Two O'Clock Creek

All that summer couldn't understand

in the morning as we drove through

dry boulder wash, the matter-of-fact sign nailed

on a creekside spruce:

TWO O'CLOCK CREEK

– and no water anywhere.

 

Me twelve with Uncle John on patrol

in the forestry truck.

Him hungover and with that temper,

you didn't push the obvious.

 

But that sign taunted me.

As first ranger in the district

he named things factually like an explorer:

Abraham flats after a Stony chief

The map men kept that one,

thinking it Biblical and it was, in a way.

 

But each afternoon, driving back, sure enough

at two o'clock, there was a creek

roaring cold under the wheels.

 

Finally, a week before school and the city, I asked,

a prairie boy baffled by the magic of water

appearing anywhere, and on time.

John smirks, swings the Ford

into the ditch and around,

a madman on his way to a holy place.

 

I hang on as we climb, boulders boil in the fenders.

Double-clutching down into first

onto a horsetrail, then straight up on foot,

a pika whistling at us.  Beginning to wish

I hadn't asked about that sign.

 

Over the alpine meadows

a plateau where mountain sheep startle

at the two of us covered in dust.

He draws his pipe across the crowfoot of a glacier

tipped from the distant sky, a white glory

scooped into the sunslope

in a sheltered cowl of rock.

John points to a green waterfall

spilling over the lip.

 

Here sky meets land

and water is hard as rock this high

and liquid ice to the tongue and our aching feet.

Where all the rivers begin,

the Whitegoat, the Bighorn

after the sheep behind us.

Headwaters of the upper Saskatchewan

I knew from schoolroom maps,

coursing down to Hudson Bay

with canoes full of coureur de bois.

 

Below us, blonde grass riffles on Kootenay Plains,

clouds jam the chute the weather comes through

where the Kootenay descended to barter the Cree.

Up here the wind howls cold.

 

And I saw how a few hours of daylight

warms the ice to a trickle that becomes a torrent

in the glacier's pit.  The mystery of rivers

is that they come from somewhere

between earth and sky.

wrung by the sun from clouds and wind.

 

But when night comes, Two O'clock Creek sleeps,

the waterfall waits frozen, and all the years

since I learned how rivers are made,

this is the place I come to in my dreams

between the highest point of land and the sky,

so I can drink from the clouds.

© Bruce Hunter