THE STREAM THAT RAN AWAY
BY MARY AUSTIN (ADAPTED)
IN a short and shallow caņon running eastward toward the
sun, one may find a clear, brown stream called the Creek of
Piņon Pines; that is not because it is unusual to find piņon
trees in that country, but because there are so few of them
in the caņon 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 caņon
there is only a group of the low-headed, gray nut pines
which the earliest inhabitants of that country called
The Caņon of Piņon 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 caņon'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 near-by 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 Caņon of the
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 the 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
 "But some day," it whispered to the stones, "I shall run
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 Caņon
of Piņon 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 is good meadow and water
enough; let us build a house and grow trees. We are too old
to dig in the mines."
"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 doing.
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
 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
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 sadly away.
Now the Creek of Piņon 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 bewildered.
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
Caņon of Piņon Pines.
"After all, home is best," said the little stream to itself,
and ran about in its choked channels looking for old
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
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
Caņon of Piņon Pines.
"But it is really my own fault," said the 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 the young 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
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
"It is a delightful place," he said, "and the soil 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 on farther.
"Ah, well," said the stream, "that is what is to be expected
when one has a reputation for
neglect-  ing 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 Caņon of Piņon Pines you will
notice that the stream, where it goes brokenly about the
meadow, has a mournful sound.
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