I grew up near the banks of the Blanchard River. Our house was at the top of a hill, our farm was gently rolling, and looking out our kitchen window to the east was a field that we called “the riverbottom”. It was a wet field, frequently flooded. It was definitely not our best producing field because often the crops would get washed out early in the season when the spring rains came fast and hard. In the summer a heavy thunderstorm would cause flooding of crops trying to grow and mature, and in the fall, when harvest was near, any rains would make it difficult to move the harvesting equipment into that area. No amount of tile could change Mother’s Nature’s drainage plan so my Dad learned not to expect much out of that particular part of the field.
The southern border of that field was marked by a small creek which drained other fields on our farm. It could be dry in the summer or full of water after heavy rains. There were cattails growing along the creek and turtles could be found there. One spring Mom found a mother duck and several newly hatched ducklings. She would take the grandchildren back to visit and observe and watched them most of the summer until they disappeared on their life’s journey.
There was a grassy lane leading from our farm buildings downhill to the creek. It was a steep slope to the bottom of the hill where the lane then made a sharp 90 degree turn to the east; a great place to ride your bike. I can still feel the wind in my face and the bumps of the bicycle tires hitting the dirt clods. Racing downhill, picking up speed, trying to make the turn and then crossing the creek, sometimes with a splash. Those were the dreams that summer days were made of. In the winter the same hill was a great place to sled. After a few trips down the hill, the snow would become packed hard and we would fly down the hill.Just off to the west a bit was the famous Hickory Nut Tree (see related post) https://retiredruth.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/hickory-nut-cake/ . It grew along the meandering creek and was the lone tree for miles. As the natural waterways flowed through our farm toward the river, there was a small area where the water twisted and turned and made a bit of a wet spot. My best friend and I discovered it one spring and we named it “Paradise” . There were tiny streams and green grass growing. We spent quite a few hours there making tiny dams and pretend villages with stones and rocks and twigs and weeds. Paradise, indeed. I’m not sure why finding that little oasis in the middle of our pasture field is such a significant memory to me. It seemed a bit like a fairy-land close to home. My friend remembers it too.
If you followed the grassy lane further to the east it eventually led to the “line fence” that separated our property from an adjacent landowner’s property. The line fence was an old wire fence which eventually grew into a sizeable tree line with a buckeye tree and lots of weeds and wildlife. The field next to the line fence was a feeding place for groundhogs when soybeans were planted in it. When the crops were rotated to corn, the deer who naturally moved toward the river, had a feast at the expense of my dad’s corn crop.
We often traveled back to the river, usually on foot. We were careful to make a path along the edges of the field so as not to disturb the crops. There was a low-water crossing nearby, which I am sure had been there for centuries. The water was not deep and it was a narrow part of the river where you could easily cross with a horse and wagon or later with bare feet hopscotching across on the flat rocks that lined the river. I don’t remember it ever getting deeper than my knees. Again, it was another part of a dreamy summer day. We would criss-cross the river on the stones, skipping flat stones, and watching for fish, frogs, and dragonflies. If we lost our balance on the stepping-stones, all the better. The sunshine and the warm summer breeze would dry us before we got back to the house. We returned with mosquito bites and a cut or two on our feet from the sharp rocks, maybe even a skinned elbow, but full of fun memories and the promise of another day to be spent at the river.
When I was nine or ten years old, I began to explore the river from another angle. I was allowed to ride on my new bicycle down to the river bridge. It was a big iron structure, an Iron Whipple style bridge. I would park my bike at the edge of the bridge and carefully climb down the steep slope until I was under the bridge. There was a cement structure that supported the bridge which was big enough for me to sit on. I could spend hours just sitting under the bridge. Occasionally a car would cross the bridge and rumble across. No one could see me and it was a place where I could escape to and be alone. Every summer I would head to the bridge and soon I had a small path worn through the grass and the weeds.
When I was about twelve, skateboards were the thing. I would take my skateboard, prop it on the handlebars of my bike, and ride to the river bridge. I went across the bridge and pedaled hard back up the hill. Here I would park my bike, check for traffic, step on my skateboard and ride to the bottom l…. no helmet, no shin guards or knee pads. Just me and my ponytail riding a wooden skateboard with steel roller skate wheels down the road to the bridge. Early skateboards were difficult, if not impossible, to steer, so I would sometimes veer toward the guard rail of the bridge. At some point I would need to stop or hop off and a few times my skateboard went off the bridge and landed in the river.
I continued to visit my private escape even into my teens. I could ponder the meaning of life and other important stuff like boys, teenage drama, and what I was going to do with my life after high school.
A few years ago, I returned to my private escape. I was disappointed to see the changes. Why do we always assume things will stay the same? The trees and brush were so much bigger than when I was a girl. The path I had worn had disappeared. I was no longer a sure-footed young girl who could attempt to climb down to the banks of the river.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the desire for a private escape. I still feel the need to find a secluded spot, away from noise and people, a place to ponder what I am going to do with the rest of my life.
This memory was jarred loose by LouAnn. Check out her blog at the link below.