June 15, 1906, the night Mama was born, a Biddlecome girl drowned in Ferron Creek. Mr. Biddlecome’s wagon was caught in a flash flood.
After finding the body, the searchers stopped at Grandpa’s cabin near the mouth of the canyon. His daughter’s birth became wallpaper where the image of an alabaster body with hair fanned like a raven’s wings on a wagon’s floorboards hung like a gilt framed daguerreotype in Grandpa’s memory.
Ferron, Utah, owes its name to U.S. Deputy Land Surveyor A.D. Ferron, its settlement to Mormon faithful sent by Brigham Young to colonize a half-dozen, what many would call “God forsaken” outposts, on the east flank of a southern tip of Wasatch Range. Ferron owes its existence to that slim green artery meandering among sandstone cliffs and clay hills. Apart from an atmosphere, without water human survival here is no different than on the gray landscape where Neil Armstrong took his “great leap for mankind.”
Most times Ferron creek meanders among sandbars, swirls around fallen tree trunks and limbs and pauses in pools barely large enough for suckers and minnows. But once or twice in summer the northerly jet stream swings south pushing Pacific clouds over southern California and north. When dark clouds bank up against Big Mountain, thunder reverberates down Ferron canyon and locals know a flash flood is coming.
If ten square miles catches a third of its annual rainfall in thirty minutes clay hills shed water like a duck’s back. Raindrops form trickles and trickles grow to streams pushing eleven months’ leaves, twigs, branches, tree trunks, mud and rocks down the main canyon in a moving dam. At the mouth of the canyon the six-foot tall morass surges over the creek banks in a flash flood!
To call a flash flood a “religious experience” is a stretch, but for me the first one came close. With rain or snowmelt I expect a stream’s level to rise, slowly, sometimes quickly, never all at once. First it’s a grumbling from upstream. Then, under the cottonwood and willows branches or around a bend comes a rolling wall of debris. An out-of-control display where men in straw hats pause beside half-loaded hay wagons and cat-skinners in hard hats throttle back to watch.
In summer I lived with Uncle Grant, the South Ditch Water Master. When dark clouds banked up and thunder rumbled on Ferron Mountain, we’d drive to the head of the ditch to raise the “sand gate” so the flash flood would continue down the main creek, saving the South Ditch from being clogged when the debris dam rushed from the canyon.
Around age ten I became Keeper of the “Crick.” After Daddy died Mama gave me his long-barreled, single-shot twenty-two. In the coldest of winter I’d race home from school, grab my rifle, crawl through a barbed-wire fence and cross John Cook’s field to the Crick.
I knew every twist and bend, channel, sand bar, and pheasant roost. I’d wriggle through secret rabbit runs under thickets of wild currant. I checked out Louie’s cabin. Epileptic and with one bad eye, Louie lived in a never-painted frame house at the crick bridge. Built from scraps and driftwood with a clay bank for a back wall, Louie’s six-foot-square cabin was a cobbled-together affair with a small table, chair and mud fireplace. A hideout only a ten-year-old farm kid could appreciate.
Then, it was almost dark! I had chores! I’d leap the Crick, sprint across John Cook’s pasture, lean my twenty-two against the trunk of an apple tree and sneak to the woodpile to split kindling and fill coal buckets in the dark.
The Crick wasn’t about rabbit trails or Louie’s cabin. It was about Being, here, now! What you saw was what you got. A dependable place where time stood still. No agendas, no egos, no parents, no teachers! On the Crick life made simple sense. Even flash floods belonged. Feelings I lost.
I wonder about my last day on the Crick. I couldn’t realize how supremely significant turning my back on it for the last time was. Then I sat behind Janet Jenkins in seventh grade math and suddenly a brown-eyed freckled-faced girl with a black ponytail became somehow . . . different?
Ferron has grown but hasn’t really changed much. The biggest change is the Millsite dam where the creek’s backed into a reservoir. There’s a marina, even a golf course. Up at the mouth of the Canyon, where the Biddlecome girl drowned.