The Stream That Ran Away
by Mary Austin (Adapted)
In a short and shallow canyon running
eastward toward the sun, one may find a clear, brown
stream called the Creek of Pinon Pines - that is
not because it is unusual to find pinon trees in
that country, but because there are so few of
them in the canyon of the stream. There are all
sorts higher up on the slopes - long-leaved yellow
pines, thimble cones, tamarack, silver fir,
and Douglas spruce - but in the canyon there is
only a group of the low headed, gray nut pines
which the earliest inhabitants of that country
The Canyon of Pinon Pines has a pleasant
outlook and lies open to the sun. At the upper end
there is no more room by the stream border than
will serve for a cattle trail - willows grow in it,
choking the path of the water - there are brown
birches here and ropes of white clematis tangled
over thickets of brier rose.
Low down, the ravine broadens out to
inclose a meadow the width of a lark's flight, blossomy
and wet and good. Here the stream ran once in
a maze of soddy banks and watered all the
ground, and afterward ran out at the canyon's
mouth across the mesa in a wash of bone white
boulders as far as it could. That was not very
far, for it was a slender stream. It had its source
on the high crests and hollows of the nearby
mountain, in the snow banks that melted and
seeped downward through the rocks. But the
stream did not know any more of that than you
know of what happened to you before you were
born, and could give no account of itself except
that it crept out from under a great heap of
rubble far up in the Canyon of the Pinon Pines.
And because it had no pools in it deep enough
for trout, and no trees on its borders but gray nut
pines - because, try as it might, it could never get
across the mesa to the town, the stream had fully
made up its mind to run away.
"Pray, what good will that do you?" said
pines. "If you get to the town, they will turn
you into an irrigating ditch, and set you to watering crops."
"As to that," said the stream, "if
I once get
started I will not stop at the town."
Then it would fret between its banks until the
spangled frills of the mimulus were all tattered
with its spray. Often at the end of the summer
it was worn quite thin and small with running,
and not able to do more than reach the meadow.
"But some day," it
whispered to the stones,
"I shall run quite away."
If the stream had been inclined for it, there
was no lack of good company on its own borders.
Birds nested in the willows, rabbits came to
drink - one summer a bobcat made its lair up the
bank opposite the brown birches, and often the
deer fed in the meadow.
In the spring of one year two old men came up
into the Canyon of Pinon Pines. They had been
miners and partners together for many years.
They had grown rich and grown poor, and had
seen many hard places and strange times. It was
a day when the creek ran clear and the south
wind smelled of the earth. Wild bees began to
whine among the willows, and the meadow
bloomed over with poppy-breasted larks.
Then said one of the old men: "Here
meadow and water enough - let us build a house
and grow trees. We are too old to dig in the
"Let us set about it," said
the other - for that
is the way with two who have been a long time
together - what one thinks of, the other is for
So they brought their possessions, and they
built a house by the water border and planted
trees. One of the men was all for an orchard but
the other preferred vegetables. So they did each
what he liked, and were never so happy as when
walking in the garden in the cool of the day,
touching the growing things as they walked, and
praising each other's work.
They were very happy for three years. By
this time the stream had become so interested it
had almost forgotten about running away. But
every year it noted that a larger bit of the
meadow was turned under and planted, and more
and more the men made dams and ditches by
which to turn the water into their gardens.
"In fact," said the stream, "I
am being made
into an irrigating ditch before I have had my
fling in the world. I really must make a start."
That very winter, by the help of a great storm,
the stream went roaring down the meadow, over
the mesa, and so clean away, with only a track
of muddy sand to show the way it had gone.
All that winter the two men brought water for
drinking from a spring, and looked for the stream
to come back. In the spring they hoped still, for
that was the season they looked for the orchard
to bear. But no fruit grew on the trees, and the
seeds they planted shriveled in the earth. So by
the end of summer, when they understood that
the water would not come back at all, they went
Now the Creek of Pinon Pines did not have
a happy time. It went out in the world on the
wings of the storm, and was very much tossed
about and mixed up with other waters, lost and
Everywhere it saw water at work, turning
mills, watering fields, carrying trade, falling as
hail, rain, and snow - and at the last, after many
journeys it found itself creeping out from under
the rocks of the same old mountain, in the Canyon
of Pinon Pines.
"After all, home is best," said
the little stream
to itself, and ran about in its choked channels
looking for old friends.
The willows were there, but grown shabby and
dying at the top - the birches were quite dead, and
there was only rubbish where the white clematis
had been. Even the rabbits had gone away.
The little stream ran whimpering in the meadow,
fumbling at the ruined ditches to comfort the
fruit trees which were not quite dead. It was
very dull in those days living in the Canyon of
"But it is really my own fault," said
stream. So it went on repairing the borders as
best it could.
About the time the white clematis had come
back to hide the ruin of the brown birches, a
young man came and camped with his wife and
child in the meadow. They were looking for a
place to make a home.
"What a charming place!" said
wife - "just the right distance from town, and a
stream all to ourselves. And look, there are fruit
trees already planted. Do let us decide to stay!"
Then she took off the child's shoes and stockings
to let it play in the stream. The water curled
all about the bare feet and gurgled delightedly.
"Ah, do stay," begged the happy water. "I
can be such a help to you, for I know how a garden
should be irrigated in the best manner."
The child laughed, and stamped the water up
to his bare knees. The young wife watched anxiously
while her husband walked up and down the
stream border and examined the fruit trees.
"It is a delightful place," he said, "and
is rich, but I am afraid the water cannot be depended
upon. There are signs of a great drought
within the last two or three years. Look, there
is a clump of birches in the very path of the
stream, but all dead - and the largest limbs of the
fruit trees have died. In this country one must
be able to make sure of the water-supply. I suppose
the people who planted them must have
abandoned the place when the stream went dry.
We must go on farther."
So they took their goods and the child and went
"Ah, well," said the stream, "that
is what is to
be expected when has a reputation for neglecting
one's duty. But I wish they had stayed.
That baby and I understood each other."
It had made up its mind not to run away again,
though it could not be expected to be quite
cheerful after all that had happened. If you go
to the Canyon of Pinon Pines you will notice that
the stream, where it goes brokenly about the
meadow, has a mournful sound.