Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Creek days

When I was a girl of sub-teenage years, I lived in a version of New York State called "upstate."

("Upstate," if you don't know, is anything north of New York City. I provide herein a MAP of the state to illustrate the vast scope of "upstate," for your reference. You may giggle at the incongruity at any time. )

We lived in Broome County. See it? Way down-upstate in the pretty turquiose bit?

Anyhow, as a kid, in the summer, I was not allowed to hang out inside all day long. Good heavens no! Mom had important things to do, like stay sane, so we were put out mid-morning and stayed out most of the day.

Sometimes I went to my friend Lori's house, becuase she had "Pong" and a remote for ther teevee (With a cord! Pretty cool!). Sometimes I went to Lisa's house, if she wasn't playing with someone else (Lisa wasn't good in groups of more than 2, and I was normally the one invited to leave if someone else came over. How's THAT for a real shot to the ego? Do ya think THAT had any long-lasting effects on my personality???).

Mostly, though, as far as I can recall, I went to the creek. There was almost always somebody at the creek, catching crayfish or making dams or building forts or just hanging out with their feet in the cool water. Creek kids were ready to play.

I had a little "pot" in the creekbed that I'd dug, and I'd put a wall of stones around it so that it was like a miniature swimming pool. The water would flow through, but the crustaceans and other things I caught and put into it could not get out. I'd lift large rocks and dip my hands in quickly to catch whatever was alive in the murky muddy water that had been stirred up, and run to my pool to dump in my unknown treasure. The squirming of the mystery creatures was delicious and ticklish against my palms. Once they were identified and catalogued, I'd "feed" my captives things I thought they would like, and when done for the day I'd try to let them go. Those that I couldn't re-catch and release were forced to find their own way out or die trying.

There was also a clay wall to the creek, a cutout into the hillside along which it ran. The clay was moist and white and slippery, and a big ball of it made a perfectly adequate cup once you left it in the sun to dry. With my friends I learned to make made pinch pots and coil pots and little figurines from the creek clay, and we rubbed it along our legs to cool them off and watched it as it dried and cracked, then peeled it off in squidgy little crusts, or we applied it to our faces in a misguided attempt at glamour.

The hours cruised along unnoticed as I lost myself in either solitude or comraderie with the others who were sharing the creek, of imagination or a completely blank mind, of action or total suspension thereof.

Such reverie. Such peace. Such freedom.

It was the place we went as children that was our own. Our wee refuge, our own world.

And now, there are houses on it, and no gang of children can invade its waters in the hot swell of an upstate summer.

The McMansions swallowed up our creek, but I like to think that sometimes the people who live near where we used to play can hear the ghostly shouts of children from a long time gone, echoing the joy and freedom of their sunny summer place.


Doug said...

I too was a creeker as a child. Later on as we got older and more mobile we would seek out rivers for recreation. Two of our favorite river playgrounds have since been "developed", which is a huge loss to future teenaged wastelanders. My only solice is that in their quest to lock down a natural treasure for themselves they get the joy of frequent flooding.

tiff said...

Doug - there's that, for sure!

trinamick said...

I hate it when commercialism overruns nature. Some of the best places around our area have been eaten up by development too. But at least they can't take our muddy memories!

Anonymous said...

We played at the creek too! Only we actually tried to cook the CRAWfish. Hee!

tiff said...

Trina - Yay muddy memories! They're awesome.

WN - heheheh, you southerners.

Tracy Lynn said...

I creeked as a kid, too, until we moved to North Carolina. Apparently, they stock their creeks with water mocs.Bummer.

mr. schprock said...

Beats the hell out of the semi-active volcanic crater my mom had me play in. And then she'd act all surprised to see me when I came home for dinner .

kenju said...

Tiff, what a wonderful post. It reminds me of a post I wrote a while back about the creek I used to go to everyday in the summers when I was 9-11 years old. I also caught crayfish, small fish, snails, and the occasional snake. And you are so right about the serenity of it and the freedom. Well done!!

Rick said...

Creek me. Grew up on a farm with a creek and three ponds. Couldn't stay out of the water. And they're all still there! Hang-outs for the grandkids now (my parents', not mine).

tiff said...

TL - yep, and other nasties. Our kids can't even run around in the woods...

Mr S - your resiliency is legendary. :>

kenju - shoot, did I take your idea? Oh and you got a cool avatar. Anyhow - I'm going to poke around and read your post.

rick - sounds great!

rennratt said...

We THOUGHT we were playing in a creek. It turned out to be run off from the water plant...GAH! We stuck to the lake after that.

Kingfisher said...

Kenju's right, I guess this time of year brings out the creek/pond posts in everyone (see mine of 6/3.)

For a little while, we lived on the Mohawk River near the Adirondacks. The kids, and Dad, loved to poke around the remnants of the Erie Canal, catching turtles and perch and mosquito bites. It's also the first time I saw a belted kingfisher!

Why do these places always disappear? It's a crime against the future.

MW said...

I'm sorry I've been away for so long. This is an excellent story. You have described, almost to a tee, my own childhood in west-central South Dakota. A creek runs (the term "runs" is used loosely, because it consists of nothing but pockets of water most of the year) on the south and east edges of the tiny town in which I grew up. It has many curves in that short distance, giving the explorer the illusion of something "new" to see around every bend.

There are also two steep shale hills, long famed for the fun to be had on them. The smaller one, closer to town, is called "Shale Hill." The larger, more distant one is known as "Dinosaur Hill" because it seemed to be as big as a brontosaurus (bigger in reality), and it also sort of looked like one.

There was also a wooden railroad bridge a few hundred yards east of town (I believe it has since been replaced), which served as an incredibly giant and intricate monkey bars for the town kids. The main hangout was at the top of one of the center trestles in a cubby hole just below the tracks. Very few trains ran on those tracks in the 1970s. The few that did run were short and slow (in four years, only two such trains went over while I was playing on the bridge, and they both scared me witless). We would sit there, throwing rocks in the pool of water far below, and fantasize about girls. Other times, we would lie in the soft grass nearer to my friend's house, far from the bridge, under giant trees (a rarity on the prairie) and fantasize on the same subject, imagining that someday our fantasy girl would be lying in that same spot with us. Of course, that never happened.

By the way, some of my ancestors lived just north of you, in Cortland County, NY, from about 1815 to 1845 (mostly in Homer and Truxton). A few extremely distant relatives are still there. They would all be total strangers to me, of course. A few ancestors even moved to Binghamton in Broome County. I don't know if their descendants are still there or not (my research shows that several eventually left for other parts of the country). When my great-great-great grandfather left Cortland County in 1845, he settled near Beloit, Wisconsin. In 1874 and 1877, three of his four children, including my great-great grandfather, settled near Springfield, Dakota Territory (South Dakota). My dad was born near Springfield in 1940.