Through my veins

by | Mar 1, 2017 | Outdoors

“So what do the creeks mean to you, Johnny?”
The question caught me off guard. I’d never tried to verbalize my thoughts about the local creeks and rivers in such a direct manner. I knew how much I enjoyed the small moving waters in my life, but putting that into encompassing terms was not something I’d considered before now and was unprepared. The question carried weight, it was massive. I struggled with it. I mumbled something about fishing and swimming and sunsets, and the questioner said my answers were fine, but I didn’t agree. The answers were shallow and cliche. I wasn’t sure if I could even put those feelings into words. The question haunted me.
What do the creeks mean to me?
On the drive home, I thought about this question as I guided my truck down a dirt road and through switchbacks leading down to Hurricane Creek or “Herrican” as it’s known to the locals and those of local ancestry. At the end of a hidden side road barely big enough for my truck sits a hole of water known to all that whisper of its existence simply as “the swimming hole.” This is where my dad learned to swim. I caught my first ever smallmouth in the riffle running out of this pool. There’s a boulder in the middle that’s perfect for jumping into clear and summertime-cool water. The swimming hole has a campground that’s been used by folks all the way from the roots in my family tree on to the outer branches. The camping area is on a jut of privately owned land surrounded by public, but the land owner doesn’t mind sharing. Most every camper that settles in here for a night or two leaves the place just like they found it. My uncle says it’s been this way, the pool and the camping area, for as long as he can remember.
I took a fishing day-trip to the hills last July and found the swimming hole delightfully deserted after a morning of bronze bass action downstream. The pool shimmered under a noon sun as copper shallows fell into aquamarine depths at the boulder’s base. A school of smallmouth bass patrolled the pool’s perimeter. Longear sunfish positioned themselves near the shoal waiting on hapless crayfish lost in the current. I shucked sweaty clothes and waded in up to my neck, wonderfully lost to the world of cellphones and traffic in this lonesome hollow. Immersion is the word but the word does not nearly capture the experience.
What do the creeks mean to me?
I thought about that question again while standing on the banks of another Ozark creek. The cold winter waters of the Illinois Bayou foamed white with subversive energy at a rocky shoal before plunging and transforming into the brilliant cyan of a deep pool. The pool’s depth gave it an illusion of stoicism. Room to stretch does that to moving water. The pool seemed unmoving and unchanging, forever enduring with the dark rippling of quiet power at rest. But beneath the gentle surface, that fierce energy churned onward forever altering the channel with minute bites and subtle nudges.
Right here, at this very spot, the Bayou’s course has changed dramatically just over the span of my lifetime. The main channel has moved at least 200 feet and the water has dissolved the four-foot shale overhangs that once provided some fantastic inner-tube rides. It was just below those rapids, on a tiny island, that my family would camp after hauling coolers, sleeping bags, lanterns and whatever else we needed up the creek in a rubber raft. On summer day-trips the raft’s cargo often included my grandmother. We would ride the inner-tubes and jump from a nearby bluff. We would chug Pepsi while scarfing down cold sandwiches and chips. We fed bread crumbs to swarming schools of minnows.
As the summer sun gave up it’s relentless rule and sank below the hills, ringed dimples and v-shaped slashes punctuated by mini explosions in the water signaled that my favorite time of day was here. As everyone else prowled the banks for firewood, I flung cast after cast toward the dimples and slashes.
What do the creeks mean to me?
The better question is: What am I without the creeks? What am I without the memories and heritage of these sacred waters? What am I but a man shaped by heritage and memories? Just as the deer and squirrels of this land have nourished my body so have the waters nourished my soul. These are my holy places and, really, there are no words to capture an answer for either question.
What am I without the creeks?
I am not me.
The waters of Illinois Bayou darkened as another winter day drew to a close. I dipped my hand into the creek and felt the tingling chill, the wild and raw energy, the essence of this place that I call home. I felt the creek surging through my fingers. I felt the creek surging through my veins.

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