An Ode to Rhudes Creek (and all the intimate natural places that call us home).
I don’t remember the first time I saw you or splashed my feet in your waters. I was too small.
I don’t know your history before my family. The Shawnee, Cherokee, and Osage people knew you then. You were probably tumbling down a slightly different path, but I bet you were filled with crayfish and turtles. Your banks were lined with reeds and trout lilies.
I do know my grandfather, Henry, who was called Wayne by his friends and Papaw by me, leased the land on your banks to a farmer who cut the area clear right up to your shores. Years later, when my parents built a house up on the hill, they walked down to you and wondered why. They’ve told me you were choked with silt, and they couldn’t find anything living in you.
My parents let the trees return. They let them drop their leaves and their branches. They farmed tobacco down in the low field where they could hear you running over stones and watched for the return. When I go down the hill now, I remember that the trees aren’t much older than me.
The truth is, I can’t know you in a time before me. To me, you have always been a thing alive, the very first ecosystem I ever studied, long before I knew that’s what I was doing. My small child self lifted your rocks. I counted your crawdaddies and your tadpoles. I learned how fallen trees made your deep pools. I feared your undercut banks where snapping turtles as large as my imagination lived.
When I grew older, during hot summer mornings hoeing weeds from the tobacco field, my siblings and I would take breaks to lay down in your cool waters. I’ve watched every farm dog I’ve ever loved romp and splash through your riffles and pools. My father taught me bird calls on your banks, and my mother helped me set up tanks on our front porch where I kept small parts of you. That’s how I learned how tadpoles become frogs. That’s where I watched a crayfish shed its exoskeleton. I learned there are so many ways to grow.
I have loved so many wild bodies of water. I have swam in three oceans, overtopped my boots in countless tidal channels, dipped into dozens of rivers and lakes in so many prime wilderness destinations. But nothing will ever be more intimate than the connection I have with the small reach of creek that runs behind the bottom field on the farm where I grew up.
This series of pools and riffles have continued to change. No longer choked with silt. Last year, when the waters were high my parents saw something swimming. An otter? Probably a muskrat. Old sights in this place, a fragment of a world that cannot be made old again, but can be made better. I come down to the creek, walk past my brother’s grave, and remember that changing can be growing.
Thank you Rhudes Creek. Thank you to the small, wonderful places that we have all fallen in love with, that remind us of our kinship with this good Earth and why we must continue to work to be its thoughtful stewards.