02 August 2014

Unfamiliar Thoughts in Familiar Waters

I've seen that creek many times, but I'd never before looked at it the way I did last month.

I have a special creek where I go to fish and deeply connect with nature. I've been going there since I was three or four years old, so it's an old friend. It's also a big part of who I am and how I see the environment.

For all the amazing things they give us, old friends also bring challenges. The early experiences with them heavily influence how we see them later, sometimes preventing us from picking up on new things about them. Also, they color our interpretation of the people, places, and things we encounter later in life, setting limitations on our understanding of the world.

Both of the challenges related to old friends apply to my creek. The memories I have of it come to the forefront of my mind whenever I am there. Consequently, each new experience of it mixes with the old ones. I am also certain that my understanding of streams and the environment in general builds off my early experiences at the creek. For example, when I was younger, I thought about the environment as a set of individual pieces. "There's a creek," I would say. "There's a mountain." I didn't really think of them as continuations of a larger whole. I thought about my creek as a separate entity occupying a specific place of its own, and the same thinking continued to influence my understanding of environmental elements for years.

This July, I experienced my creek in a new way. I didn't see it as a creek but rather the product of an interaction of environmental features extending to the atmosphere. I was no longer walking in just a creek bed. Instead, it had become part of a larger, living system of environmental connections. The canyon through which it runs funnels water to it from miles around. That water comes to the creek on its continuous cycle around the world and through the atmosphere, connecting the creek to the oceans, the land, and the clouds.

I think that truly seeing my creek's place in the larger complexities of the environment is literally a watershed moment: For the first time, I really understand what a watershed is, and I now have a new way of looking at my old friend and the rest of the world.

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