Summer Memories: Capture at the Creek

I think I first heard word of the creek from my brother. He had traveled there by bike, ducking into a roadside forest and happening upon it by accident. He said it was just around the corner from where Van Dyke met Golf Course Road. That was a long trek on foot, but I couldn’t get my bike through the forest, (and I was afraid it would be stolen if I left it by the road) so I had to get there by walking.

Setting out in the morning after everyone in the house had gone, I could be back before anyone questioned my whereabouts, and still have much of the day left. At the top of my parents’ street, I turned left onto Van Dyke, and from there it was a straight, albeit hilly, walk to the end.

I looked at the gardens of the houses I passed, examining and making mental note of how they used their annuals in various color schemes, while cicadas buzzed ominously out of sight. A golf course rolled out its green carpet to my left. We had gone hunting for golf balls there once, climbing over a dilapidated portion of fence and hiding from the golfers along the forest’s edge.

Nearing Golf Course Road was the most treacherous part of the journey. Cars whizzed along the straight stretch of road, and no one walked here. The sun was high in the sky, beating down with no shade around me. A dusty stretch of pebbles and dry dirt afforded little sustenance at the edge of the road, not even for the most hardy of weeds.

I thought about turning back, but I had come so far it would be a shame to waste the effort. I looked both ways, and when no cars could be seen for a mile in either direction, I hurried across the road to the side where the creek was supposed to be. Here there was moisture, and the grasses and weeds were up to my knees. The land dipped away from the edge of the road, and I bounded down over the ditch to where the border of brush and trees began.

It was like a verdant curtain that opened into another world. From the blindingly bright sun-drenched stretch of parched roadside to the dim cool shade beneath a leafy canopy, the distinction was immediate and immense. I was suddenly enveloped by a mossy forest, soft beneath my feet and quiet after the crunch of gravel and pavement – even the cicadas were muffled here, drowned out by overlapping veins of chlorophyll and beams of moist wood.

The forest opened up before me as I adjusted to the difference in light. Shielded from passing cars and prying eyes, I was alone in the stillness, and there ahead of me was the creek. It was not rushing or tumbling along some rocky incline, so it barely made any noise. Instead, it twisted and turned silently, the water gently drifting from shallow pool to shallow pool. I had brought along a small container that once housed Cool Whip in case I might be able to catch a crayfish, and set it down alongside the creek bed.

The water was cool and clear, and I dipped my hands into it. A group of tadpoles darted away, their tiny legs just beginning to protrude. I moved a few rocks around and there was a large gray crayfish. It too shot quickly away, burying itself deeper among the rocks. There was no way of getting at it without using my bare hands, and though I was a scrappy boy, I was not about to get torn up that way.

I moved a little further along the small stream, enjoying the hidden tranquility. In another small pool I managed to corral a couple of tadpoles into my container, having given up on the crayfish. In my childish wisdom, however, I had not brought along a cover to the bowl, so it was a feat keeping the water contained and balanced, and the tadpoles within the confines. I vowed to walk steadily and carefully home.

The way back usually seems to go by a lot quicker than the way there. That was not the case on this day. Trying to balance a relatively flat pool of water, watch the road, and walk home is not an easy task, simple as it made seem. The container splashed its precious cargo around, and soon one of the tadpoles had disappeared.

About halfway home I lost a couple more, and eventually all I had was a bit of creek water and some sand, which I promptly dumped. The rest of the journey went by a little faster with no more need for such care in my step, and I made it home in time for lunch. My summer day ended as it began, with an empty container and an unquenched yearning for adventure.

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