I’m always rediscovering my inspiration roots. Sit quiet. Listen. If you hear a stream or river then you hear today’s topic, one I found in the most unlikely of places during a time of healing.
I often think of it as the lost years between high school and returning for my BA degree. In retrospect, they weren’t lost, they were necessary steps on my way to myself and Ontyre.
The Road to the River
I (mostly) grew up on Long Island with the sound to the north and ocean to the south, yet spent little time at the beach and didn’t even learn to swim until after moving away. After bouncing around the country working various jobs, I ended up in Wyoming. It was a different place then. My later medical experiences were why I fled nine years ago.
I ended up working in irrigation. No, little me didn’t haul pipes into fields or setup sprinklers, nor did I farm. Instead, I worked summers as a ditch rider delivering (releasing) water to farmers on what was otherwise prairie.
One summer was spent on a small ditch (tributary in reverse). Water was released to my little ditch and from it I delivered it to farmers. How much water they requested depended on need and total water rights. Use up their allotment too soon and their crops were at the dry climate’s mercy.
The Main Canal
More significant were five unlikely years in a unique position where those before me failed because of temperament. They’d argue with farmers who’d in turn grumble about lazy ditch riders spending their days sleeping in a pickup.
The job was unique because it was releasing water to farmers directly from the main canal. At its height in the summer, that was 2,000 acre feet or more. That’s a river.
After opening a gate, the water filled a weir pool where it’d still before spilling over a weir, a gage beside it. I’d then calculate how many acre feet were flowing. Too, I was provided a pickup for the 45 mile daily journey (one way), stopping at each gate on a schedule so each farmer knew when I’d be there.
*There were 40 head gates and some weir pools served multiple weirs.
That was the basic job. It’s easy to see why sleeping was involved. Except, not me. I’m too antsy. Too, while physically busy, my mind is busy.
Thus did Clever Christina come to life.
Unlike my predecessors, I kept to the schedule since I didn’t care about sleeping for long periods. When resting, I’d sit beside the water and project each farmer’s water usage using different scenarios. The farmers loved it and would visit to ask questions.
I’m small and lighter than the dead. That was when I adopted wide-brimmed hats and learned to wear gloves to turn the wheels on the huge head gates. They were old and often silt built-up in front of them. I maintained a regular cleaning schedule, flushing the gates whenever needed and lubricating them. I carried a massive pipe for leverage, if needed. Neither task was required — but the farmer’s noticed.
My trademark, though, were my paths.
When I took over, the weir pools were neglected, high grasses growing around them. Some were set far below the dirt road paralleling the canal, requiring scrambling down a steep slope through brush.
There were badgers, ground squirrels, and jackrabbits. The jackrabbits would zig-zag in front of the pickup. It was hilarious. Thing is, there were also rattlesnakes.
Here’s the thing about rattlesnakes: they rattle a warning, but in hip-high grass it doesn’t help much. Here’s another thing about rattlesnakes: if they’ve recently crossed the canal (yes, they did that), they couldn’t rattle until their rattle’s dried.
So, I started carrying shovels and a garden rake to cut through the grass and create paths. I’d literally dig up the grass to slow its return, moving dirt to level the way. On those steep slopes, I’d cut switchbacks. Given my limited time at each gate, it took most of the summer that first year.
The farmers were dumbfounded. The guys on the canal’s crew laughed at my landscaping. Within a couple of years, though, the farmers were praising my efforts. When the crew dug silt out of the weir pools with a backhoe after the season, they’d ask where I wanted the silt placed to aid my landscaping.
They all used the paths.
I didn’t know it, but over those five years were born the Baris Plains, Arthune’s crop towers, and Meldenphire’s canals. Any thoughts of kick-ass heroines gave way to undersized, but clever, ones. Unknowingly was born Riparia Dellbane and her love for sitting on the banks of a stream or river and watching the current.
I’d watch the current. In those days before cell phones, or even iPods, I’d sit with my thoughts. That’s becoming a forgotten art.
In her stories, introverted Riparia, when overwhelmed, always seeks moving water to sit beside. Her trauma was different than mine in many ways (she lost loving, supportive parents in a tragedy), but it came from the same, deep place.
My college years came later on the road to me, the writer, and to the world developing in the back of my mind, even when I didn’t know it. The hats remain, and to this day I think best when I’m busy.