by Heidi Barr, author of Woodland Manitou
I walk through the tall grass toward the place where the water bubbles out of the ground, cold as ice and clear as fresh air. To get here, you have to drive down a winding back road and pull off ot the side of it to park, and then hike down a steep trail that, until recently, was unmarked. (Though you no longer have to climb a fence, which i can’t decide is a good thing, or not.) Or, if you start from the official trailhead, the way to get here is via the most remote trail, the one that goes all the way to the edge of the park boundary and connects with the next less formal trail system beyond. There is not much human foot traffic here — in all the times I’ve visited, I’ve only once seen another person. Usually it’s just me, the birds, an occasional fox, and the deer who silently watch me from their posts in the forest.
Going all the way to the source is perhaps not the most popular choice.
In these parts, most folks hike along the rocky outcroppings and sheer bluffs along the St. Croix River, and for good reason. They are breathtakingly beautiful, dotted with towering white pines and mossy boulders left here and there from ancient glacial activity. And the mighty river itself has a strong pull. You can feel its power when you draw near. Afterall, it has carved a vein into the earth.
But today I’m not by the river. Today I’m stepping over the marshy places in the ground and over rotting logs, and eventually I come to this place where something new begins. I stand at the edge of the small pool surrounded by stones, watching. As the water bubbles up from the earth, the sand at the bottom of the pool continually dances and resettles in a rhythm that doesn’t cease. It is the definition of persistent.
Being in the presence of this subtle energy reminds me that, as Homebound’s tagline reads, there are things in nature “ensuring the mainstream isn’t the only stream.” The river, the “main stream,” is fed by this gentle bubbling that meanders downward over rocks and roots until it joins the larger body of water. It is fed by something that is easy to forget about and sometimes hard to reach. But when I can remember that this gentle energy is what feeds the larger river, and that all of the other little tributaries in the watershed do the same, I am reminded that these tributaries have influence that is sometimes hard to see. But the impact, though subtle, is there. Because though the mighty river commands attention and has the power to carve veins into the land, so to do the bubbling springs and the tiny tributaries. Every time one of those little streams carries something important, like clear, non-polluted water straight from the earth, the mainstream is impacted. It reminds me that it’s important to stay true to my own voice, even if it’s not loud or it seems to go against the grain, or even if it is hard to find and takes a journey to get there. Making a point to keep the tributaries clean and clear matters in profound ways, even if we can’t see it right away. Even it it’s hard to do.
I kneel down to feel the cold, clear water, and as I do, through the ripples I can see a glimpse of what is possible in our world if we all take the time to go back to the source.