Yes, the River Knows

There is a stream very close to where I live. On the map, it is known as Silver Creek. To me, it is known as Ara. I did a long series of workings to get to know my stream and the name I discovered was Ara. Ara, like the constellation, the Altar. In some ways, I treat my stream as an altar, but as a unique and constantly moving altar that is not stagnant and that varies in flow, intensity, and intent. Oh the stories it could tell to the trees!

From a purely physical standpoint, it is a stream, a flowing body of water that stretches a number of miles and is part of the Huron River watershed. It is a small, quiet stream near where I live. I have watched it over the months from low stream in summer, to flowing stream in autumn, to frozen stream in winter, and so on. I have seen it grow way past its banks so that it extended past its boundaries, only to return to its embankments.

There is a tree near the bank and I can always get a gauge on the stream from that tree. Several times since spring, the tree, which normally sits contentedly near the bank, was totally encircled in water. This was typically after a series of strong storms or days of torrential rains. Most recently, because of the very hot and dry weather here, the stream was reduced to a very small flow.

I had noticed a while ago that there were no fish in my stream and I was a little surprised. I expected something to be living in my loving waters, but much as I looked, no fish could be found. I am surely not a biologist nor an environmentalist, but I figured that perhaps there was something in the stream that was not quite right. I felt that something had been introduced into the current which had tainted the waters to the point that fish, one of the local nature spirits, were not welcome or comfortable.

Over the last two weeks, a rather unsettling smell permeated the neighbourhood. I just couldn’t place it, but, it was always around. It was especially noticeable when the wind blew from the west, blowing from the area of the stream.

I went to visit my waters and I noticed that they were so very low, not quite a trickle, but a slow and not very healthy looking situation. The exposed stream bed had kind of a unhealthy look and I grew concerned. I thought of my stream daily when I did my invocations to the nature spirits, a part of my daily devotionals.

Over the last few days, the rains came once again; welcome to return now that August no longer held the rain clouds at bay. It rained and it rained hard and long. My tomatoes, parsley, and basil was ecstatic at the flow of true waters, purified waters from the sky, not the faucet. I noticed that that weird smell had dissipated as well and I decided to pay a visit to my stream.

The stream was moving, slowly, deliberately, but in a healthier manner than lately. Several families of ducks were swimming in the waters and they seemed almost joyous, at least to my biased eyes. I looked once again for fish, but didn’t see any, not yet at least, but the return of the flow, of the current, of good clean, purified waters from the skies seems to make all the difference.

This entire exercise reminded me of the other streams in my life and the ebbs and flows that I deal with on a daily basis. There is another stream, a stream of belief and practice, that flows through my life and perhaps through the life of those who practice as I do. The streams that are our altars and our practices sometimes get dusty or low in water. We can assuredly keep on top of the care and maintenance of our own altars, but what of the commonly shared altars and practices that we share with others?

Sometimes, we shake our heads that the flow of our collective practices, the flow of our collective streams, seems diverted, seems stunted, and seems to flow in an opposite direction. What can we do when we are faced with such deviations?

I think back to something Alan Watts said long ago about the Watercourse Way, and, of course, he was repeating things that he had heard and that had been passed along. The discussion of the Watercourse Way, the path of least resistance, is old, as old as storytelling perhaps. We can paddle upriver, against the flow, and we will assuredly not achieve the progress we desire. We can paddle quickly downriver to a new place, to a new river bank, but we may find that is it too different, or, conversely too similar to the place we once were. I think, upon reflection, that it is best to stick to the flow, to stick to the waters of our own stream for the time being and continue our practice, regardless of the height of the water, of the smell that emanates therefrom, and the flows, friendly or harmful, that may enter that stream. In time, the rains will come and purify the waters of our practice. If we open our arms, and minds, and hearts to the possibility of renewal of the stream, we may find our own family of ducks, swimming where they had not been seen before. The Gods work in mysterious ways and the ducks brought me their message today: the waters of renewal have come. I make an offering and I am thankful for the opportunity to wait, like the stream, to wait, like the river, to wait, like the ocean, for the waters to turn.

Yes, the river knows.

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