Streams with a Pulse


Every summer my family drives south on Highway 285 towards Creede, Colorado. Each time we drive past the majestic Great Sand Dunes and glance out in the distance someone suggests, “Hey, we really should stop by and see the Dunes.”

“Next year,” someone replies, “we will make it a point to go.”

Well this year, when life drastically changed, my family made it a point to go. Rather than combining our always postponed adventure with our annual trip to Creede, my mom, brother, husband and I went down to Salida and spent Memorial Weekend resting in the beauty of Southern Colorado. While the Dunes were not our primary destination, the Park did become a highlight of our trip.

When you arrive at the Dunes, you have to cross over the Medano Creek before you can explore the sand itself. There is a phenomenon that occurs in this natural space. They call it Surge Flow – Streams with a Pulse, and describe it like this,”Three elements are needed to produce the phenomenon: a relatively steep gradient to give the stream a high velocity; a smooth, mobile creekbed with little resistance; and sufficient water to create surges. In spring and early summer, these elements combine to make waves at Great Sand Dunes. As water flows across sand, sand dams or antidunes form on the creekbed, gathering water. When the water pressure is too great, the dams break, sending down a wave about every 20 seconds.”

As my mom and I sat on the banks of the creek, taking off our shoes and socks in preparation for our crossing, we shed tears in remembrance of my dad. This was our first family vacation without him, and his absence was tangible in our aching hearts and our photos. Mom and I held hands as we ventured into the shallow water together, and made it half way across. I looked up, into the valley, and the moment my eyes moved away from where my feet were headed, the sand beneath my toes shifted. A giant surge flow was gushing water towards us, sifting the foundation beneath our feet. The pressure was too great on the creekbed, a small dam had broken.

I found this moment to be incredibly spiritual. The pressure of loss, of grief, of previously held stability had built up in my life, and has continually caused my feet to shift in incredibly confusing ways. Standing in the water I was experiencing the physical manifestation of high velocity and little resistance. Spiritually though, I was tugged to ask, ‘what am I resisting?’

The answer included the resistance of the change that comes with loss, the reinvention that comes when family dynamics morph without a figure head. Huge questions of direction and purpose and the point of ‘all of this’ when things you had built crumbled to pieces. Standing in that shifting sand made me remember that I need to allow the dams to break, and the waves to flow – to let my foundation rearrange itself to make the beautiful mountains next to me.

As the water flowed past, and the speed of the water slowed, I could again look up. I remembered I have loving hands to hold, and my own ability to lift my eyes to the mountains. I realize I am still standing and that is a beautiful thing.

Psalm 121:1 – “I lift up my eyes towards the mountains – from where does my help come from?”

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Let the surge flows break you, let them change you and shift you, and mold you into the beautiful person you are meant to be. Natures healing powers are beautiful things.




  1. Oh Katie…so beautifully written…grief is a process and not a linear one…keep letting the dams break…allow yourself to feel all the emotions…you are in my thoughts…peace be with you my friend.

  2. Beautifully written. I love when those deep, spiritual moments come while experiencing something in nature.

  3. This is a lovely post. Especially meaningful today, as I just learned one of my favorite cousins is in hospice as of today. Sigh.

    Teresa R. Funke

    Author, Speaker, Writer’s Coach

    Find me on Facebook , Linked In, and You Tube or read my blog, Bursts of Brilliance for a Creative Life at:

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