Meditation on Silver Creek
Photography: Terry Ring and William H. Mullins
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This year marks the 30th Anniversary of Silver Creek Preserve—a globally-unique high desert, spring-fed creek managed by The Nature Conservancy at the base of the Picabo Hills. In honor of this achievement, SVM asked author, historian, and angler Buddy Levy to revisit his boyhood, reflecting upon what he calls “those hallowed stream banks, those languid, slow-moving waters which so long ago swaddled me in their embrace and which will never let me go.”
I have experienced Silver Creek in every season, called back to its banks and waters again and again for more than thirty years. It’s where I learned to fish, to hunt, to identify different birds in flight. Mostly, it’s where I learned to love the quiet observation of wild things.
My first memory of Silver Creek is not of a particular event but rather of a time, when I was about ten years old, maybe eleven, in the early '70s. I remember the long straight road between Bellevue and Gannett (we called it the Straight Eight), the dank smell of alfalfa, the rainbow prisms of light caught in the irrigation water spit from the wheel-lines, the flickering blur of telephone poles as I lay my head on the door sill with the window down in the backseat of our late '60s Ford Country Squire station wagon and held my hand outside, zooming it up and down like an airplane, letting the warm wind roar over and under my knuckles and palms. We would stop at the Gannett Country Store to buy Cokes and Nibs licorice from Vern Givens, who ran the place. He would push his thick metal-framed rims back onto the bridge of his nose as he leaned over the fountain counter and whisper jokes to me: “How can you tell a fisherman? His money’s wet. Yep. Wet butt and hungry gut.”
My dad brought me along on afternoon fishing junkets with his new friends, for we had recently moved to the Wood River Valley from Southern California. The landscape appeared wild and vast to me then, compared to the paved cul de sac suburbs. The high desert Picabo hills were like something out of a John Wayne Western, and I inhaled the intense scent of sagebrush. I liked to break wrist-sized branches off and carry them with me as I walked along the stream to watch the men fish, whittling the stalks with my Buck
pocket knife. The men would wade in slowly, holding fingers to lips to hush me if I called out, and telling me to kneel or crawl along the banks so as not to scare the fish, which they assured me could see me through the bright, clear water. I listened, moving slowly along the high banks, flushing red-winged blackbirds as I moved, watching the shadowy shapes of trout hold steady in the slow, thick lurch of the stream. Everything about that time was quiet, languorous, and unhurried. Around sunset the stream swarmed with bugs, explosions of insects the men called “hatches,” and then the water would slowly begin to percolate, its surface eventually bubbling, boiling with rising trout. I’d kneel on the banks in the reeds, slathering myself in Muskol and swatting mosquitoes, watching the long arcs of fly line cut through the air in great loops and listening to the reedy zing of reels releasing line as big fish ran.
As the sun set, the sky filled with birds, a symphony of sound. Herons croaked past, their kinked necks craning out in front, feet trailing awkwardly behind. Deer hoofed silently down to the water’s edge to drink as we left the stream and headed back to the cars in the almost dark. >>>