The Stream


I’m sitting on a bench, happy that the stream that has been dry lately, except for a few diminishing pools, the last hideout for the frogs, has water again. I met this stream last year, just about a year ago, and since walk along the ‘streamside trail’ frequently. Walking is a druidic practice for me. The land by the stream slowly opens itself to me. Small naio trees form an open grove about me.

My thoughts open to this: place is a kind of gnosis. A place slowly coalesces around me, around my body on a bench, in and out of my mind, my breathing, my perceptions. The stream is variant, diverse, sometimes hugely full, flowing up through small side channels, even taking out the little bridge one time last summer. Other times, all polished boulders, small puddles. Everything is volcanic here, water can percolate down into the earth easily, but up in the mountains it rains a lot, sending more water down. Such simple things, but so often ignored, such small things the place reveals.

Down by that bridge another place, a grove where I have made humble offerings of flowers, but mostly simple prayers, as I learn my way around, for me a druid’s grove, a dense canopy of pepper trees, and very spirited rocks overlooking the sometimes flowing stream, sometimes dry. Intermittency is part of this locale. The stream is full of guises, I think now. It flows many miles down to the ocean through increasingly dry lands, and finally in a tumble of waters bursts through a desert coast to the intense blue of the Pacific.

I think place is like water, places are flowing, not separate, one flowing into another like the place by the grove and adjacent bridge, which got rebuilt. For a while there was a ford, people had assembled to place stones for crossing after the bridge was washed out. The river is change, never the same, as Herakleitos told long ago.

Displaced, replaced, emplaced, misplaced, place always disappearing, reemerging. Dancing, flowing, drying up, settling, unsettling, canny and uncanny. Even if we don’t know it we are surely always placed. Or placing. Birds chatter, sometimes I can hear a cow on the other side of the stream or a horse, the ranch side. The stream can travel more freely on this land than I. It can ignore the encumbrances of human property lines, demarcations, district borders, private roads, and enclosures, which are legion. Sometimes the water’s voice is mocking, it has no trouble flowing past and over the concrete of the road into the ranch’s no trespassing signs. The water stops sometimes, the water returns.

The water knits the places together, the here, the there, the beyond, the imagined, the ilima flowers and ironwood trees, the frog swimming in the pool, briefly visible. Making a coherency, a pattern for all the other places around, the rocks, the wind, the different flows and poolings. I can try to understand this place walking along its banks. When I’m back at home I know it’s down there in the night, past the highway, in the wind. This is an embodied knowledge; my eyes, my ears, my skin participate, and are at the center of this, but not just the physical body that can be measured in chemical elements, the chromosomes, and mathematic charts. It’s what philosopher Edward Casey calls the ‘lived body’, which is emplaced but transcends.

If paganism is anything, it is an emplaced spirituality, of the lived body, or so it seems to me. And yet we live in an age of displacement; nearly one per cent of the world’s population are literally refugees. So many more of us have been pushed out of cities long our homes in fits of gentrification. I am a displaced person seeking place. The stream shows this place to me, and it’s ever shifting nature, and yet invites me to sit on this bench among these trees, resting, still for a few minutes, and appearing later in my memory, as I reshape it.

When I moved from California to Hawai’i I felt myself deeply disoriented. The stream has become an acquaintance, and its trail has guided my lived body along in numerous encounters with surprising other individuals….Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote of the moving body (and our bodies are always in motion, even while we sleep, the tides of the blood, the inhalations and exhalation, the beating of the heart, the storms of the neural synapses), “Our bodily experience of movement is not a particular case of knowledge; it provides us with a way of access to the world and the object, with a ‘praktognosia’ which has to be recognized as original and perhaps as primary.’ A practical gnosis.

I walk along the path of the stream or I sit near it, and my lived body encounters it coming to me from beyond and to beyond. Its body so different than mine, unpredictable, barely there some days and others over-rushing in its fullness, connecting many places perceived in a gnosis of eyes, ears, skin; always there, a guideline.




  1. Lovely piece. I really think water can guide us in flowing into and out of the landscape. A question that came into my mind was ‘what is a stream when it is not flowing?’… in dry periods lots of my local streams run dry but I’m aware in some ways they’re still there in a way that they’re not in a streamless place.

    1. Thanks. I’ve been thinking a lot of that myself as the stream has been mostly dry since I wrote that. I think of metaphors like sleeping, dormant, but they feel inadequate. Even the stones it’s polished over long periods of time are part of it. Small creeks back in northern California went dry for months at at a time, but were still there in some way in the riparian vegetation, in the buried small animals–but more than that.

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