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Nora Swango Stanger: The joys of creek play

My heart goes out to kids who never get to play in the creek.

My childhood days of every season were often spent roaming Aaron’s Creek, seeking critters of all kinds or looking for a possible swimming hole that was deeper than my knees.

I remember sitting quietly, watching water spiders glide on top of the water, wondering just how they could experience such a feat.

I would try my hardest to have just one finger be able to balance its weight on the water without plunging in, but never was able to master the skills of the water spider.

I was intrigued with how the still water could almost look clean, but with one step brown sediment clouds would rise to the top and rearrange the liquid I thought I knew before I interfered with its rest.

My siblings and I would catch tadpoles and examine their progress as they grew into fully-formed frogs. We pulled up rocks along the bank of the creek to find crawdads, then squealed as we tried to pick them up without getting pinched by their claws.

We were in wonder when the crawdads got away from us by seeming to swim backwards in the water.

My sister Linda once convinced me, with her ever-enticing explanations, that the green scum growing on stagnant water was what bubblegum came from. She made it sound so true that she got me to taste a bit of the scum. Why I didn’t insist that she taste it first, I don’t know. Such was the ornery power of Linda’s salesmanship.

Sometimes, we didn’t actually focus on the water in the creek. Rather, we examined intensely the exposed roots of tress along the bank or the layers of rock that naturally lined the banks. I remember being in awe of the intricacy, beauty and even frightening lines and crevices that made up the creations of the creek.

After every strong rain, Granny would steady herself with a tobacco stick and have us walk with her to the creek’s edge to watch the angry flooding waters as it rushed by. We’d stand in silence for a while, mesmerized by the power of the creek when it was at its strongest. Then Granny would tell stories of past times when the flooding overtook the fields or someone got too close to the edge and terrible disaster happened.

During autumn, we’d watch as the leaves fell gracefully into the water and slowly flowed out of our sight, sometimes in fascinating layers, melding a wondrous kaleidoscope of colors together. In the winter, we’d examine the snow that piled along the edges of the water only to melt as it approached the liquid.

Then we’d study the crystals magically appearing in the water as it gradually transformed into ice. It was so much fun testing the thickness of the ice with gentle steps until our foot would break through the solid parts.

Visions in my memory of this type of exploration through the creeks and hills of my home helped form mental pictures when reading fantasy books such as Tolkien’s Hobbit and C. S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles.

Even as an adult, I love to play in a creek. The memories of my nieces and nephews playing in my Mom’s creek bring nearly the same pleasure to my mind as when I was a child myself. And now as my nieces and nephews are grown with children of their own, I love that they take their children to Aaron’s Creek to play.

I have a favorite memory of my niece Angie running straight to the creek with her young sons and showing them the wonder of the magic there. Angie, who has the same ornery spirit as her mom, Sister Linda, also has the same tender heart as her mom. I remember Angie teasing her boys and splashing them mercilessly, then cuddling them after creek play, enjoying the simplicity of sharing moments together.

I hate to be like the old people of my youth who would talk of the “good old days” and make me feel like I’d missed out on something never to occur again. At the same time, I am concerned that so many children and adults have lost the wonder of the amazing creation we live in every day. I fear we spend too much of our lives in “screen time.” Electronics entice us to remain staring at something artificial and untouchable rather than experiencing the God-given nature that surrounds us.

Let me end this article with a challenge for the reader: Go outside, play in the creek and catch a minnow. Let your bare feet splash, or simply soak, in the water. Stop to feel the peace. Look at the creation before you. Don’t do it alone, take someone with you and enjoy the presence of real life. It will do your heart good!

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.