Hank told her not to put her tent by the creek, but she did.
He figured the young girl wouldn't listen to him, whether she was his cousin or not. He was just an old man by her reckoning, and Hank knew many young folks rarely listened to old men.
Hell, Hank was an old man by his own reckoning.
Every winter morning told him that.
The cold said, "You're an old man who can barely get out of bed. It hurts too much to move. Will you make it today?"
He had so far, though sometimes it was dicey.
But Dinah arrived on a beautiful spring morning.
The meadows were alive with wildflowers, bluejays, bees and long grasses fringed with pale seeds.
She drove a borrowed truck packed full of camping gear and boxes.
Dinah showed him the same paperwork that the town lawyer had showed him a week before. She'd inherited two acres from their great-uncle and she'd come from some far away eastern city to claim them.
She was a pretty girl, educated way past schooling Hank ever had. He could tell right away by the way she talked. She was polite and even sweet, but turned out to be as bullheaded as any youngster he'd ever known.
Dinah asked Hank to help her unpack the truck, with its load of clothes, books, and who-knew-what-else.
The next thing Dinah did was walk around the meadows and woods Hank knew like the back of one of his wrinkled hands.
She wanted to walk alone, she said, so he let her.
He listened to her clumsy progress.
She snapped twigs under trees, pushed through brush and generally make a bigger racket than the land had heard for years. Hank listened for any trouble she might find. He couldn't let her get hurt, even though they just met.
She came back with leaves in her hair and a big grin on her face.
"I love it here!" she said. "It's so quiet I can hear myself breathe. I can hear music in that creek down there. It's water music! It's better than anything I ever heard. Will you please help me put up my tent next to it? I won't need much help."
"Well. Yep," Hank said. "It's a good place for a while, but you'll want to find another place for your tent before long. That creek can be a right mean thing when it has a mind to be."
The girl just laughed. "It sounds like a symphony to me. How can a creek be 'mean'?"
"It'll swell up, see," Hank said. "It don't always stay where it is."
"Then we'll put my tent higher than I first thought."
"There's a good place for it closer to my cabin. Didn't you see the little hidden meadow over there?"
"Yeah, I did. But meadows don't sing like that water does. And they don't roam over such beautiful round rocks. And they probably don't attract the wildlife I want to see all the time. The water's so cold and clear, I love it!"
Hank argued with Dinah a little, but useless talk is just useless, and Hank didn't cotton to useless much.
Dinah would be safe if he told her what to do down there. Maybe.
The path to the creek was steep, just a dirt path worn there by Hank himself and animals that visited, usually deer.
He told Dinah the path itself was dangerous, that it could turn to mud in a moment, that it would be icy in the winter.
She laughed again and said that was what she wanted. "A challenge," she said.
Hank helped her set up her tent, a good and expensive one, right where she wanted it, though he did it in silence.
She wanted it too close to the creek.
She kept talking about music, going past the country tunes Hank sometimes listened to and on about classical. Hank struggled down the same dirt path she skipped down, carrying a couple of boxes for her to put inside her tent.
Then he left her alone, though he invited her for coffee in the mornings.
During the next few weeks, Dinah worked hard. Hank had to admire that.
She was always late for coffee with him, but she always showed up even when the coffee was cold.
She asked him, "Did you build this cabin by yourself? It's really nice."
Hank told her the truth. "I built a little something some years ago, but it didn't hold long enough. This here's one a them cabins you order from a book and put together kinda like a Lincoln Log toy."
"A prefab cabin? You must have had it quite a while to make it look old like it does."
"I forget what it was called. It was easy to put together, though. It don't look as old as the one I built myself. That one got old real fast." The girl laughed again.
She walked or worked on her campsite every day.
Hank was often busy in his garden, getting vegetables and fruit ready for the long winter, watering, pulling weeds, putting nets over plants that the birds, deer and rabbits liked so much.
After that, Hank sometimes tried to help Dinah with her current project.
She'd decided to put stone steps on the dirt path to the creek. She'd find a wide and nearly flat stone somewhere, and shove it in and prop it up until it held fast for anyone to walk down.
She was a strong little thing. Dinah looked like a pixie and acted like a grown man.
In a few weeks, the dirt path had fourteen stone steps down to the creekbed.
The creek itself was too close by far to the last steps in Hank's estimation, but Dinah never listened to his advice, so he never said a thing more than once.
She talked to Hank a lot, though.
She was "in love" with her two acres and with the creek in particular.
She'd say how it "gurgled and chimed and talked" to her all night long. She called it "my music maker."
Hank let her be. He looked forward to their morning coffee at his cabin.
He didn't say much and didn't need to.
Dinah said it all. She praised his house, his garden, his land and the mountains he loved.
She asked questions about animals she glimpsed and their trails, the tufts of fur and feathers she found in the woods.
Hank talked some about them. He'd mention bobcats and mountain goats he'd seen, or hawks and falcons, and he knew he sounded real backwoods, but that's what he was.
Dinah always got too excited to let him talk very much. She had books that told her even more. She learned things fast.
But she never learned how that creek could be.
One day in late summer it rained, and Hank was glad.
It took a lot of work to water his garden. Many vegetables were already canned and put away. Still, rain was needed.
But when it came down like someone emptied a bucket all over the place, Hank stood on his little roofed porch and watched rainwater run everywhere, like new little rivers flowing down his meadow.
His cabin was snug, he knew that, but he worried about Dinah. Would her nice tent hold?
When the rain turned to hail and thunder cracked, Hank got out his rain gear and started for Dinah's tent.
She had to go to his cabin now. That creek was gonna turn into another flash flood like he'd seen it do before.
The hail and thunder stopped before Hank reached the creek, but rain still fell in blinding sheets.
Hank called his cousin before he knew he said a word.
"Dinah! Dinah! Get outta that there tent and get on up here! Dinah!"
He heard nothing but rushing water in reply.
At the top of her stone steps Hank's heart sank like the last few steps did in an unrecognizable creek.
It was like Hank imagined surf might be. The creek was wave after wave of white water followed by the black dirt and branches that it stirred and tore up, overflowing its banks higher than Hank ever saw it run before.
"Dinah! You hear me, girl?"
He heard nothing from her.
Across the creek her tent was gone, replaced by foaming water and tossed debris.
The rain stopped as quick as it started, and Hank was wet through and through. He didn't care.
"Dinah? Where are you?"
Hank never felt so scared than when he looked downstream and saw shreds of Dinah's tent on the cottonwoods there.
He saw waterlogged parts of books in that deadly mean old creek. He saw clothes snagged on boulders. It was too much.
Hank went down the rock and dirt path, sliding in deep mud most of the way.
The creek was already lower, but Hank was as upset as a treed mountain lion he saw once.
He spit out Dinah's name as he searched along the creek downstream, picking at her things, but leaving them where they were. He didn't want to find things, he wanted to find her.
Hank's galoshes filled with muddy water while he criss-crossed the creek, shouting 'til he had no voice left.
He hated himself for not insisting she stay farther away from that mountain creek.
He could've made her stay by his cabin so he could be like a protector, not some old mountain man nobody listened to.
"H-Hank?" The voice was so quiet under the mudslides still falling into the creek, Hank almost didn't hear it.
He whispered, "Dinah?" and went that direction.
"Hank?" Dinah's voice was so afraid he barely knew it. "Hank?"
Dinah was clinging to the trunk of a tree, her arms and legs wrapped around it.
She was shivering and looked even smaller, a soaking wet shadow of a little girl saying his name.
Hank muttered, "You're not gone. The creek didn't getcha."
Somehow, he picked her up and carried to his cabin.
She was silent a long time.
Hank didn't know what to say but, "It's okay, it's okay, it's okay." He made coffee. She never said a word, wrapped warm and dry in his Pendleton. She was silent a long time. Then she said, "It's a terrible creek. It took everything I own but me!"
Hank was uncomfortable when she sobbed and unsure what would happen next.
At least Hank was warm by the time Dinah finished crying.
He'd changed clothes in the little loft that served as his bedroom.
Now he drank coffee, sitting next to his distant cousin.
Neither of them spoke.
Hank knew their friendship was something he hadn't had in a long time. But he couldn't keep her in his tiny cabin. Maybe he could send for another "Lincoln Log" cabin to put together for her, back in that little meadow behind the pinon trees.
But would she stay around long enough for that?
A tent might be first in order.
Still, would a spirited and fiercely independent girl accept his help?
Then Hank came to feelings that lurked behind his logic.
He was a lonely old man before Dinah arrived, and he hadn't even known it.
Now he wanted her to stay and...and do what? Entertain him with her highjinks?
She almost drowned, and was as low as people get. Hank had to know his own heart before he thought about hers.
He had to put his new-found loneliness aside, and see what he could really do for Dinah.
That flash flood caused more damage than he thought.
Hank now knew he wanted her to stay because he was in love with her.
He was also sure she wouldn't stay more time than it took her to find a ride back to her city.
He was more gruff than ever when he refilled Dinah's coffee cup.
But if Dinah had looked at Hank, she would've seen that his eyes were full of unshed tears.