— Jenny Neill

The Shifts of Streams

The landscapes of my youth invaded my dreams last night. Having these images—of red brick buildings and expansive lawns, of the sepia of dawn or dusk, of the amber hues and shadows underneath the trees and shrubs—show up as the scenery for some moment of nighttime revery usually signals a shift. I woke up with Ohio on my mind.

But as this fragment stayed with me today, a more specific place called to me. One at which I sought refuge in my youth. Just across the road, on private land, the creek ran off of a man-made “lake.” An above-ground channel still funnels water into a stream. Dried out sediment and stains from algae down the middle were the only hint this pond feeds a brook on hot summer days. As soon as I was old enough, I often would escape the watch of my babysitter to climb down into this waterway to look for snails in the shady spots. The inevitable changes of season brought first a trickle then a rush of water to my outdoor hideaway. Most years, the overflow from the lake still cut a path through the white powder of snow and rough-edged glassy ice in winter.

The Thanksgiving weekend Seattle deluge dumps water on top of autumn leaves. The street just outside my house becomes a creek, then a temporary river, flowing through its own set of seasonal changes. When the rain goes on for days, we must clear debris from the storm drains to prevent a flood from forming a pond that includes our home. Eventually, the downpours end. Morning fog rolling up the hillside or the clouds breaking to expose blue sky signals that the temporary river will have receded by dinner.

The sounds of the streaming in the street elude me. The swishes and splashes made by cars, buses, and trucks speeding by drown them out. Yet those waters—the south branch of Doan Brook and what I call the Admiral Gate Stream—serve the same purposes in my life. Voiceless observers, absent then present then gone again. They mark the passage of time by their movements. “This too shall pass,” they say in a babble, a whisper, or a roar.