crawls under streets and, in many places, so does a path along it. I use this path to go to work, or to return from errands. Two weeks ago, I rode from a friend’s house back to mine on the bike gifted by another friend, carrying on one shoulder an altar to Dionysos precisely the size and weight of a sturdy piano bench. It was a piano bench before being an altar, and this is a brilliant idea. A man with a dog stopped to applaud my balancing act, a young girl shouted in awe, asking “how are you doing that?”
There’s graffiti along the path. Everywhere. A little over a year ago, I followed the path with a friend and found myself rooted to the ground, staring at a chalk drawing, a confluence of multiple vesica pisces sometimes called the Flower of Life, with the Kabbalistic Tree of Life chalked in a different color. I saw this figure again when I arrived in Seattle several months ago, moving blindly to Eugene. I left the airport for a cigarette, and it was the first thing I’d seen, chalked in the pavement by the benches in the smoker’s area, and one more time upon finally arriving in Eugene. It’s hard not to think this meant something.
I give offerings to the stream. The first time was a little weird. I stood over a bridge as homeless folk sat farther away in the grass, smoking marijuana. Perhaps to a stoner, a man pouring milk into a stream and muttering may seem no stranger than anything else people do, so I probably needn’t have felt shy. The second time was in daylight, and it was impossible to hide what I was doing, but I am, after all, in Eugene, and the stream is beautiful.
The first few weeks here I was miserable. It rained. There was mud everywhere in my bedroom. I was poor and utterly uncertain what I was doing, terrified of not finding a job, wilting under bad florescent lighting in the home I share, very far from everything I knew. The first clear day I left the misery to walk along the stream, headed west, trudging for hours until I found myself in a wetlands as the sun began to set.
The next day I found a job. I’m not certain this is unrelated.
The creek is dirty. People throw things into it. Water washes away dirt and things you do not want upon your body; streams are lots of water, and they mostly do the same, except that we make lots of dirt so we can make money and then all of that dirt has to go somewhere, so it goes into the stream. There are shopping carts, dog toys, clothes, mattresses, fast food containers, a bike wheel. That’s what I’ve seen. I can’t see the brakedust and exhaust particulate, or the motor-oil run-off, or the detergents or any of those other things we all need to create and need to get rid of because we have to be modern.
The creek is full of life, and not just the life we normally know. There are nymphs in several places, a spirit nearby under a tree who’s looking for me. Someone’s painted bizarre glyphs and sigils. Actually, several someones. They’re of a system I don’t comprehend, but it’s not hard to sense that they’ve marked something they’ve seen.
It’s not a creek, some’ve said. The waters start on the edge of a butte, and people want to build there because people want to be modern, I guess. If it’s not a creek, then it’s less important. Destroying a creek is different from destroying a place where water runs off, I guess. I don’t understand.
I don’t understand this creek, actually. I watch the birds in hopes they’ll teach me something. Belted Kingfishers dart before me on the path and seem unconcerned whether I’ll stop for them, because of course I will. Red-Winged Blackbirds haunt me to pieces. I got stared down today by a Great Blue Heron who didn’t seem fully to approve of my attempts to photograph the stream. I couldn’t move from where I stood, because I didn’t feel I had permission.
Mostly, I just feed the crows. A few already know me. I suspect they know what I left on the spot where one of their family died. They dance before me on the path along the creek, ever closer. They seem to search me, to see if I’ll ever learn the creek’s name.
[P.S. I am presenting at the Polytheist Leadership Conference in July and am doing a fund-raiser for travel expenses. Any help, including just spreading the word, is much appreciated!]