Down at the Creek


“I know, Dad.”

“Watch for the moss on those rocks. It’s deceptive. Slick, son. Please be careful.”

“Dad, I know.”

I watched my 10-year-old descend to the fast-moving creek below. Gray granite stones, many times bigger than we were, jutted from the north Georgia hills, some at incredible angles. Often they had carpets of green moss on them, especially if they received little direct sunlight or were near the water.

As I watched my son, I thought he scuttled. “Slow down!” I wanted to yell at him. He stepped on one massive gray stone, then another, then another, until he reached the bottom. He stepped onto the bank of the creek.

From twenty feet above I watched my son. With one foot on the rocky bank, he leapt onto stones that protruded from the creek bottom. At last he was on the other side of the creek from me, looking up at me. He had his hunting knife in its sheath in his right hand. He held it up, pointing it skyward, as if to say, “Dad, see. I didn’t drop it.”

“Dad, come feel this water. It’s freezing!”

It wasn’t freezing, of course. My son, after all, was wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes. And I was in shorts and hiking shoes, with only a t-shirt and my favorite cap on. It was probably fifty degrees outside, but when I did climb down and meet him in the creek, we dipped our hands in the cold north Georgia water. We felt the water together. The afternoon sun struck the creek, and reflections from quartz, mica, and shale flashed from the waves. The stones, though silent, spoke.

Once down, there was only one thing to do, and that was go up the other side. I waited to see if my boy wanted to lead. The other side was just as steep. Slowly I began scaling my way up by way of stones and by pulling on the laurel limbs that surrounded us.

My son found his own way up, too. When we both arrived at the ridge where we could see down to the creek again, we paused, caught our breath, and felt the presence. Of what exactly?

It was really just a walk through the woods within a mile of our house—woods that are filled with whitetail deer, black bears, coyotes, hawks, and more squirrels than one can count. But we did not see them this day. For my son, he saw time with his dad, climbing massive stones up and down on a sunny March afternoon, and descending steep creek banks to play in the creek. I felt analogous things, too, but also perhaps some things about time, some things about how beauty is not a cosmetic we purchase. I understood something about beauty being inseparable from God, about beauty calling one to praise him for his benedictions.



He simply appeared in the road. I’d just rounded the curve of the running trail. Up ahead about fifty meters, the running trail rejoined the asphalt road that led back to post. But the sight of him took my breath. I felt arrested by a drama I’d not scripted.

His coat was perfect camouflage, the colors of the oak woods from which he’d come. The main beams of his rack were flawless khaki-white, proud and upright. The grain lines of his antlers reminded me of cedar boards my stepfather and I had built with when I was a child.

I felt my heart race, and I was helpless to slow it. I was caught in a fleeting drama, precious because I knew it could not last. I’d stopped—no, frozen—in my steps. I tried to slow my breathing so that he would not bolt into the woods. He, too, froze. His black eyes had a quality of fury and mystery that engendered wonder.

I’ve spent years hunting for such a buck. I’ve killed bigger ones, but this moment—these seconds of rapt mystery, wherein the wild and beautiful jolted me from the mundane, quickened me. Into what? Recognition.

What would a skeptic say—that this is just a chance occurrence, of no significance, a random event devoid of overarching meaning?

But I did not think that—not when it happened, or even now. Instead, I think heaven discharges intimations of the artist, the artist who ordains our steps and arrests them, with sights that make some tremble with mystery.