Category Archives: word portraits

Bighill Creek, the stream of consciousness

I was back in Alberta last week visiting my parents. My dad writes a weekly column in the Cochrane Eagle and he asked me if I’d like to write a guest column for him. I said “sure” because asking me to write something is like asking me if I’d like a glass of champagne. I decided to do something on the lovely little creek that stitches together the parkland at the heart of the town. It’s on his website as “Our blue stream of consciousness joins past and future” with one photo by me, but since this is my blog and I have room, I’m going to give it to you here with four photos.

Day by day, high and far on its edges, Cochrane grows. And instant by instant, in the town’s green heart, a blue past and future flows.

Bighill Creek comes to air above town and wanders down to see what’s here. It sashays past the old RancheHouse, swerves under a footbridge, swings wide, sighs at the glittering graffiti under the highway and slides under another footbridge and the tracks. Nourishing grasses and trees as it passes, it ducks under Glenbow Drive and plays peekaboo with the red paths of Glenwood, William Camden, and Riverfront Parks: eight more bridges and two culverts. A jogger out with the dogs will cross it and cross it again, and again, and again. And then it becomes Bow water.

I visit Cochrane and the Bow Valley landscape of my youth every year, and every year I walk and run along and across Bighill Creek. As I change, and the people I know change, and Cochrane changes, the creek is more or less the same, depending on the season – but, like any stream, its water is different from moment to moment.

But it returns as I do, as the seasons do. Water evaporates from its surface and soaks the ground from its bed, and the plants it refreshes breathe it into the air. The water in the air dreams itself into clouds; the clouds rest down as snow and rain; the snow and rain feed the springs and the creek. And so, although most of the creek flows on like the countless instants we lose to memory in time, some of it returns.

And after another year, I return. I am the same person but not quite the same, and Cochrane is the same town but not quite the same. I stand on a bridge and reflect on the creek. And the water flows by like mind into memory, some of it newly met and some coming back to me.

droplet

What is a droplet? A little thing you’ve let drop.

Well, no, that’s not precisely it. Drops were first of all things that had been dropped, yes, or things that were about to drop, but dewdrops are more on the order of condensation and may evaporate – or be absorbed – before they drop. Droplets of sweat flow out and flow down, but they are not flowlets.

And what of this let? The French source is –et and –ette, but some French borrowings into English had an l at the end of the root or as part of an –el suffix from the Latin (trimmed from –ellus, –ellum, –ella), as in bracelet, chaplet, and gauntlet. The English saw the l and it clung to the et, and we got a fully English suffix on armlet, ringlet, kinglet… now lets are everywhere, first condensed from the precipitation of bits of language, now spread like droplets of mist.

What we know without question is that a droplet is a little drop. It can be technical or poetic. Scientists speaking of liquids found or made in tiny spheres, perfect or oblate, held together by surface tension, use the term as readily as lovers discerning the small fluids of flowers and passions. Even the sound of the word is appropriate, like a water drip hitting a small pool in a cave with a plop and a splash and maybe a splatter. And the shape: the droplet hanging at the bottom of the d, coming loose and falling as the o, clinging next to the top of the p, eventually starting to dry as the e.

Droplets can be invisibly small, measured in picolitres, in an aggregate making a cloud of colour or grey. They can also be large enough to roll down your skin and tickle you. How big can a droplet be? No one can say for sure. At some point a drop is obviously a droplet; at another point a droplet is obviously a drop, or more; but if someone tries to tickle out a precise delimitation from you, best let the matter drop.

cinereal

Thought is fire. Your brain is ignited by electric shocks of sensation and memory and burns in the heat of the moment to make the smoke traces of words and other actions. It leaves behind the ashes of the grey matter. A name for grey matter is cinerea. A name for grey is cinereal. It means cinereous. Which means grey, greying, inclining to grey, becoming ashen, becoming ashes. The warm brown wood of the world incinerates to grey smoke and grey ashes, cinders, cinereal, cinereous. Trees burn at a certain rate. Trees make paper and paper displays words and burns at a faster rate, and your brain burns fastest of all, gone before seen at every moment, sincere or insincere, cinema or real, the ever renewable eternal uncensored censer. And the smoke is the word and the smoke hides the world and all fades in slow shade layers to grey, cinereous, cinereal, cinerea. Do you see?

Dictionary page photographed from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged.