Dams and All
One foggy morning, Serene leisurely floated along the current of her creek, listening to it babble as it carried her downstream. As a naiad, Serene lived in a river. It wasn’t a very big river, more a creek really, but she enjoyed how it softly flowed down the mountain, tracing the low points while bobbing and weaving through trees before merging with a larger river.
At several points along the way, beavers had erected dams, creating calm pools where the water swirled in contented laziness before finding an escape and moving on further down the mountain until finding another dam. There were several dams along Serene’s route, and each one was different from all the others. She admired all of them as her waters carried her down the mountain.
The drumming of larger river’s waters snapped her from her lounging. She abruptly stood up, realizing she’d drifted farther than she meant to as she eyed the rush of Kallan’s waters. In a flash, she spun on her heels and made her way upstream, hoping she could avoid the other naiad. Kallan had a lot more ground to cover, so the odds were in her favor, except they weren’t.
A melodious voice called after her. “Serene, is that you?”
Serene froze and plastered on a smile as she turned to greet the taller, larger woman. Kallan rose from her waters wearing her usual flowing blue gown with a pleasant smile and bright blue eyes sparkling in the sunlight. Her wavy black hair hung down her back and looked immaculate as always. She looked so beautiful and full of life, the opposite of Serene.
Serene wished for the hundredth time her eyes were a brilliant shade of blue rather than murky green. They made her feel out of place whenever she met with any of the other naiads. All of their eyes were varying shades of blue and to her, they looked so much nicer than her own. Then there was her hair, a deep shade of brown that was more curly than wavy, which meant it was almost always messy.
The woman cocked her head as she studied little Serene with a hint of concern on her features. “You’re looking a bit off, dearie. Are your waters not flowing well?”
Serene self-consciously examined herself, pulling at the fabric of her skin-toned tank top and green short-shorts. She was already so much smaller than Kallan, and it had been a drier year than usual. She was just thankful she had enough water to keep her creek flowing. “It’s a bit tough this year, but I’m getting by.” Serene bit her lip. The beaver dams on her route weren’t helping things either. They slowed the water down and let it soak in more, meaning less made it down the mountain, but they made such lovely pools.
Kallan’s gaze darted to Serene’s trickle of a creek. At least to her, it was a trickle when compared to her roaring river. She then glanced at Serene as her hands planted themselves on her hips. “You know, if you’d take out all of those beaver dams, your water would flow much more smoothly. It might even help you grow up a little more.”
Serene cringed. She’d hoped to avoid this. Kallan didn’t approve of my slower lifestyle. For her, it was all go, go, go! The flowing of her waters sounded like a never-ending drumbeat. Serene couldn’t imagine Kallan squeezing through some of the crevices along her route. She was much too big. Picturing it caused her to giggle, which earned the smaller naiad a slight glare.
Clearing her throat, Serene bowed her head respectfully. “I will take your advice into consideration.
Kallan didn’t seem to buy that, but Serene didn’t really care; she just wanted out of there.
She quickly retreated up her stream away from the disapproving looks of the river spirit. As she made her way upstream, she grew more and more upset. She kept glimpsing her reflection and seeing how disheveled she looked. Her face looked a bit gaunt, her eyes were shallow, and it seemed like a beaver had styled her hair.
Maybe she should break the dams. It would let her waters flow better, be cleaner, and smell less like decay. Maybe if she did that, the other naiads wouldn’t look down on her as much.
She studied the first damn she came across, it would take some work to dislodge the stacked and woven bits of wood, but if she started at the highest dam, the flood waters could help her break through each subsequent dam along her route. With that in mind, she marched onward.
The further she went, the more the water flowed, proving Kallan’s point. The beavers were slowing her waters down with each dam they built, but that wasn’t the only thing they were doing.
All sorts of animals came to the pools. They came to eat, drink, and even play in the water. On top of that, Serene noticed how the plants around these pools grew denser than the areas where her waters ran undeterred. When the water slowed and seeped into the soil, the plants relished the extra opportunity to absorb some water. Life flourished around these pools.
When Serene finally arrived at the topmost dam, she stood behind it, ready to dismantle it and set her waters free. Maybe then she’d be as vibrant as Kallan.
The beavers and the birds and all the other critters of the forest watched her as she placed her hands on the blockage and readied to push.
Serene frowned at the beavers. “Don’t look at me like that!” Her head drooped forward and she started at her reflection. “Your dams are hurting me.”
But they weren’t, she knew it the moments the words left her lips. The dams weren’t hurting her. She liked them, and she liked how they drew all kinds of life to her waters. She loved splashing and playing with everyone. She couldn’t break the dams.
With a groan, she fell back into the water and just floated there, staring up into the bright blue sky, wondering how she could possibly manage look as beautiful as Kallan.
Serene floundered before finding her feet. Crystal stood at the edge of the pool wearing her hiking boots, gray pants, forest-green shirt, and hiking backpack. The woman watched Serene with a raised eyebrow. Her regal features looked like they’d been carved from stone, which Serene figured was appropriate, considering who Crystal was. She was an oread and she took care of the mountain. Some of the snowmelt from her peak fed into Serene’s creek.
Serene observed the woman’s snow-white hair, which had been cut very short since the two had last met. The last time Serene saw the woman had been in winter. Back then, her straight hair had hung past her shoulders. Serene missed the elegant look the, but liked this new look on the woman as well.
Serene futilely attempted to tame her hair as she greeted the oread with a shy smile. “Hello, Crystal. What brings you here?”
“I realized it has been a while since I’d passed this way, and thought I’d check in on you.”
Serene bit down on a smile as butterflies exploded in her chest. Crystal wanted to see her?
The excitement was quickly squashed when Crystal pointed at the dam. “What were you doing just now?”
Serene wanted to lie and say she hadn’t been trying to do anything, but the way the oread’s glacial blue eyes bored into her made her fidget. “I was thinking about tearing down the dam.”
The normally stoic oread recoiled at the words. “What, why? You love those dams.”
Serene blinked at her before responding. She didn’t remember ever mentioning that to Crystal. She could count on her hands how many times they’d spoken and she remembered every dumb, embarrassing thing she’d ever said in front of the beautiful oread. Mentioning how much she loved beaver dams definitely would have made the list.
Crystal’s comment seemed to surprise even herself, and she quickly cleared her throat and ran a hand over her ear, as if tucking away nonexistent hair. A long, awkward silence followed before Crystal broke it. “I mean, why would you want to destroy something that you, and all of the animals,”—she swept her arm out to indicate all the animals around the pool watching us—“clearly enjoy.”
Feeling a bit silly, Serene sank into the water a little, trying to hide. “Well, Kallan was saying that I didn’t look too good and that it was probably because of the beaver dams.” Her chin was touching the water by the time she finished.
It was faint, but Serene swore she saw Crystal’s eyes darken. “Why would you listen to her? That woman and her over engorged ego doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She’s too busy running from place to place. And you look great!” She clamped her mouth shut as a blush coated her cheeks.
Serene rose out of the water a little. “Do you really think so? Don’t you think the dams make everything messier?”
Crystal shook her head. “The dams add to your creek. They give the beavers something to do, create calm pools perfect for swimming and playing, and they help support the wildlife here on the mountain. All Kallan does is slowly erode away my home.” Crystal crossed her arms and chewed her lip for a moment as she scowled downstream.
“You really like my creek?” Serene ran a hand through her hair. She still couldn’t quite believe Crystal. “Even with all the mess?”
Crystal held Serene’s gaze as she answered. “It’s my favorite creek on the mountain. There’s always something beautiful to see.”
The naiad’s heart leaped for joy and she suddenly felt a bit bold. “Would you like to go for a swim?”
“I would like that very much.” With a smile, Crystal shrugged off her pack and knelt to untie her boots.
All the while, Serene couldn’t help the giant grin spreading across her face. She loved her creek, dams and all. It was uniquely hers and she loved it.