Dear Ones: This old post from 1987 languished for years, literally unread—and suddenly I have an audience, I don't know why, but thank you for stopping by. A little Blogger stats sleuthing uncovered Ron Siliman's blog as a redirect. I am thrilled that Ron mentioned it. Over the moon. But puzzled as there is no mention or link anywhere on his most excellent blog. Or why this particular blog piece—as it's merely an old journal entry, not literary criticism. Ah. the vagaries of the internet. Dear Reader, thank you for stopping by. Feel free to drop me a note via comments. I won't publish them if you don't want them published. I'm dyin' to know how you arrived here in this remote corner of cyberspace—Maureen Hurley 4/29/12
One April Fool's Day, circa 1985, I was reading a book of new essays, "Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry," by Robert Hass (Ecco Press—a well respected independent New York press, now an imprint of HarperCollins), but his riverine metaphors contained so many geographic errors, I completely forgot what the poetic point of the essays was. What kind of joke was this?
No typo, the 140-mile-long Truckee River was suddenly emptying out at the headwaters of Lake Tahoe and switching directions mid-stream by running down along I-80 into the Pacific Ocean instead of dying in the alkali sump of Nevada's Pyramid Lake—remnant of prehistoric Lake Lahontan? And my natal West Marin watershed, Lagunitas Creek, was apparently running uphill into the Nicasio Valley instead of by Camp Taylor to Tomales Bay.
At least my geandfather's summer neighbor, Kenneth Rexroth, who had a cabin near China House in Lagunitas, knew which way the creek ran:
Under the second moon the Salmon come,
up Tomales Bay, by Papermill Creek,
up the narrow gorges to their spawning beds in Devil’s Gulch.
I was far too shy to to say anything to Bob at the time, but poet Sharon Doubiago said, You must write what you know to be true—even if it's hard, or rubs against the grain. It is the poet's job to get the facts right. Besides, it was the fragile beauty of the West Marin landscape that led me to the art of poetry.
So, afraid of the commitment to prose, I scribbled a few dyslexic notes I didn't know what to do with, typed it up, transferred it to my old Apple IIc, and forgot about it— until now, some 20 years later, when prose no longer frightens me off with its insistent tyranny of syntax and logic, and an injured knee is keeping me flattened and couchbound.
A friend gave me a pile of old software with a translator tool that allowed me to (sort of) access the archived floppy disks that imprisoned most of my early work by way of obsolescence, which made my immobility more bearable.
Though I had many opportunities over the years to mention the error to Bob, I never did summon up the courage to tell him that both watersheds would have to defy gravity and run uphill—the Truckee River whould have to reroute itself and climb out of the Tahoe Basin over Donner Pass (even the Donner Party ran into some trouble at the pass), and my own Lagunitas or Papermill Creek would be forced to leap its bed from one valley, and defy gravity to traverse the next valley to Tomales Bay.
Now, Bob Hass grew up in San Rafael, so he should have known where Lagunitas Creek emptied, but then he didn't spend any time in Lagunitas Creek. Not like me.
It was a bit ironic, if not poetic justice, that Bob was instrumental in the creation of the eco-poetic Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival. The last time I read at Watershed, we began with a medicine wheel and a drumming circle at Strawberry Creek at the bottom of the UC Berkeley campus.
Someone (was it my ex, John Oliver Simon?) read some Lew Welch poems, then traced the route of the undeground creek to Martin Luther King Jr. Park in front of City Hall. With a clear view down to the bay, at least Bob couldn't get the creek direction wrong here.
We straddled the millennium with poetry readings, we daylighted Strawberry Creek. Kush of Cloudhouse, who was filming the event, dropped a mike down the manhole cover in the midde of the plaza and the miked creek was allowed to speak in silverine during the readings. Our students read their River of Words poems to the music of the creek.
It was a glorious day—even if Bob got my name wrong and announced to the world that I was Maureen Heaney. Ironic, one of my grandmothers was a Heaney, a fact which once caused Seamus Himself and I to declare ourselves cousins after a tot or two of uisce beatha in an elevator.
Ironic also that Bob now lives near the mouth of Lagunitas Creek, a few miles from White House Bend in Inverness. I wonder if anyone ever told him, or if he ever corrected the error when the book was republished by HarperCollins?
But back to my story: the name of Papermill creek changes according to history and whim and usage. We called it Lagunitas Creek. I know where Papermill Creek empties. At one time or another, I've ridden, swum, and fished most of the entire 20-mile length of the creek from its headwaters in Woodacre to Olema and Point Reyes, and its final destination, Tomales Bay. Except for one last stretch past the Gravel Pits to Point Reyes—a missed opportunity—but the new landowners are possessed by the idea of boundaries and fence lines. Not like the old days when we were left to our own aimless wanderings. As I thought about all the creek names, my memory took the long road home.
In deep summer, we rode our horses bareback down the tree-lined length of Lagunitas Creek, swimming them through dark pools. One hot summer afternoon, I rode the entire length of the creek bed from Forest Knolls to Tocaloma on an elderly white Arabian gelding named Namún. It was well over 100° and he was at least 100 in horse years.
And though we were lazily plodding along, cool and deliciously wet beneath a canope of alders and redwoods, on the way home, my horse broke out in heat welts and began to wheeze and cough. I thought, omigod, he is going to die right there in the creekbed.
How was I going to explain to his owners why their favorite old horse died in the creek? I splashed Namún's body with water, but it didn't do any good. I had to leave the old man cooling off in a deep, sheltered pool near Jewell. I stroked his neck, he nuzzled me, as if seeking comfort, then despondently hung his head dangerously low into the water, and began to buckle his legs, as if to lay down.
I felt I had inadvertantly broken some rule, but, other than distance, what was it? Arabs, renown for their stamina, can go on forever. Namún, don't lay down and drown on me! I pleaded. He seemed to understand. Straightened and locked his legs. Hung his head dangerously low to the water.
I scrambled up the silted embankment to the highway and ran screaming for help—and got someone to call to Namún's owner, horse trainer, Edie Lehman. The hamlet of Jewell had about three houses. Luckily someone was home.
Edie arrived in no time, pulling the big horse trailer with its green Rafter L Ranches logo. They lived down the road from me in the old Berini place on Arroyo Road. I was a stable hand and exerciser for her horses.
She showed me how to inject Namún with the antihistamines and when his breathing stablized, we led him up the embankment and loaded him into the trailer. I never rode in the creekbed again.
Papermill Creek changes its name depending upon which part of the valley one lives in. In the San Geronimo Valley it's called Creamery Creek, the Dollar Creamery is long gone, but the place name survives as a Creamery Road.
In Lagunitas it assumes the moniker, Lagunitas. At Shafter's, the pools are all named. The creek becomes the Inkwells, and China House Bend. At Camp Taylor, where the rag papermill was, Papermill Creek winds around the dark side of Mt. Barnabe, named after Taylor's white mule.
Then there are the Gravel Pits, my family's favorite swimming hole. Right before the creek reaches Tomales Bay, it becomes White House Pool—where Teddy Roosevelt was fond of fishing for coho and silver salmon.
No wonder Bob Hass had a hard time with the direction of his rivers. We had a handful of names for the same creek.
I grew up on the other side of Mt. Barnabe, on a southern slope in full sunlight. Barnabe's mule bones have long since slipped back into the earth. We used to loiter by the pools of Lagunitas Creek, Carson Creek, Devil’s Gulch, and Arroyo Creek when the salmon were running, we waited for that flash, coinage of silver, vermillion and green heralded the fall.
Though the Devil's Gulch route was the most direct route over the mountain, and was one of my grandfather's favorite hikes, it was such a long, hot and desolate ride over the summit of Mt. Barnabe to Camp Taylor, we kids avoided it.
Following the flat railroad bed from Lagunitas, or the creekbed to Tocaloma was the easiest route.
There was also a more northerly route over Mt. Barnabe that avoided the summit. It took us along the hogback ridges through abandoned apple and bitter pear orchards down to the deserted settlement of Devil's Gulch. I felt so far from home, thankful for the warm reassurance of my horse under me.
It was in Devil's Gulch where my mother stumbled into a wasp's nest as a child and was nearly stung to death. My grandmother cooled the poor child off in the creek and covered her stings with fine clay mud to draw out the poison. My grandmother said it was always a longer walk home. But when something went wrong, the road home doubled in distance.
Sometimes I made a circle up over Mt. Barnabe and down its steep slopes to Camp Taylor and then return home up the railroad bed to Lagunitas and Arroyo Road. At one point or another, I've ridden most of what's left of the railroad beds from Woodacre to Tocaloma.
Early mornings, we'd race our horses along the flat stretches of railroad bed to the park gate. I always pulled out ahead at the quarter mile, but a two-mile course fatigued my quarter horse, and the plugs would always pull ahead. Even Brenda Bullock's Icelandic pony, Helgar, or little Susie Matson's plug could beat my mare on the two mile run.
Soon after that, my mare pulled up lame, but I was 15 and addicted to racing, I avoided the warning signals. Riding her bareback at breakneck speed was an unmatched thrill. She was pure verve and muscle, it was like riding a barrel down Class Two rapids.
One time when Becky Dart ran away with me at Kent Lake, I sawed on the bit until flecks of blood and foam decorated us, her tongue nearly cut in two by the metal snaffle bit. But still she ran, a Three Bars mare at heart.
It was spring, my sorrel mare was out to grass, but fox tails carpeted her wound. Every day I had to tweezer the stickers and oats out of the raw flesh, which I cauterized with silver nitrate. Daily I was reminded of what I'd done to this animal by racing her, she came from a long line of champion race horses, it was in her blood to run.
Granddaugher of the fabled Three Bars, my mare had the thoroughbred lineage of kings in her blood. She was one degree removed from The Preakness, the Kentucky Derby, Sarasota Springs. When my aunt's friend Chuck traced her pedigree, at first, he thought it was forged, but he said, If this proves to be true, you've got quite a valuable mare there, she could beget champions even if her knees were bad.
It was like finding a secret treasure in the woods, or a Vermeer hidden under an artless painting. There wasn't another horse in the valley who could match her at the quarter mile, and no one would race me unless it was a long track.
It was precisely on those kinds of afternoons when you knew spring had arrived. We'd ride and ride for miles on the open road. Time took us on a curious echoing quality. I can still recall the poignancy of late afternoon rides and the dappled roads under tall trees. Bleeding hearts, checker lilies and false Solomon's seal nodding their heads. Trilliums spreading their tripartite wings.
Riding horseback was as natural as walking or breathing. My best friend Stephanie Stone and I rode everywhere. We grew up and lost touch. I hadn't head from her in years. Her brother Eric said she had a horse in Arizona to ride and that helped to keep her sane through a loveless marriage. But that's when the drinking began. She kept it to herself. Held it in until the cancer ate her marrow.
At seventeen, after my mare tragically died of colic, from eating too much new spring grass in the Bianchi's pasture, I worked for the Lehman's training stable. I showed their horses at gymkhanas, I collected armloads of blue and red ribbons, but I didn't want to own another horse, losing her was devastating. She was big and beautiful, there was so more of her to love.
At nineteen, my other interests, my art—demanded that I move into the larger area of the world. I was at odds. Two worlds colliding. I had a chance to travel, a work-study job in Switzerland. I was sorry to leave, I almost didn't go to Europe, but Edie said, Don't be silly! It's a chance of a lifetime. Go! Have fun!
There were plenty of other girls, like Donna Lopez—who once unscrupulously kicked my horse right when I was in front of the judge, costing me the blue ribbon—girls like her were only too happy to step into my coveted job. And so she did.
I felt a crippling loss, separated from the horses like that. There was nothing much left of my childhood landscape. And so I sometimes dream of horses, and wake up with an inconsolable sense of loss. Everyone else moved into bucolic Marin. They came from LA, and from back east, they bought up the valley, they quickclaimed it and put up plywood palaces, they put up electric fences, they dammed the creeks and gated the roads.
They brought their urban nightmares with them. Runaway horses on the precipice.
When the invaders came, we lost more than our right of way. We lost our way.
The wild creature within me has slowly become urbanized with time. But I still dream of following the horses on endless fire roads running along the horizon.
Twenty years later, laid up with a bad knee, I am remembering it all as if it were yesterday. No point, no point of view. Merely Bob Hass's rivers running uphill against memory and time.
© rev. 2007; April 1, 1987, Maureen Hurley
For more information and a bio on Robert Hass, go to Wickipedia.
Note bene: Interesting to note, that according to Wikipedia, Lagunitas Creek headwaters originate on the northern slopes of Mt. Tam, but the Kent Lake tributary enters AFTER the town of Lagunitas, and during my grandparents' day, was called Carson Creek when my uncles used to hike that watershed. There were cataracts and waterfalls, now drowned by Kent Lake. Creamery Creek, San Geronimo Creek, Forest Knolls Creek, Lagunitas Creek are all one and the same creek and it is all upstream from Carson Creek/Kent Lake spillway. So I beg to differ—the Wiki entry is wrong. Or maybe we grew up on the east fork and never knew about the other two forks. Some topographic research is in order. But this piece is about colloquial use of toponyms more than anything else.
I looked up San Geronimo Creek and Wiki lists the headwaters at the TOWN of Lucas Valley. There is no town of Lucas Valley!!! There is a creek from Lucas Valley that drains into Nicasio and the Nicasio Reservior. And another creek that drains the other side of Big Rock called Miller Creek. ACK! They've gone and rewritten and renamed all our creeks.