Until this singular moment, as I stood at the kitchen sink peeling carrots, there had been no sound of a dancing, sparkling stream: not yesterday, or the day before, or even weeks before. My attention suddenly abandoned carrots and ranch dip and focused on the sound. Out of nowhere, I heard the startling noise of rushing water gurgling unfettered. Incongruous, it sang from beyond the shady green sliver of muddy lawn behind our house. Normally, I went about the day’s chores accompanied only by the slosh of the dishwasher and the whir of the air conditioner. Until now, on this languorous hot spring day heavy with aching nostalgia.
Our family had recently moved to temporary housing and didn’t know for sure where we would go next. We were stuck in limbo during a stifling heat wave, missing our former home with yet no vision for the future. Then came this flash of grace: more than swiftly flowing water, more like magic cast from some mysterious provenance.
The shallow creek bed strewn with leaves had not shown a drop of moisture since we moved into the tattered rental home at the top of an ordinary suburban street. A house remarkable only because of its perch on a beautiful mountainside. Steep and meandering, the creek bed had, in fact, become almost invisible in the shadows under the cottonwoods and willows that bordered our backyard. I wandered out onto the back porch transfixed by the music of the stream mingled with the shrieks of my children . . . joyously entranced children: laughing, splashing, chattering, released from the mundane heat and lethargy of a late spring afternoon.
Stirred from heat induced drowsiness, they instinctively waded into the water and, with the plentiful creek stones, began building dams and crenelated castles above crystal pools and grottos. Smooth, round, flattened, or egg-shaped stones molded for eons under the sylvan hand of snow-melt dripping from mountain peaks and ledges. Hidden springs and freshets gaining momentum, carving gullies and ravines above our mountainside home until their water was unleashed into our back yard. But unleashed from where exactly? Where had it been imprisoned? Why did it hide until this rapturous moment when it burst forth at our doorstep?
We barely questioned the source of the water for being absorbed by all the avenues of play and delight that having our own enchanted stream presented. Rare treasures, the mystical sound of water rolling over stone, the occult squish of slick mud between our toes, and the bewitching baptism of grimy feet in the ankle-deep freezing water. Our imaginations were suddenly awakened to dreams unfettered on what had seemed a dead end day.
I wanted to attribute the miracle of the stream to a guardian spirit, but I suspected yearly irrigation system maintenance halted the normal diversion of water into the more civilized irrigation canal that bordered the subdivision. Some rusted mechanical contrivance redirected the water into its wild ancient courses which joined the dry streambed that bordered our backyard. Which released the children and I from a spate of listlessness for a few quixotic days.
Eventually, the water abruptly stopped flowing in our creek. A tragedy so poignant we quickly shrugged it off to blunt the pain of loss. We were between permanent homes and couldn’t absorb another drop of sadness. “Oh, well. It was great while it lasted.” And truly it was more precious for having been a brief enchantment. Later, I reflected on the joy of those few days and marked them as important, a shimmering family memory. Reflecting back on special events is useful, but I learned from this cooling summer baptism that there is something more deeply quenching to our rushed souls: slowing down to notice the iridescence and the rush of joy emanating from seemingly common occurrences that can be wild delights in our neatly channeled lives.
Too often I have been missing from some of the most important moments of my life. Caught up in anxious ruminating, I missed much of the glory of those moments. At last, fortuitously getting a proverbial two by four to the head, I see that life is full of extraordinary veiled magic which can only be perceived as it happens. Enchantment, not from grand events or spectacularly rendered achievement, but from gleaming instants that can be lost in the blink of an eye. Sharp attention to the present reveals the sorcery of small things.