The stream: there is something timeless and eternal about the flowing water in a small creek

I recently read  a beautiful and evocative essay about a walk during which the writer discovered a tiny stream and a house and garden that filled her with delight and awe. Cherry blossoms made it that much more magical.

Her description of the stream and garden inspired me to recall a little stream I discovered by chance flowing through woods adjacent to where I lived in 1980. It brought back many memories of a very special place and time in my life.

One afternoon during a walk near my apartment when I lived in Columbia, S.C., I stumbled upon a small stream in the woods a short distance away. I had no idea it was there.

The creek itself was quite small, three or four feet wide and and few inches deep, but it always seemed to be flowing about the same depth and speed, as if fed by a spring. At one point, I could stop and sit on a log and watch and listen as it flowed over a scoured out section of rock. Over ages this had formed formed a small “V” and was one of the few spots where you could actually hear the rushing of water over rock. It was a quiet and peaceful sound.

I can remember sitting there on Saturday afternoons, staring at the flowing water, hearing its gentle presence in a steady, rhythmic run downstream, listening for any differing characteristics of the sound. There were none. It was singularly uniform, utterly pleasing and soothing. Something about that moving water was immensely peaceful and comforting. It pulsed and flowed. I focused on that one spot for long moments, sometimes for longer stretches of time as I simply wanted to remain in that one spot in the woods.

Where was the water coming from? I knew where it was going. First to Gills Creek, then on to the mighty Congaree River which courses through Columbia, formed at the confluence near downtown of the Broad and Salula rivers. The Congaree makes its way downstream to Lake Marion, impounded during the 1930s, and thence, by way of the Santee and Cooper rivers to the Atlantic Ocean at Charleston and north near Georgetown.

This tiny tributary stream feeds a great river. The local beauty it created was part of an entire tableaux of trees and rocks, blue skies and fresh air. I always thought of that creek as a symbol of eternal things – at least it would always be there as long as that piece of earth endured and humans did not alter or destroy the surrounding landscape.

I think, too, of the great Nature poet William Wordsworth’s lines in the final “River Duddon” sonnet, that lovely series of poems celebrating a very special English stream:

“I thought of thee, my partner and my guide,/As being past away — Vain sympathies! For backward Duddon as I cast my eyes,/I see what was, and is, and will abide;/Still glides the Stream, and shall forever glide;/The Form remains, the Function never dies.”

Living only miles from the ocean in coastal South Carolina, flowing water in streams and creeks is something I see only when the tide is coming in and out.   Our currents here are strictly tidal.    Beautiful as those creeks are that flow through marshes and wetlands, I long to see little clear-water creeks like the one in Columbia, located in the middle of the state at the Fall Line where the Coastal Plain meets the Piedmont at significantly higher elevations than in the Pee Dee and lower sections of the state. The Piedmont gives way to the foothills and mountains of the Upstate, where streams begin to rush over rocks and boulders, both mighty and gentle, as they make their way to the sea, now quite far away.   Mountain streams are melodic and alive, always rushing over rocks and boulders save when they rest in quiet pools. Their music is that of the ages, the timeless sound of rushing water, endless, steady, a soothing sound and balm for the weary soul.

During a trip to the North Carolina mountains some years ago, the place where I stayed had a small stream coursing through the grounds, after spilling down a small nearby waterfall. Every late afternoon I sat in a favorite chair by the creek and read, listened to the music of the water, and contemplated many things in an aura of deep tranquility that so often comes from such a time, place and setting, a place I know I have to eventually leave, but which I wish I could be near always.

Back to memories of that little creek in Columbia.

It is a cloudy, early Spring afternoon in March of 1982. I have walked out my door into woods in back of the apartment, heading along railroad tracks for a ways. I soon come to the path that takes me along, crunching leaves, through a shady and dense patch of woods consisting of small oaks and taller hickories that dominate this little natural world, all to itself, surrounded by sprawling city suburbs. As I walk along the tracks, I enjoy the pleasant day with new spring growth sprouting on the trees, and the air tinged with that March coolness and sense of winter departing. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Each time I enter this quiet, set-apart and enclosed sanctuary, I cannot believe my good fortune to have been led to such a place in the middle of sprawling suburbs, which has these woods all around it on three sides.

On this particular visit, I stare at the flowing water and listen to its song for more than an hour until I reach a state of pure bliss and contentment. As always, I feel as if I never want to leave. It’s similar to the peaceful zone I enter sitting in my chair at sunset on the beach, the vast Atlantic Ocean extending to the far horizon. I can listen to the ocean for hours sometimes while sitting on the beach, waves pounding, rushing, roaring, or at other still times, merely lapping at the shore with a ceaseless, gentle cadence. Whether it’s the sound of the ocean, or that quiet, eternally flowing little creek, so far away in my memory, yet as near as the present moment, I remember the sounds exactly.

This is just how I recall the little creek:

This is a photo, taken in 2009 of the mountain creek I enjoyed listening to and relaxing in a chair by its banks:

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the creek in Columbia.

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April 5, 2023

I love that sound so much…it is so peaceful and relaxing.  Creeks like that remind me of childhood and carefree days of playing.

April 5, 2023

I love the sound of water…so relaxing. That’s why I called my massage business “Moon Tide Massage.” My logo was a moon over the water. Makes me relaxed just thinking about it. I kept waiting for you to tell how you followed the creek upstream a few miles and found … A plumbing fixture or something. LOL