I was lucky enough to have three creeks on the farm where I grew up in Henry County. These slow woodland water havens were where us kids lived over the hot summer months. Deep ditches cut into the earth over centuries. Waters that flowed into the Towaliga and beyond my little world.
Cool, clear shallow water that ran under rocks and over logs. Dark grey clay banks perfect for chinking between rock dams. Crawdads by the handful. Beech and Hickory and White Oak and Tulip Poplar canopies that towered overhead.
I have thought often in my later years about the hours we spent playing in those creeks. Realizing only now that my Grandfather probably stopped his plowing along the terrace above the creek, stepped down into the bottom around the roots of a massive Poplar and knelt by the water to drink.
There is a connection that I cannot fully explain. Creeks and campfires are two of the things that always capture my mind and stir the memories.
I mention this because I spent a couple of hours of Memorial Day walking the creek behind my house with my granddaughter. She loves getting in the creek and doesn’t want to come out. I love the fact that she loves it.
At my age I wasn’t all that excited to get in the water. But she’s five and cannot be denied.
Our creek is different than the ones back home. The Palmetto is a slow woodland creek. That part is the same. But this one is 10 feet wide and mostly about ankle to calf deep. Sand everywhere and almost no clay to be found. But the crawdads are abundant.
The sandy bottom feels like gravel in some places. Soft mud in others. But there are wide sand bars in the curves exposed to the pockets of sunlight that are nearly white and soft to dig in. It’s not the Emerald Coast, but it’s as close as we have to a beach.
Everything about the creek is exciting to Zelda. Her feet sink in the sand and her eyes almost explode.
“Come over here, Grandpa. Step right there. It’s so deep.”
The water is cold to an old man. But the giggles and the laughter is warm. She races off down the creek ahead of me. If I were her Mama I’d probably be hollering at her to slow down.
“You might poke your eye out on a stick.”
Mama’s say stuff like that. But I’m not her Mama. Though her Mama is going to read this and call me later. I can take it. When she’s with me, I’m in charge. And I love to watch her run.
She finds gobs of little “clam shells” in the sand. She’s learning to deal with spider webs hanging between the branches overhead that droop down near the water. Minnows and little Chub fish dart for cover.
We come up on a tangled up mess of limbs and logs pushed up in the creek from the last storm.
“Snakes live in there”, she says. Like everyone should know that. Like she is an authority on snakes. “Mama said so.” Which is the warning my Mama used to give me.
Again, I’ll probably be in trouble. Mama may be right. But I coach her as we walk around and over and through the logs. There’s a deep hole on the other side and she is up to her chest holding my hand. She’s nervous but all smiles. We made it out unscathed.
We worked our way downstream for a while and then turned back. We passed the house and continued upstream for a long ways. The banks are taller in this direction and there are a few rocks the size of a ’42 Chevy truck hood that slid off into the edge of the water.
The storm surge has cut out a hole in the deep sand. Standing next to the rock I am now up to my butt cheeks in cold water and thinking about what might be hiding under the rock. But my face does not show it.
“Can I climb on the rock and jump in?”
“Sure”, I tell her. And for the next century of my life she is like a gerbil on a wheel. Climb. Giggle. Jump. Catch. Climb. Giggle. Jump. Catch. I lost count after 437 times. My toes are beginning to go numb.
My kids played in this creek most of their growing up years. One time, one of their friends did get poked in the shoulder with a stick. Stitches were required. But I never worried about them disappearing for hours at the time. Sometimes you just have to let go and let them have fun.
They survived all the knocks, the bumps, the bruises, and the cuts. I’m sure Zelda will, too.
I look forward to the day when all the grandkids can go wonder off down the creek by themselves. You discover things about yourself in a creek. You face your fears. You explore the unknown. You get wet up to your eyeballs on a hot day. You shake sand out of your shorts. The creek is never the same, and the batteries never run out.
“Let’s head back to the house.” Grandpa has had fun, but his skin is starting to shrivel up around the edges. I’m ready.
“Noooooooo. I wanna stay a little longer.”
“One more jump and we gotta go.”
“Why? I really wanna stay.”
We take our time walking back through the water. The pouty face is gone. I promised chocolate milk and extra cheezy Cheezit crackers for a snack. That seemed to work in my favor.
“I’ll go first”, she says. “I know the way. You follow me. Can we step in that deep sand where our feet sink down one more time? Can we?”
I am weak willed. “Just one time.”
If I was younger I would spend all day in that creek with her.