Saturday, November 26, 2005

Wanting it all—a creek, a name, a dream

Part 1 of 4

Long had this obsessed me. To come to this moment at a city council work session where something as mundane as the redrawing of a lease for the fair board could answer a question unanswerable until that moment. And perhaps unanswerable still.

On an obscure portion of an obscure document, a legal description set the eastern boundary of the Marshall County Fairgrounds as Juganine Creek. I stared at the word. I saw nothing else but it.

I said it aloud and everybody looked at me. Talk stopped.

“It says Juganine Creek,” I feebly said.

“Yeah?” the mayor asked. “So?”

“So I never knew the name.”

“There’s lots of things you don’t know,” he said.

The meeting resumed.

But what was discussed was lost to me as I mentally chewed on the word. Juganine. I’d always wanted the perennial creek separating the westernmost two streets from Blue Rapids proper to have some melodic name, something lyrical and poetic, and instead I got something that sounded like a cheap brand of rotgut, or that had evolved from some other entity or form. Jug of nine. Jug o’nine. Jugonine. Juganine.

Not what I expected. Not what I wanted.


What I wanted was to walk the Pecos River from the snowfields of Pecos Baldy above Santa Fe to its confluence with the Rio Grande northwest of Del Rio, Texas. It was a tall order and one I had no idea how to manage. Nor did I own a justification for so audacious an undertaking, other than my youth, and inexperience, and dreams of a larger world than that which hemmed me. Maybe it was about knowing both the beginning and the end of something in a life that seemed an inexplicable synthesis of absolutes and uncertainties.

A boy’s life is more about longing than fulfillment. Things desired seem utterly out of reach, much like stepping down 900 miles of river on an illogical quest. And what did I know of the river? That it formed from snowmelt high above timberline, and that once I had straddled it and heard its inceptive music, and from which height I could see it widen as it gathered other waters to itself, and that I imagined its many long windings and meanderings as it crossed the only two states I loved. That I watched my father stand in its current and cast white-winged flies that enticed from the unseen depths creatures with vibrant rainbow flanks and eyes forever open to their liquid worlds. That I stood on its tamarisk-lined bank near Imperial, Texas, surprised at its narrowness, its insubstantiality, thinking that after so many miles a river should have grown into something fierce and sprawling, and disappointed somewhat that the river, like myself, had remained small and inconsequential.

I knew that it flowed under the bridge near the small town of San Jose halfway between Glorietta and Las Vegas, where one could look northward to the tall barren peaks of the Pecos Mountains and southward onto the vast plains where junipers gave way to scrub and cattle and sunblasted stone. That the immense midsection of the river’s length would probably be eternally unknown to me. And that knowing wounded me, for though at that age my dreams were congealing into recognizable forms, they were already bitter with the certitude of impossibilities.

Some gifted people hold these dreams as challenges, and ultimately fulfill them; the rest of us simply let them go and try not to let their loss cripple us. Or, little by little, we pare them down to manageable levels. A few years ago I stood at the confluence of Elm Creek and the Blue Earth River and remembered the dream and wondered if I could resurrect it on a more local plane. If I could turn my back on the river and walk down the creek’s birthplace. If that would suffice. And I never did.

In the Blue Rapids community center I read the name Juganine Creek, unfolded my metaphorical knife, and whittled the dream down. Not 900 miles now, but two at the most. A microcosm of the Pecos. It was the best I could manage.


“What’s in a name?” Juliet would have us imagine it to be no more than another word, a string of letters without weight or history. I’m not so sure. What images are conjured when hearing of the Yellowstone River, the Colorado, the Mississippi, or, in Kansas, the Republic, the Smoky Hill, the Big Blue? Of course I’m discussing a little no-name feeder creek that’s dry most of the year, but still…

For the first time in my life I searched Google for something and came up empty. In all of cyberspace, out of trillions of bits of data, there was not one reference to the name “Juganine.”
Which makes the name suspect. There is no Juganine in any of the early deeds, no founding father who carried the title. The 1904 plat map of Blue Rapids shows no scribbled meandering of a creek, only the boxy rectangles of property lines. It’s as if it never existed, or was considered of so little importance that the mapmaker could dismiss it out of hand.

Nor is there a Juganine listed in the Geographic Names Information System, the nation’s official repository of domestic geographic names and information. Out of 16,887 place-names in Kansas, there is nothing corresponding to the creek.

But a name, whether real or artificial, had been dropped in my lap. A boyhood romance rekindled. It was not time to ponder bitter impossibilities or failures, but to act. I slipped binoculars around my neck, grabbed a hiking stick, and set off for the source. It was time to fulfill a dream.

(To be continued)

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