This creek tells a story, but how will it end?

We named our little homestead Pokeberry Pines because the ephemeral unnamed creek that runs along the back edge of our property flows/trickles into Pokeberry Creek (which eventually makes its way into the mighty Haw River). Almost every day for the past 485 days I have walked down our road to Pokeberry Creek. I’ve never NOT stopped there.

It is common to see turkeys and their poults scurrying nearby. The waterthrushes and hooded warblers call among the shrubs and grasses. Red-shouldered hawks perch and scream above the water. Frogs croak and fish dart, and the water level fluctuates, spinning a story of water – of storms and dry spells and their effects.

On my walks down there, I almost always take a picture. The lighting in the early morning and late evening demands it. The water level, marked by how much tree trunk can be seen, begs to be recorded. And so I snap a photo with my trusty cell phone. Today, as I stood there with my phone in hand, it occurred to me that these photos, indeed this creek, tells a story – a story of change, of seasonality, of animal behaviors, of drought and drown water levels, of past and future.

It’s been a dry summer for us at Pokeberry Pines – unlike neighboring communities to the east, west, north, and south. We’ve come to realize that we live in a micro-climate of near desert-like conditions. When storm clouds form around us, we watch, heartbroken, as they split and go around. Although, there are times when we get downpours, they are few and far between. It is the way of things here. We are adapting.

I thought about the changes I’ve seen at Pokeberry Creek, so I went back through my photo files and chose five pictures from my Pokeberry Creek walks of the past 485 days. Each one is a chapter, but the five taken together (and compared) tell a story of how water ebbs and flows, depending on the season and amount of rainfall nearby and upstream.

Pokeberry Creek at Morris Road, May 11, 2020 (looking south)

This is what Pokeberry Creek looked like when we first moved here last spring. Notice that tree on the edge of the left bank, leaning to the right. It has become an important marker for me when I look for changes in the creek. The creek is flowing here, and you can clearly see a sandbar at the bottom center-right of the photo. A culvert runs under the road here where I am standing, taking the photo.

Pokeberry Creek at Morris Road, November 12, 2020 (looking south)

In November of last year, we got a lot of rain, and Pokeberry Creek was cruising with high, muddy water levels, almost up to the top of the culvert. No sandbar visible here, and the water is wide. That leaning tree, now nearly center of the creek, marked the left bank back in May.

Pokeberry Creek at Morris Road, November 27, 2020 (looking south)

Just two weeks later, the water levels had dropped and the sandbar was once again visible. Our leaning tree was back on the left bank. Clear patterns of flow reflected the blue skies and autumn trees above.

Pokeberry Creek at Morris Road, February 15, 2021 (looking south)

February of 2021 was another rainy month. It rained almost every day, and Pokeberry Creek looked cold and stark in the black and white wetness of winter.

Pokeberry Creek at Morris Road, August 22, 2021 (looking south)

This summer has been a hit or miss rainy season. Lots of pop-up storms around the region, but mostly missing us at Pokeberry Pines and surrounding area. Above you can barely see Pokeberry Creek. The sandbar is now covered with grasses. The leaning tree still marks the left edge of the waterway, but the water’s width is significantly diminished. Not a lot of flow through here for some time. (But that hasn’t always been the case. In 2018, Hurricane Florence overwhelmed Pokeberry Creek here, and the water took out the road.)

Our little tributary is nearly dry, too, moistened only by the infrequent cloudbursts of August. There is no flow there. We’ve mostly stopped watering our gardens. I worry about using too much water from our well. Whatever survives this dry spell will be stronger for it – adapt or die, right? I wonder how long the water from our well will last if we continue to have so little rainfall, if our creek and Pokeberry Creek dry up.

Water has and will become even more of a limiting factor for the survival of humans. We can’t live without it, and yet we take it for granted every single day. How long will the water keep coming out of the faucets? What happens when the wells and rivers go dry? What happens when OUR well runs dry? People and ranchers and farmers all over the US, all over the Earth, are beginning to feel the effects of uneven water distribution and costs. It is something worth pondering and protecting – this access to water. What will it take for everyone to have access to water – clean water, healthy water?

There are corporations and governments trying to privatize water (COVID-19 has had an unusual impact on water rights, too). They are trying to make it (and rights to it) a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder – or those with wealth. Water is not a commodity. It is life. It is what makes us – all of us – humans and non-human living beings. It is what keeps our hearts beating, our brains working, our food growing, our bodies clean and safe.

For so many people it is hard to imagine a water shortage. There have been insane rain events and floods in other parts of the country, of the world. Many of those floods are flash floods, quickly forming floods from an unprecedented rainfall event. They happen fast, but their impacts are long-lasting. They are another sign of our wonky climate, our changing world.

Back at Pokeberry Creek a dragonfly swoops down to catch a mosquito. A red-shouldered hawk drops a feather to the ground. Puffy summer clouds build above, promising rain – maybe. A hurricane forms in the Atlantic. Will it water our gardens? Will the creek flow and widen once again? When?

How this story ends is anybody’s guess.

In the meantime, maybe we should listen to the creeks, the floods, the droughts, for they are telling us a story, and we are the main characters.

2 comments

  1. Very thought-provoking piece, nicely done. Just heard an NPR story on Monday about the Colorado River, it’s declining flow, and the dependence of so much of the southwest on it…scary for the future of that region and all the people and wildlife that depend on it. We all need to take our water resources more seriously.

    • Indeed, Mike. The west seems particularly vulnerable due to the overuse and uneven distribution of water resources. Water rights issues should be a top priority.

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