I have small children and they like to name things and at the moment one son calls it Squished Beaver Creek and another son calls it Found Dog Creek and my daughter calls it Not A Creek because most of the time it doesn’t have any water in it….”
by brian doyle
Our creek rises at the top of a serious little hill to the west and slides all the way down our hillside into the lake below. In the summer it’s a trickle and in the winter it’s a bigger trickle. Only once that I remember did it get big enough to drown anything, which it did, a beaver, although I think maybe the beaver was hit by a car first, as it was not only bedraggled when we found it but much flatter that your usual beaver. My children and I were going to bury the beaver but by the time we came back with beaver-burying implements the beaver was gone. I think maybe it washed down into the lake, which feeds a massive river to the east, which feeds the Pacific Ocean, which is really massive.
No one knows what the Tualatin people who lived here called the creek, and the white people who lived here didn’t write down what they called it until 1974, when the mayor, my friend Herald, had to file a resource inventory with the state of Oregon, which he did, naming unnamed or lost-named features like little creeks where beavers occasionally get drowned. Herald used to lose his dogs there so he called it Lost Dog Creek, which is its official name on maps and such now, but I have small children and they like to name things and at the moment one son calls it Squished Beaver Creek and another son calls it Found Dog Creek and my daughter calls it Not A Creek because most of the time it doesn’t have any water in it.
The thing is, though, that when they ask me what I want to name the creek I don’t have any words for the names I want to name it. I want to name it the way it mumbles and mutters in late fall. Or the gargly word it says after a month of rain. Or all the names of the colors it is. Or the deer-language names of the two deer we saw there once. Or the bip-bip-bip sound the deer made when they bounded away. Or the sluggish murkish sound of people dumping motor oil in it. Or a really long name like how long it’s been creeking. Or the first words of all the prayers prayed there. Or the plopping sound chestnuts make when they rain into the creek every fall. Or the sound of the bamboos sucking creek water day and night like skinny green drunks. Or the whirring song of the water ouzel we saw there once. Or the wet scuttly sound of crawdads running from kids wading or the screechy sound of kids scuttling from crawdads. Or the whinnying of the million robins there. Or the name of the first human being who ever drank from the creek. Or the proper word for the prickly pride of the old lady who lives in the moist basement of the cement house about the creek who says her husband’s on vacation but he’s actually been gone for ten years. Or the sound that the creek doesn’t make when there’s no water in it. Or the sound that a kid down the street made right after she learned how to walk and she wobbled all the way down the street holding her mama’s pinky and when she teetered past the creek she looked at it amazed and said an amazed word that no one ever said before and maybe no one ever will again and the word fell tumbling end over end into the creek and away it went to the lake and to the river and to the next river and to the ocean where everything goes eventually.
But I bet someday the word will come back. I bet one day a woman will be walking along the creek and when her child asks the name of the creek the mother will open her mouth and inside her will still be the kid down the street she once was and out will come the name of the creek again, salty and wet and amazed.
(collage: john richen )
Brian Doyle is the author of six books, most recently THE WET ENGINE, about hearts and all. It’s not bad. Among his awards and such are (a) a woman married him, (b) the Coherent Mercy granted them three children, and (c) he was named to the 1983 all-star team in the Newton Massachusetts Men’s League, which was a really tough league, you drove to the hole in that league you lost fingers, one time a guy drove the lane and got hit so hard his arm came off, but he was lefty anyway and hit both free throws. Supposedly he then left his arm in a toll booth basket on the Mass Pike but that might be apocryphal. More from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke. (bio/2006)
Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall. He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved. Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017. Faced with the prospect that Brian will not be here to support his family, there is an effort underway to pay off the mortgage to sustain Mary and their children: https://www.gofundme.com/doylefamilyfund
More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.