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A Fall Vignette in East Clear Creek

A memory of autumn in Northern Arizona

By Sarahmarie Specht-BirdPublished 3 years ago 3 min read
The sandstone walls and reedy banks of East Clear Creek

Across the water from the squeaking red boats, there is a bank of reeds rustling in the wind. It doesn't take much to move them—just a little breath, a small breeze. They show no discernible difference from the colors of summer, and their green bodies dance in a uniform swaying motion. Above them, the striated rock stands silent guard. The pain that sandstone has had to endure is obvious: weathering, cobbled blocks, where cuts dash back and forth along their faces. The sun comes out every few moments, poking its face from behind a puffy cloud and going away again. When airplanes fly overhead, the firmament sounds muffled and toned-down, about to sleep. Fall has arrived at East Clear Creek.

Nothing says autumn to me the way that this very specific silence does. The world is settling, and the line between the chaos of Earth and the peace of more-than-Earth gets thinner. Summer is sweat and stress, oppressive mornings and searing afternoons. Winter is motionless—animals not moving, plants lying in wait. But autumn. Autumn is comforter clouds, notebooks and coffee cups, autumn is the park on a purple evening, taking a detour to the ruins of a mill to see the bank of colors across the water. Autumn is cross country practice and puffy skies and being okay with whatever comes next.

I wish I knew the name of those reeds. I'm not sure it would make them any more knowable, but I want to know it all the same. I don't know how to describe their movement: like silk hanging from a chair, with an open window stirring the fibers? A cat's slick tail, making imperceptible S shapes in the air? I don't have the words right now. The plants make me feel satisfied and light. We haven’t seen many other kayakers out here today, just our little group, perched on the rocky bank eating our sandwiches. I’m watching the water as we have our lunch. The bend in the river just to the left makes me curious. I love seeing the current move around the corner, towards the patches of reeds, more reeds, silky cat-tail reeds, as if also in silent consternation.

As I sit here, I am reminded of Jacks Canyon in the fall: another Northern Arizona wonder. That place held magic. We'd drive out there, my lover and me, and maybe some friends, too, and we would set up camp and go climbing. Rarely have I seen a more perfect cobbled limestone crag. The light bends and falls in all the most interesting angles. The rock is pocketed, grippy, as if made for hands. The walls are not too tall, and the days are not long enough. I used to love being out there with the campfire and the sky. If you were there in monsoon season, you might see the clouds gathering over the peaks, or the subtle shifting of the stars, making no distinction between what has just ended and what is about to be. If you were there in the fall, smelling the creosote-yucca-prickly-dust air, you would not have thought about any other place.

There are petroglyphs in the sandstone. Indigenous people carved them thousands of years ago, and they remain today, like the breeze, like the current, like the canyon. Unlike the reeds, which die, and like us, who paddle on until we can no longer. We finish our lunch and move back the way we came. We talk about airplanes and essays and trails, and then, when we reach our starting point, we deflate the boats and drive back to town. Tomorrow will be another golden autumn day, and all the days that follow will slip on, into more rocks, more campfires, more reeds subtly shifting in the changing seasons’ breeze.


About the Creator

Sarahmarie Specht-Bird

A writer, teacher, traveler, and long-distance hiker in pursuit of a life that blends them all. Read trail dispatches and adventure stories at my website.

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