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Throughout history people have written stories about the significant impact bodies of water have on their lives, whether it’s from flood or from drought. Life here on Clear Creek is no different.
We don’t have water piped in from a city source or some lake miles away like urbanites. The well, a mere thirty-foot deep, is in our lower pasture just a few hundred feet away from the creek, and draws from a water table barely underneath the pasture. In the coldest weeks of winter we baby the well house with wrapped pipes and a small heater to keep the pump warm. If the power goes out in an ice storm – like it occasionally does– we heat the well house with constant burning of candles to keep the pump housing from freezing and cracking.
I can remember families I knew in my teens who had well water and it was a stinky oily or sulphury mess that permeated their skin, their clothes and their food. Our well here on Clear Creek provides clean fresh water that has a beautiful taste. Oh there are times when we’ve had a flood and the water is a little brown until the creek settles down again but in large, drinking water here is a treat – a chemical free treat.
Not only is the water a treat for us, but for the animals and wildlife that we share the farm with – the deer, the dragonflies, the birds, the beavers, the neighboring horse, the occasional wild boar, and even our dogs, something I’m reminded of when I reach to pet a happy, frolicking dog whose fur is slick and wet from splashing in the creek.
Living on the farm has taught me what a force our creek is in our lives. This summer, during the record heat wave and drought, I feel as if I’ve had one eye on the creek – scrutinizing the levels, watching what and who it will bring into our world. Always – the creek is a presence – a living, breathing, changing presence.
In a drought, like this summer, we fret and worry about our water consumption. We made a decision to stop watering our small crops early this year for fear of running our well dry. If you run out of water on a farm with a well it’s not so easy to find replacement water. There are always a half dozen or more gallons of water jugs in our laundry room, but that won’t last long if the well goes dry. These were precautionary measures, as neither the well nor our part of the creek has ever run dry, but this was an exceptional summer and we didn’t want to go without.
Early this summer when I posted the colorway Skinny Dipping as a Dyepot Special, the blue-green skeins had been inspired by morning treks to the swimming hole that exists just below where our house sets on a bluff above the creek. As the sun rose I would grab my summer robe, slide into my wellies, grab my Tevas and head out the door. Sometimes Tess the pup would join me, but often I went solo for my morning dip. With birds just starting their morning songs and daytime insects not quite roused I’d hike through the lower pasture to where it was easy to cross and walk through the shallow portions of the creek back downstream to the deep swimming hole. I’d switch from wellies to Tevas and stuff my robe into the boots to keep the crawling critters out of it and walk, shivering at first and then plunge into the cold water. Most of the time I’d tread water or simply stand, enjoying the little fish that kissed my skin, or listening and watching the birds as they began their morning gathering and songs. Occasionally a bigger fish would break the surface in the deepest depths to snap up an insect for breakfast. The lush colors of the trees, the grasses, the weeds, and of the water itself fed my soul. There were weeks when these were the only moments when my body felt completely cool and refreshed and sometimes the only moments my mind was at ease.
After posting the Skinny Dipping colorway that Monday morning the creek took on a different meaning for a few hours. Upstream where the creek crosses the blacktop there is a low water bridge that everyone just refers to as “the slab”. In the warm months this is a hang out for locals and people from nearby small towns. Rocks have been carted into a semi-circle creating a pool where kids and adults alike like to jump into the water and swim.
I’ll admit there are times when I curse the people who gather here for the disgusting amount of trash they leave behind. From time to time there have been barrels available for trash but even then the trash was strewn on the bank and in the weeds. Even odder are the times when people go to the trouble of bagging their trash and then leave the bags leaning against a tree. Who do they think will clean up after them? This isn’t a park with a maintenance crew. But also, who would deny the freshness of a cold swim on a 100 degree day? I know the beneficial effects of the creek and I cannot hold much of a grudge against these people who succumb to the lure of a free swim and bring carloads of kids to swim and play in the cold water.
On that Monday a family from nearby Wagoner loaded their truck with three boys and came to the slab. The boys, as boys are wont to do, decided to hike downstream. When dusk came and they hadn’t returned as directed, their parents became worried and began searching. We were seated at the table when truck lights pulled up to our house – it was the father searching for the missing boys after dark. Before long the volunteer fire truck was in our lower pasture flashing red and blue warning lights as a volunteer, perhaps pulled away from an evening with his family, shone a search light along the creek bed, while calling from a bullhorn for Cody, Dustin and Bubba to come toward the lights. Other volunteers walked from the slab all the way to our swimming hole with flashlights calling the boys names over and over.
For hours this went on. Chris walked down to the pasture. I stayed in the house hoping the boys might walk out of the woods, lost and looking for directions. Finally I heard one voice to another over walkie-talkies proclaim that the boys were safe. They’d somehow caught a ride home while both parents were searching. Relief resulted in laughter and head shaking. Chris, who’d returned to the house earlier, called out and offered a ride back to the fire station to the creek searchers below. They declined but told us to be careful in the creek, they’d seen plenty of snakes – cotton mouths – water moccasins.
Of course we know that there are snakes here, and we consider the creek a sort of time-share arrangement with them. They can have the nights as long as they vacate for my morning dip. However, the next morning I was too rattled to go for my morning dip. I’ve been back to the creek since, just to hike. I feel a little skittish now, like the personality of the creek has changed. It hasn’t I know. Mornings are still as pure and sweet down there despite my not being a witness the first heron flying or the size of the fish.
Snakes are not the only menace that a flowing creek can host. There are beavers in our creek. Not many, but occasionally I’ll spot a limb, cleaned of bark and with a slanted gnawed end, or maybe a young sapling with only a foot tall trunk that used to be ten feet. I say menace – which is a bad thing, I should say wildlife, for in truth the beavers and the snakes are at residents we agree to share our home with.
I’m not sure Tess the young dog is in agreement with the co-habitation of some of the wildlife. Sometimes she shows up in the morning with what have become her almost-routine wounds. Twice in the time since we found her on the dirt road she’s tangled with either wild boars or with a beaver. Not long after the Cody, Dustin, Bubba search we woke to barking in the creek below. Both dogs, Tess and Katie, had found something they were very excited about. We stepped onto the balcony and called for them. They weren’t willing to abandon whatever they had cornered. I stood on the balcony listening. Soon it became quiet after a big splash. I called the dogs again. Nothing.
It didn’t take long for us to throw on clothes and grab our boots. I wasn’t about to wait patiently to find out if my dog had lost a tussle with a wild animal. I couldn’t sit through breakfast and coffee waiting for her to show up this time. Once in the lower pasture we checked the spot where we can see the swimming hole and a downed sycamore tree. The barking had seemed to emanate from this area but the weeds and grass were too thick and the bank was too steep for us to make it to the creek. We called the dogs. Nothing. I told Chris we’d have to walk to the crossing and creek hike down like I did for skinny-dipping.
Just before we got to the crossing the sound of a rushing animal was behind me. Before I could turn around Tess was leaping and knocking against my right side. She does this when she’s happy and excited. I was flooded with relief and my fear of losing my favorite dog subsided into a mixture of joy and a desire to throttle her for frightening me.
Wounds from boars and beavers can appear somewhat similar. They usually have an entrance and an exit (as much as three or four inches apart) where either the tusk (if it’s a boar) or the teeth (if it’s a beaver) pierce the tissue of the wounded. A beaver wound though usually shows a bit of shaved skin just before the entrance wound. Tess has been lucky. Three trips to the veterinarian for stitching and drain tubes haven’t daunted her. Because both beavers and boars tend to be nocturnal we try to keep her inside at night. It’s not always possible, she’s a typical farm dog and feels it’s her duty to sniff, smell and see everything that’s going on in her domain – the farm.
We understand that we share the creek with wildlife, but sometimes other people are wilder than we appreciate. This week – this time as we were preparing dinner – a knock sounded at our door. A volunteer firefighter asked if we’d set the fire, to which Chris asked, “There’s a fire?” But the air outside clearly smelt of smoke, and we knew we had a problem. Chris and the firefighter drove down to the creek.
As the daughter and sister of a firefighter you can imagine I needed to see for myself what was going on. I made sure the gas on the stove was off and food was put in the refrigerator and then I pushed into my wellies, told the dogs to stay inside, and hightailed for the creek. One of the fire trucks was already in the lower pasture in the eastern corner near the creek and where an old crossing once was located.
The creek is low due to our dry summer and there are plenty of places where mounds of dry gravel stand mid-stream, left from the other extreme of flooding last April. Smack dab in the middle of the creek is a gravel beach with a downed tree and plenty of limbs – mostly smoldering when I arrive. This is clearly a case of arson – the trees wouldn’t spontaneously combust and there was no lightening. It’s likely that someone creek hiked down from the slab and thought a little fire might be fun.
I don’t understand this type of mischief (and it can be much more than mischief if the fire gets out of hand). The fire, though it was located in the middle of a creek, took a couple of hours from six firefighter’s lives. Ours is an all-volunteer fire department. Men and women devote their own time to train and learn how to combat fires and save lives while earning nothing – monetarily speaking – in return. All that the community asks (though it does not require) is that we contribute a small subscription fee to help pay for the fire fighting equipment.
For this effort, the Spring Valley Fire Department used the creek to supply water to a portable pump that was carried in. One of the firefighters said, “The creek never changes”. And in some ways he’s right but for me the creek changes dramatically. It’s full with rushing water or it’s dry, or somewhere in-between. A strong current can alter the path of the creek, taking out trees and eroding the bank. A full steady creek can host fish, dragonflies, damselflies, spiders, crawdads and more critters than I can name.
Chris’s parents and grandparents bought this farm forty years ago. I’m a relative newcomer of ten years. Maybe because of that I’m likely to over dramatize the impact this body of water has on my life. Maybe I’m still new to that impact. Whether it’s the kids who creek hike to find a good swimming hole, dogs who will always seek excitement, or knuckleheads who start a small fire – the creek plays a part.
I’ve heard this creek referred to as unremarkable. The creek that gives us water to drink. The creek that waters our crops. The creek that hosts wildlife. The creek that can douse a fire. The creek that cools our minds and our bodies. This small body of water is as important as the people who enjoy what it offers. If it were not here the chances are that we, and our predecessors, would not have settled here. We co-exist with Clear Creek.