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.