A creek formed the northern boundary of the property where I spent my childhood. Years before I was born, the creek had been fed by springs, but the growth of the village led to increased use of well-water, so the water had dropped and the springs disappeared.
Of course when I was little I was not supposed to play in or near the creek, and of course I did. When water was flowing down the creek, my friends and I would launch large leaves or slabs of bark in the creek, then pelt them with small stones from the shore, trying to sink or destroy our toy ships. Many summers the creek bed became dry, forming an irresistible playground. I gathered aluminum cans other people had tossed into the creek and built cities from them, then attacked the cities with rocks. Those rocks had originally been placed on the banks of the creek to prevent erosion, but many of them had tumbled or been pushed into the creek bed. One year I thought that I would pull the rocks out of the creek and build a fort, but the walls of the fort never grew more than two layers high. When I was older, I spent several afternoons of one summer rebuilding the stone reinforcement of the banks.
In the winter the creek usually froze. Generally the water level dropped during the gradual freezing process. Schoolchildren found endless satisfaction breaking the shelves of ice on the banks of the creek on their way home from school. They used their feet to break the ice or threw rocks at shelves on the other side. During the spring thaws, children again attacked the ice in the creek. When conditions were right, the creek would freeze into a smooth surface suitable for ice skating. I owned a pair of skates and would go out on the creek on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon for an hour or two of exercise. I never had the ability or the room to learn any skills other than skating forward, but I enjoyed the time spent outdoors all the same.
Sometimes in the springtime fish would swim upstream in the creek. Some of the neighborhood children attempted spear fishing, but they had no success. The creek also attracted mallard ducks, and–two years–a large snapping turtle. When the water was low, crayfish could be found under the rocks. My friends and I captured them and released them; it never occurred to us that people might cook and eat crayfish. Trees lined the bank of the river, mostly boxelder and mulberry trees. Phlox and other wildflowers bloomed in the spring. When I was in the fourth grade, I picked a handful of phlox to give to the new girl at school, because I thought she was nice.
Floods from the creek several times covered the property and entered the basement. My father believes that the flooding increased because of construction in the area that reduced natural drainage into the ground. A few years ago, he successfully led a battle of village residents to deny rezoning that would have allowed construction of a megastore (with a large parking lot, of course) next to the creek about a mile upstream. That one victory did not prevent the eventual razing of the house because of its location in the floodplain. J.