Two O'Clock Creek


All that summer couldn't understand
in the morning as we drove through
dry boulder wash, the matter-of-fact sign nailed
on a creekside spruce:
   TWO O'CLOCK CREEK
–and no water anywhere.

Me twelve with Uncle John on patrol
in the forestry truck.
Him hungover and with that temper,
you didn't push the obvious.

But that sign taunted me.
As first ranger in the district
he named things factually like an explorer:
Abraham flats after a Stony chief.
The map men kept that one,
thinking it Biblical and it was, in a way.

But each afternoon, driving back, sure enough
at two o'clock, there was a creek
roaring cold under the wheels.

Finally, a week before school and the city, I asked,
a prairie boy baffled by the magic of water
appearing anywhere, and on time.
John smirks, swings the Ford
into the ditch and around,
a madman on his way to a holy place.

I hang on as we climb, boulders boil in the fenders.
Double-clutching down into first
onto a horsetrail, then straight up on foot,
a pika whistling at us. Beginning to wish
I hadn't asked about that sign.

Over the alpine meadows
a plateau where mountain sheep startle
at the two of us covered in dust.
He draws his pipe across the foot of a glacier
tipped from the distant sky, a white glory
scooped into the sunslope
in a sheltered cowl of rock.
John points to a green waterfall
spilling over the lip.

Here sky meets land
and water is hard as rock this high
and liquid ice to the tongue and our aching feet.
Where all the rivers begin,
the Whitegoat, the Bighorn
after the sheep behind us.
Headwaters of the upper Saskatchewan
I knew from schoolroom maps,
coursing down to Hudson Bay
with canoes full of coureur de bois.

Below us, blonde grass riffles on Kootenay Plains,
clouds jam the chute the weather comes through
where the Kootenay descended to barter the Cree.
Up here the wind howls cold.

And I saw how a few hours of daylight
warms the ice to a trickle that becomes a torrent
in the glacier's pit. The mystery of rivers
is that they come from somewhere
between earth and sky,
wrung by the sun from clouds and wind.

But when night comes, Two O'Clock Creek sleeps,
the waterfall waits frozen, and all the years
since I learned how rivers are made,
this is the place I come to in my dreams
between the highest point of land and the sky,
so I can drink from the clouds.


Bruce Hunter, Two O'Clock Creek: Poems New and Selected, Oolichan Books, 2010.