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Where the Stream Winds May 1 09

Where I grew up as a kid on the outskirts of Cascade, Michigan, it was a quick scramble from my backyard across the Rainbow Bridge to the woods behind our house. From there, the forest stretched for hundreds of acres all the way out to the Thornapple River and the expressway. It was a green paradise threaded with trails of my own making, and the Rainbow Bridge was its gateway.

The Bridge was in reality an old, living tree that had fallen long ago across the sandy-bottom stream that bordered my parents’ property. Strained by its own weight, the trunk had bent, forming a graceful arch that a child—or, for that matter, an adult—could walk across from our yard into the waiting woods, where the upper half of the old hardwood patriarch rested on the ground, its live branches thrusting skyward among the spicebush and witch hazel. The Rainbow Bridge is a fond memory of my boyhood, and so is the stream.

Ah, the stream! From its headwaters by the airport several miles away, it broadened rapidly as it wound its way through the swampy bottomlands beneath the forested ridge that overlooked my neighborhood, flowing through log tangles and around innumerable bends and sandy points before dispersing into a marshy bayou that emptied, in turn, into the wide, friendly river. There were carp in that creek, which some of the other neighborhood boys used to try to spear, and rumor had it that trout had once dwelt there. I had never seen any, but the creek was certainly deep, cold, and swift enough to have harbored them.

I have walked along many streams since those days, and I have enjoyed every step, even the ones that were wetter and muddier than I anticipated. There is a unique quality about flowing water, a combination of movement and tranquility. Where a creek is, there is life. Fish swim in it. Wildlife drink from it. Water striders skate across its surface. Trillums and trout lilies grace its banks.

Not all streams in Michigan are the same, though. Some thread through the thick interiors of cedar swamps, their waters brown like tea from the soil’s peaty tannins. Others meander through grassy fens that stretch in luxuriant, emerald expanses under the early spring sunshine. Still others wind gently through wooded valleys, as did the stream of my youth, making their bubbling, unhurried journey from their headwaters to some greater river, and ultimately to one of the vast Great Lakes.

Where do streams start? When you look at a map, they seem to simply appear out of nowhere. But each thin blue line that traces its way across the paper has a unique origin. A spring on the side of a wooded hill. Runoff converging from a swamp, its drainage gathering, becoming a current. Or perhaps a no-nonsense opening along a lakeshore, where a stream can waste no time getting about its business.

Northeast of Belding, Michigan, in the Flat River State Game Area, there is just such a lakeshore with just such a stream head. The lake is remote, tucked away amid the backwoods—exactly the way I prefer my lakes—with a gravel road bridging the mouth of the stream where it empties out of the eastern shore and begins its pilgrimage through the forests and wetlands of Montcalm County.

One night early last autumn I stood on the shores of that lake, right by the headwaters of the stream, where the current began to pick up beneath braided strands of loosestrife arching out from the bank, and watched the September sun set. A gentle billow of fair-weather cumulus drifted along to the west, looking for all the world like a pile of vanilla ice cream coasting through the sky, its image mirrored in the lake waters.

It doesn’t take much to make me happy. It shouldn’t take any of us much. Perhaps one of the blessings we’ll rediscover in these austere times is how little it really takes to be rich. In the words of Paul the apostle, “Having food and clothing, let us therewith be content.” Contentment is simple, or at least, it can be. Simple as watching the colors of a sunset play on a stream whose waters flow placidly through God’s great outdoors.




Written by Dave.