I can hear the wet gravel underneath my feet. Each step shifts my ankles at odd angles. Upstream I can see a stray uncle with rod in hand intently looking across the surface of the water. The sun is out and my wet trunks are cold as the sun burns my bare back.
My cousin is bent over lifting rocks looking for crawdads. The breeze shifts and I randomly swat at the horseflies buzzing around us. It only takes one bite of a horsefly to make me involuntarily sway my arms around whenever I hear the buzz of an insect. This is a part of my DNA and the reflex is embedded for the rest of my life.
The day spreads out in front of us. I’m sure no one is watching us. The adults sit in the shallow part eyes squinted in the sunlight. They talk amongst themselves. The rhythms of the trees and birds around us turn minutes into hours. The soft sound of the water downstream drowns out the distant echoes of shouts and laughter from the road.
The oaks and hickories arch over the banks of the creek. Hiding in the shadows are black snakes, poison ivy, and the occasional turtle. A truck drives quickly along the gravel road honking it’s horn as the hands go up automatically waving to strangers and family alike.
Empty beer cans stack up in piles along the beach. The coolers are lined up and act as a temporary depot for goods and services. At some point a fire is made and the smell of hot dogs cooking float across the water. We are hungrier than we realize and with wet hands we grab at paper plates and buns. The hawks overhead take our tribe in with tolerance and go about their day.
The river is about a quarter mile down as the creek flows. We walk crossing back and forth on the gravel bars. My cousin David and my brother Jim are up ahead as I get lost in the different landscapes. Each turn in the creek is another set of treasures to explore. The deep ends of the clear water act like pockets where the bigger fish hide. Steven is somewhere near by skipping rocks against the glass surface of the water.
The small rocks in my shoes hurt. I’d complain but I know it won’t make a difference. The complaint would hang in the air until someone had something more valuable to say. I find a stick weathered from the sun and water. The river is in the distance. Each of us has been told not to swim in the river. The act of drudging for a body in the river is a story told one too many times. We know better and fear the river for what it is. Nature doesn’t show mercy.
The place where the creek meets the river seems magical to me. The deep greens and blues blend into each other. The gravel is smaller and more like sand. The trees are older and larger. Their branches reach great distances in the air and cascade over the banks of the dark water. The summer rains raised the river and the current is swift. The swirls of water twist and turn in front of us. We know its power is more than we see. The breeze cuts up the muddy banks as the drunks in the canoes paddle past. I keep thinking they are fools to play in the river.
We don’t say much as we look at the houses on the stilts. The houses are like dead daddy long legs made to stand upright. They are motionless as the river moves past them. Their closed doors and boarded up windows haunt me but I am staying quiet on the subject. I am the youngest of the group and any hint of fear will start a game I don’t want to play.
The sun is set in the noon sky. The few clouds offer little relief. It is cooler under the trees but I prefer the gravel over mud. It is a territory I am familiar with and can trust. I stay in the hot sun as we turn around and head back up stream to the parts of the creek we know and call home.