Casaubon's Book

On (and In) Crawdad Creek

When we bought the property, the creek was frozen over, and from the property survey, we weren’t entirely certain that it would belong to us. We never realized that the pretty little body of water that passed along the north side of the house would become the center of four worlds.

For the first few years that we lived here, we enjoyed the creek – my toddler children loved to visit with parents in tow, picking up stones or chasing frogs during summer, when the creek sank down to manageable levels. We enjoyed listening to its music through the open windows at night. We watched the birds and animals it attracted. But the creek was peripheral, because it was not yet the children’s own domain.

But then my boys struck the age at which they could roam the property alone, and the creek became the anchor-point in their world. They named in “Crawdad Creek” – it has other names, offically it is the Bozenkill, and there are older names still. But our stretch is Crawdad Creek, and it is where they live.

They are out there now, at 6:30 in the morning, climbing the overhanging willows, seining salamanders and crayfish (last week with friends they had named all the salamanders after Weasley brothers from Harry Potter – they’d gotten up to Percy, I think), chasing water skippers, arguing about what imaginary games to play or where to put the footbridge. They will come in, wet, muddy and sticky (no, I don’t know what on the creek can really cause stickiness, but they are talented children) when it gets hot or they get hungry, or when they are dragged back for a little school time, and then again and again, retreat to the creek and to its wet shade and teh stories they tell themselves about who they are there.

The goats follow them to the edge, grazing the grass along the banks and the overhanging leaves while the boys make wildlife counts and wade. We follow the boys to reclaim the shoes and socks and sometimes entire outfits abandoned by its side, because it seemed like a good idea to take them off. Some days four bare-butt children pick their way across the back field, grabbing a snack to sustain them in their naked adventures.

In evening, they settle quietly on the banks, watching for wildlife come to drink. As twilight settles, they see a beaver in the adjoining marsh, and something shakes the bushes, but then four-year old Asher shrieks that his brother hit him, and nature receeds. Hey, they aren’t perfect. Only the place is perfect, golden, softened by twilight – until we disrupt it by telling them to go to bed.

When guests come to visit us, all children gravitate to the cool, shady banks of the creek. There are logs to balance across on, stones to throw, minnows to catch, tadpoles to watch and small pools to dream in. No child is immune to the lure of the creek, to this perfectly child-sized body of water and the magic place it creates. When we can’t find the children, we know always to look for them there, to the place that draws them irresistably.

One day I went to recapture my Wild Things from their play and arrived to see Simon, Isaiah and Asher all sitting silently beneath a tree, feet dangling over the banks to the water, eyes closed. “Why so quiet?” I asked. They told me they were seeing how many animals they could identify by sound alone. And they had managed 12 – mostly species of birds, but also dragonflies and a frog dropping into the creek, and best of all they had mastered the tiny little pip-pip sound that a salamander makes when it slips into the water. They had come to know that tiny, barely audible sound so well that they could find it anywhere.

Then home we trooped, gathering shoes, a pair of wet shorts hung on a bush to dry, a stuff snow leopard and a bowl that had once held snacks. All the things one needs for a morning spent climbing, wading, listening to the life of the creek. Officially, I was bringing them back for school time. But the line between school and not school is very fine here, and the creek is a grand teacher.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Michelle
    May 25, 2010

    This was lovely, Sharon! I was right there with the boys. I think there’s just some sort of natural affinity for children to water.

  2. #2 IasasaI
    May 25, 2010

    Nature – the only alma mater you’ll ever need.

    Obviously it’s never ‘quite’ as simple as that, but it makes for a good sound bite.

  3. #3 Katie
    May 25, 2010

    my kids are the same way with creeks… it made me really sad to realize that the creek closest to us (which is still a long bike ride away) is so polluted (here in “green” Portland, OR) that it’s not considered safe to touch the water. i sometimes let my kids play in the willamette river here at one of the beaches, but i shudder to myself thinking of the superfund sites further north on the river, and the dioxins released (mostly in the past) at both ends of the beach, and the sewage that comes out when it rains (we don’t go in then;)… blah. this is my sticking issue for staying living in the city. i really believe my kids need to play in a creek or pond or river or lake… not just on vacation, but most days.

    you described it so evocatively… <3, Katie

  4. #4 Sarah
    May 25, 2010

    That’s exactly what I did growing up — whenever we went to my grandfather’s house I’d be down in the creek. At one point, I even drew and labeled my first biological survey of all the organisms I found. “SALEMANDER”, “AMERICAN CRAYFISH” (my cousin told me to add “American” because it sounded more scientific), “ROCK ALGAE AND PLANT LIVE”, all kinds of insect larvae — it was a pretty good inventory if I do say so myself.

    Now I’m leaving in a week to do an NSF-funded summer Research Experience for Undergrads program… and I’ll be studying benthic macroinvertebrate monitoring techniques for stream restoration. Still playing in creeks!

    Thanks for the post. :)

  5. I had a creek growing up and it drew me as yours does your sons. It’s everything you describe. And more, because as eloquent as your words are, there remains that ineffable something to a creek meandering through woods that defies expression.

  6. #6 Gerry Sell
    May 25, 2010

    This is a great read, Sharon. It took me back to my own special places, but there is nothing nostalgic about it. Salamander sounds, for heaven’s sake! Who knew?

  7. #7 Claire
    May 25, 2010

    I had a small lake in my childhood. My grandparents had a summer cottage on one of Michigan’s glacier-created kettlehole lakes. They often got me and two of my siblings on Friday afternoon and kept us with them until Sunday afternoon. My parents came out during the day on Saturday and we swam, water-skiied, and boated on the lake. On my own I also watched birds, looked for and identified wildflowers, and caught toads and frogs (I wasn’t good at keeping them alive, however). Not being as good a writer as you, I can’t really convey the spirit of those days. I’m glad you shared your sons’ experience with all of us.

    At age 53, I still have a connection to water. These days it’s two local creeks that I do volunteer water quality monitoring for. The teams I do monitoring with are trying to improve the water quality if both streams. It’s good work for an adult, and it allows me to enjoy being on even these damaged urban streams. We even took a class of 7th graders onto one of them for an afternoon to help us do monitoring … and they loved every minute of it.

  8. #8 MaryK
    May 25, 2010

    I have fond memories of the beautiful stream on our property in WV. I now live in a swamp in Virginia in a conservation area, very beautiful but filled with cotton-mouths. I wish I could splash about in it!

  9. #9 DennisP
    May 25, 2010

    Methinks your boys are doubly lucky: to have the creek as the center of their youth and to have such an understanding mother. Salut!

  10. #10 David Syzdek
    May 26, 2010

    Can I bring my 6 and 3 year old kids by to play? We seem to have a shortage of creeks here in Nevada. However, I am lucky enough to be biologist on a preserve that has some creeks and sneak my kids in and teach them to catch hellgramites.

  11. #11 debra
    May 26, 2010

    sounds like a heavenly place and time.

  12. #12 Misi
    June 4, 2010

    Beautiful Sharon… more lovely than I can say… and I sure loved the chuckle I got at the bare-butt children meandering through the field! When my kids were little and we lived in the country I couldn’t keep clothes on them unless it was less than 30 degrees outside. Now I live on a pristine lake and my grandkids just melt into the forest and shoreline.
    After they go home I love to take walks around the property and find the spots they’ve created their worlds in… fairy houses under tree roots, tiny bouquets tucked onto ledges, a stuffy left wide-eyed, yet floppy, in the wood shed. Sometimes I find things that I wish weren’t there, like old rotten tree stumps that have been pounded to pulp with a stick, but hey I guess that was a lesson too, botony, entropy, physics…
    About the stickness… usually when my kids come in it’s slug slime and dirt. Why they dearly love to pick up those slimy critters I’ll never understand, lol.

  13. #13 Misi
    June 4, 2010

    Beautiful Sharon… more lovely than I can say… and I sure loved the chuckle I got at the bare-butt children meandering through the field! When my kids were little and we lived in the country I couldn’t keep clothes on them unless it was less than 30 degrees outside. Now I live on a pristine lake and my grandkids just melt into the forest and shoreline.
    After they go home I love to take walks around the property and find the spots they’ve created their worlds in… fairy houses under tree roots, tiny bouquets tucked onto ledges, a stuffy left wide-eyed, yet floppy, in the wood shed. Sometimes I find things that I wish weren’t there, like old rotten tree stumps that have been pounded to pulp with a stick, but hey I guess that was a lesson too, botony, entropy, physics…
    About the stickness… usually when my kids come in it’s slug slime and dirt. Why they dearly love to pick up those slimy critters I’ll never understand, lol.

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