Every Boy Should Have a Creek

You can’t go home again…?

I think that you can, sometimes.  There are different ways to go.  This was one of mine.

Years ago, on a long weekend, I drove north to the place where my two brothers and I grew up, between the small towns of Houston and Smithers in the Bulkley Valley of north central British Columbia, Canada.

The main road, and the only road in many areas, remains Highway 16. This two-lane ribbon of asphalt winds through the hills and forests from Houston, an always decrepit lumber town on the east side of the Valley through to Smithers on the west, a more scenic destination just large enough to have its own airport.

Driving from Houston, you begin to see the snowy peaks of the mountains which rim the Valley.  After Houston, the highway becomes immediately familiar, the S-curve over the railroad tracks, the steel bridge painted turquoise over the Bulkley River, and the gradual grades over miles to a summit.  At the top there is Grouse Mountain on the right where one brother and myself camped on a renegade trip with a local farmer cutting loose (another story), and then the road descends down steep Hungry Hill in an undulation that extends out of sight after at least a couple of miles.

When we first moved to the Valley from the U.S. in the early 1960s, an old hunting guide would come by every once in a while to chew the fat with my parents, as he would put it.  He told us Hungry Hill was so named before there was a road up it, because by the time you walked to the top, you were plenty hungry.

The tall old guide, afflicted with aches and disappointments after a life in the bush, related the romantic versions of his exploits and told us to call him Long Jack.  It turned out that everybody else just called him Jack.  But we still remember him as Long Jack, and the pose he wanted to strike with us endures by that much.

Down at the bottom of Hungry Hill, Deep Creek crosses through a big culvert under the highway on its way to the Bulkley River.  A few hundred yards off the highway, our land began and surrounded the creek all the way to its mouth.  In total, we owned about a section of land (640 acres), although it dwindled over the years after my father died and as my mother used the sale of occasional pieces to augment her earnings as a paralegal and to finance her ways as a general gadabout.  Finally it was all sold, as multiple sclerosis began to tighten its grip upon her.

One of my brothers, Mark, bought 200 acres from my mother, at a bargain rate of course.  At the time, he lived in an old but durable plywood shack left over from the loggers who cut trees on our property one winter.  He carried on in the tradition of his dwelling: he was a logger too, a faller.  Formerly a range-rider on local ranches, he lived separated by his beat-up cars and a couple of trucks from the old log cabin where we all lived when we first moved to Canada.

He lived in the clutter of his gear: the saddle hanging from the ceiling, the antique guns and the more modern rifles he laid claim to from my father on the wall.  He added a couple of his own.  A hard hat and ear protectors hung near the pretzel of stove pipe above the wood stove.

Mark is quite unlike myself as we are both different from the other brother – yet there is a likeness, I think, in that all three of us seem constitutionally unsuited to the late 20th and early 21st century.

I wait for him at his shack for awhile and then give up to walk down a rough road alone towards the river (later I would track him down at his favorite bar and he would get me laughing like he always does).  I follow the road along the wide creek that meanders and twists through fields and thickets.

If it is true that every boy should have a dog, it is doubly so that every boy should have a creek.  Deep Creek was mine; there was true satisfaction challenging it for fish, discovering yet another pool, another odd-shaped snag, another bend.

It took perhaps a mile for the creek to wind its way to the river.  Every once in awhile, as a young boy tiring of favorite fishing holes, I would push on to the next pool or rushing rapids.  Each new mysterious spot would transform into another place that welcomed me.  The murmur of shallow riffles, the noise of water churning over boulders, the quiet stretches, the subtle identity of every turning is still with me.

Much of the creek’s channel altered over the years.  There’s always been, though, the deep pool below the cutbank a few yards from the cabin.

There were fish in there, I imagined as a boy, so large that they were almost frightening; I was sure I once felt the tug of something huge on my line.  I was always intent on catching one of these giants.  I never did, although I would dream of their existence, surging up from depths that in the dream were bottomless, turning back with smooth coiled strength, too wise to take the hook.

Above the pool that day, I listened to the water.  I like to think they live there still.

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2 Comments on “Every Boy Should Have a Creek”

  1. bloglily Says:

    Just lovely. Thank you.

  2. fencer Says:

    Hey, thanks!


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