Watching Water Flow By

100_0809The brook in front of our homestead, a small trout stream in the summer, roars as the last snow melts throughout the watershed.  The stream reach where we reside is a sixth or a seventh order stream, meaning there are five or six brooks that feed into this brook in upgradient areas.  The stream is at the top of its bank.  Swollen waters splash over the bank where logs lay across the channel prying loose the brown and gray frozen leaves laying on the ground from last autumn and sending them down stream.

Today I am standing here enjoying nothing more and nothing less than the sheer energy of the brook as the waters careen through this natural sluice.  The water is not clear.  It carries sediment from eroded banks upstream.  The white froth formed in swirling eddies contrasts sharply against the steel gray water.  Upstream there is a stream bend where the water has gashed out a large scrape in the steep bank revealing the gray color soil formed from the local schist bedrock. The water seems determined on this corner taking little bits and pieces of the earth with vengeance and transporting them to parts unknown.  As I stand here I wonder if I am the only one that is curious about where these tiny pieces of our planet will end up. 

I am fascinated by the power of water.  Man has located himself near moving water for millenniums, borrowing its power for many uses.  On this stream there was once a grist mill.  You can see the old stone foundation on the north side of the brook.  The green and black moss covered stones are largely flat and they are stacked so perfectly that they have stood there for six or seven human generations.  They hold the steep bank steady for a short distance.  They have done this job since they were carefully placed there by the calloused hands of someone who cared enough to do a job well. 

It is hard to imagine that 150 years ago someone tried to forge a life here using the power of the stream to operate giant grind stones that crushed coarse grain into tiny bits.  The grain was likely sold or bartered to neighbors.  The only transportation back then would have been beast and wagon.  The nearest good size town a day’s trip back and forth. 

I find myself reflecting on how much simpler life was in those days.   Most people pretty much made their way in the world by producing something either for themselves or their neighbors.  I imagine that most people kept farms, or homesteads, that fed their families.  Perhaps they traded milk for lamb, or ground grain and traded it for some maple syrup.  Currency was not as important then.  Integrity was the mark of a good person.

While we fantasize about the good old days, the time before motor cars and electricity, life was probably hard.  Men and women worked hard for their families.  Sacrifices were commonplace. Sometimes families were divided so a child could get an education, or a parent could make a living.  Disease, when present, could be devastating before the days of modern medicine.  Yet I suspect that people were just as happy then as they are now.  Perhaps they even enjoyed life more, although, in general, a life span was much shorter.

I stand here watching the water flow by.  In the spring thaw it flows by much quicker and with much more meaning.  Maybe a little like the years that sweep by us as we get a little older.

Written for www.wildramblings.com in April 2009.

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