I grew up on a creek. The addition we lived in had been a Boy Scout camp before Oklahoma City sprawled out and turned it into subdivisions. The subdivision next door still had some of the sidewalks and outbuildings, and I’d occasionally go for a dip in the old Boy Scout pool.
Northwest Oklahoma City is dotted by a string of small lakes and ponds connected by the creeks that were dammed up to build or expand them. I spent a good deal of my boyhood trying to dam up the creek that ran behind our house, though my friends and I were far more successful in falling in the creek than in damming it up.
If you were patient, you could catch the world’s tiniest perch with a piece of hot dog—if you didn’t pull out a snapping turtle instead. There were frogs, of course, and the high school kid across the street always managed to find several snakes every time he went back. When we didn’t have a dog, and when the coyotes didn’t get them, a family of rabbits would make its home in our back yard.
Two doors down, another creek merged with ours, and I often sneaked into that backyard to sit on the rocks where the two streams met, watching the water float by and listening to it tumble over the pebbles. When I felt more adventurous, I’d make my way along the creek by scaling the neighbor’s fence, hoping he wouldn’t come out yelling and waving his shotgun again.
I learned to meditate on that creek. And pray. I didn’t know it then. I couldn’t have told you that’s what I was doing, but sitting at the edge of the water or hopping from rock to sandbar to rock centered me. I’d meet myself there, have a good conversation, and catch up. Maybe say a few things to god that I needed to say to myself. It was my creek, and I was its boy.
I left Oklahoma City ten years ago. In Boston, I found meditation in the busyness of Harvard Square and along the Charles River Esplanade. I still couldn’t have told you I was meditating. I was just in a good mood, just taking it all in. Oh, I might have told you it was centering prayer if you pushed me. But it didn’t really count. I wasn’t even trying.
I had no such luck in Atlanta. Even the sprawl had sprawled. You can’t walk to the creeks—much less bike—and even when you could, they’re dirty and polluted and run along busy roads and interstate highways. And the parks are too busy or too ugly or too far.
Not too long ago a friend asked me if I was a meditator, and if I was an insider or an outsider. It’s taken me a while, but I realized then that I miss my creek. That little creek was my meditation spot and my meditation method. I needed a creek again.
So on a day off, I headed off to the nearest seminary, hoping to find some moving water or maybe a labyrinth. I needed to walk and meditate. On the way there, I got an itch to turn off the road where a small bridge crosses the way. About two blocks down was a small park, and in the middle of it, one creek met another.
No one was there. The creek wasn’t dirty. I could walk down to it and hop across the outcroppings of bedrock the creek has worn down. There are benches and some small picnic shelters. A few paths, paved and unpaved, wind through the woods.
I can sit on a rock in the middle of creek and let the water roll past me. I can stand on the footbridge and watch the water flow by. I can walk along the stream and take in the occasional coyote track. Above all, I can mediate. And I’m not telling you where it is.