The Importance of Timing

Felt like winter down at the creek on Wednesday. A clear sky, cold winds. Some rosehips are still vivid orange, not all frostbitten yet. I pick my way down to the water. The beavers have done their work here: another willow has been felled.  The water is wider and the banks are narrower. Sunshine and I hop onto the boulder that points upstream and just at that moment a three-foot cherry red coho salmon arrows by us, circles at the base of the waterfall and leaps.

Timing is so important.

Sometimes I can feel it. Can you? That moment when the time has ripened and a door opens, a chance offers, a current calls you to rise. I want that time to be now.

The salmon doesn’t make it. Falls back. But I know that he will try again and I take out my phone and start recording and I catch that moment when he hurls himself into all that life and weather is throwing at him, when he hurls himself forward in the face of every raindrop that has fallen in this vast watershed, funneled down to this moment, this torrent, this impossible seeming force.

And he makes it.


I so want to believe that’s where we are now. Circling the base of the waterfall and gathering ourselves for a leap forward against a deadly seeming current.

A few weeks ago, I was down here and there was a woman standing in the creek in thigh-high waders. Young, wearing some kind of uniform. I asked her what she was doing, of course. There is something about this place that makes me even more likely to talk to strangers. The gathering of waters makes me hopeful.

She was counting spawned-out salmon. Meaning dead ones. They lay their eggs and fail and their bodies are beginning to litter the streambed. The run will continue into December, she tells me. But these are mostly hatchery salmon. “This creek is prone to flash floods,” she says. The eggs these adults lay will get washed away in heavy storms.

I so want to believe that there’s a way to change that. That we can recover from the heavy storm that just washed through our country. That may, it seems, scour away so much of what we’ve built—our education system, our safety nets, our regard for each other.

I am afraid every day. I have to avoid certain things- most social media. NPR stories that ask “How bad could this get?” over and over.

Don’t get me wrong. I won’t be blind to this. I won’t pretend. But if I don’t manage my fear, I know I won’t to have the strength to make this jump.

In a watershed, flash floods are caused by hard surfaces, by cement-covered hills that send all the rain down to the creek NOW, instead of through the soil over the course of days. Instead of delayed by trees’ thirst, by variable slopes that collect seasonal ponds for frogs’ eggs, coyote’s reflection.

I think this is part of what has happened to our country. The hardening. But I know there is a wily life force that persists: I saw a coyote on the way to the creek two weeks ago. She walked out from under the freeway and stopped and looked at me. Looked and looked and looked. Curious and bold. Fearless. Not interested in a fight. Not in the habit of turning away.

I won’t listen to indulgence in potential doom – there’s enough that’s real without inviting more – but I do want to know when Trump has appointed someone who believes in child labor to head the department of education. I do want to know what the artists and journalists and activists are doing to face the torrent and to circle with them.

I do want us to leap this waterfall together.

Another salmon tries. Fails. Heads over to the other, smaller waterfall on the left. He leaps, makes it. Another follows him. But it is a trap, they get stuck between the bank and a fallen log. They struggle and flail for a long time, then slide backwards, downstream.

There is timing and there is also failing and there is trying again.

Watch the little left side waterfall. It happens twice. 

I know they will face the larger current. The will to give birth is too strong to stop. I turn on my video camera again and point it at the big waterfall and wait. And wait. And wait. Four minutes go by, which feels like forever when its forty-five degrees out and raining and you have your ungloved hands out of your pockets. These are small discomforts in the face of the urge to create. There is trying and failing and trying again and there is love. I am still waiting and at that moment, my phone rings. It is my sweetheart, calling me to tell me a story about a moment with his son and I can hear in his voice how beautiful it is to love and how hopeful and how strong.