6. Listen for a bird. What else can you hear? Squirrels carousing in tree branches. Chipping sparrows. Grackles. Magpies. Prairie dog whistles. Water burble. One goose honking. My splooshy shoes slipping through slush & mud.
7. Find a place where an animal would be happy. Only one? Favorite: warm, partly sheltered riverbank bend is a year-round duck and goose spa. There are five blue bee hives on a hill. Three prairie dog towns thrive in spite of the hawks.
8. How many different colors can you find? Knee-deep bright green grass grows thick along the streambed and under the cottonwoods. The path is cappuccino colored. “Duck spa” is dotted with dark chocolaty spongy places where they’ve mucked it up. See-through lime-tinted cottonwood leaves are in their early stages. Prairie dog town is a mix of light brown dirt piles around the holes and deep green weeds across the abandoned lot. Blue bee hives stand out on the hill. The creek runs clear; dappled rocks shine under the water.
9. Dig in the ground with your hand or flip over a rock or log. Mucky leaves under the log. Wet dirt. Corner of a leaf. Mud.
10. Find something that moves. Always moving water, even in winter. Birds flitting & shouting. Prairie dog running from holes A to B. Tail twitch of a squirrel. The owls fly away.
A co-worker suggests that I return to the creek with a “geeky science type” who will identify what’s there, using the Latin names. That highly educated person would observe disturbances, suggest areas for restoration, and comment on the state of the creek’s health.
I’m not interested in that. As Momaday suggests, I will touch, wonder, dwell, imagine and remember. I’ll download the next in the series of Treasure Hunts, and continue to take the exploration slowly, paying attention to the little things right in front of me. I have all the time in the world.
I will imprint these five miles so deeply on my consciousness that they appear in my dreams.
You don’t need a personal creek to connect with nature—you can do the treasure hunt in any park, garden, back yard or plot of urban land near you!
Jeannie Patton is the program coordinator for The Nature Conservancy’s LANDFIRE project, providing administrative, communications and web support. She is an enthusiastic skier, hiker and river rafter.
(Image 1: Exploring a creek. Source: Erika Nortemann/TNC. Image 2: Coal Creek. Source: Jeannie Patton/TNC.)