A creek is no place for shoes. I think it’s unreasonable to ask such children to keep their shoes on in such a place. My bare feet were always covered with calluses from walking down the rough pavement of Pine Street and around the corner, past the tall oaks, but not as far as the Lindsay’s squeaky old swing-set. It was hard to see from the road, and as far as I could tell, nobody ever went there, except for me. Large pines nearby stood tall and erect, looking down at the ripples and currents that nudged each other about playfully, like children in the back seat of a car on a long drive. Stones and pebbles lined the shallow bottom and allowed the water to glide in creative patterns over their smooth surfaces. Larger, moss covered rocks dotted the back and provided ideal spots for a child to sit around watch and wonder.
The creek taught me things; it was my mentor. Once I discovered tadpoles in several of the many eddies and stagnant pools that lined the small rivulet. A cupped hand and a cleaned-out mayonnaise jar aided me in clumsily scooped up some of the more slothful individuals. With muddy hands and knees, I set them on the kitchen table and watched them on a daily basis as they developed into tiny frogs. I was fascinated by what was taking place before my eyes, but new questions constantly puzzled me. Dad was usually responsible for assuaging these curiosities. He told me about different kinds of metamorphosis and how other creatures lived in the water that I couldn’t see without a fancy magnifying glass.
By the creek, my mind was free to wonder. I remember sitting on a mossy rock and watching birds; I used to pretend I was one. As my body lay still, my imagination would take flight. High above, looking down on this stream from the pale blue heavens, the wind whistled over my face and the sun warmed my body. When my eyes flickered open, it was usually time to go home. Sometimes I even did.
I was always up for a challenge. My neighbor and I used to jump from rock to rock in a kind of improvised hopscotch obstacle course that tested our balance and agility against one another. He was four years older and I had to practice every morning when he was at school. On the rare occasions that I outdid him, I wore a goofy smirk for the rest of the day.
The creek was a frontier. The stream extended far into the depths of the woods. I thought that if I wondered too far into its darkness, I might be consumed by it and never heard from again. Gradually overcoming my fears, I embarked on expeditions and drafted extensive maps using my father’s old compass, a sheet of paper, and a few colored pencils. As my body grew in height and weight, my boundaries grew in extent and breadth.
Years later, I happened to be walking to a friend’s house by way of the creek. It occurred to me that what was once an expedition was now merely a shortcut. Although I had left this stream behind, I found others: New questions and freedoms, new challenges and places to explore. But this creek would remain foremost in my memory, whatever stream, river, or ocean I might wade.