Today, Pena Creek is a living necklace whose diamonds are pools of never-repeated shapes. Steelhead trout, crawfish, salamanders and frogs play there. In February, weary but determined salmon laboriously make their way upstream keeping their promises to visit their ancestral homes.
During the rains, Pena takes on a totally different persona; it becomes a raging torrent effortlessly rolling huge boulders along and bearing great trees aloft in an urgent journey to the ocean. When it has tired of this game, it settles into a happy gurgling stream, but the telltale marks of its winter face can be seen for months. There are logjams: trunks and severed limbs hastily stitched together like the lair of a careless dinosaur. The trees that form a guard of honor along both banks can’t resist dipping their pointed twigs into the torrent to spear passing leaves and tufts of grass, and now they look like skewers of vegetables on a B-B-Q.
Today, I came across a most exotic piece of evidence. I waded upstream from pool to pool. Sometimes the water just reached mid calf, sometimes it was chest high. Then I noticed a bleached pig skull on a branch six feet above the water. Obviously, this, too, had been swept downstream during the rains only to be expertly trapped by a branch. However, the search and rescue mission did not end there. Left to its own devices, and gravity, it would soon have fallen back into the river, were it not for the fact that a spider had fastened it to the tree trunk with great swathes of fine silk. She did as fine a job as the Lilliputians of old when they trussed up the unfortunate Gulliver. Here was the skull tightly moored and sitting bolt upright.
And then, the pièce de résistance, a bird had built a nest inside it – a small, perfect, semi-spherical home whose interior was soft and downy. Some stray pieces of the building material were sticking out through the vacant eye sockets. It took my breath away. If I had wanted a simple, elegant lesson in recycling, here it was. If I had needed further proof of nature’s symbiotic agreements, I had it literally before my eyes.
To the clouds that gave us the rain;
to the rain that gave us the river;
to the wild pig who donated his skull,
when he no longer needed a spacesuit;
to the fishing branch that pulled it from the water;
to the grasses that donated material for the nest;
to the birds who mated at God’s invitation
in order to beget new life;
to the nestlings, now gone to begin their own journey;
to all of these: