The Creekside Stalker


That sounds like a title for a creepy mystery novel but I mean it literally. I have spent countless hours walking along creeks and rivers doing little more than looking and thinking. There is just something fascinating about watching water move in a natural stream and all the natural life that flourishes in and around it. It is watching time flow by. I have also spent many hours fishing, boating, swimming, skating, and nearly drowning in creeks and rivers in Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota, but it is the little creek here at home that I have, for so many years, enjoyed the most. We call it a crick, of course, or rather THE crick when I was a kid, because as a source of entertainment, it was the best thing on the farm.

No toy or pastime can equal a creek in recreational potential for children. Our crick was a little small and shallow for swimming but perfect for wading. Children love to walk in water, — much more miraculously fascinating than walking on water. And in winter when we tried to walk on water, we were forever breaking through thin ice and have to retreat to the warmth of Dad’s workshop to dry our feet. We called our dilemma “leaky boots” but they didn’t leak. We just hoped that Mom would scold less if we blamed it on that.

Among the other games we played in or beside the crick, the most popular was something we called splashing. The idea was to have a good sized rock at the ready, and when a companion got close enough to the water, plop it in and drench him or her. Turnabout then became fair play, and everyone went home soaked.

Making dams and waterfalls was another favorite pastime. We would use tinker toys to fashion little waterwheels to spin in a gap in the dam where the water flowed more rapidly. The crick back then was teeming with fish, crawdads, turtles, and water snakes. Dad taught us how to catch snapping turtles— some of the best meat nature can provide. A neighbor made luscious meals out of the crawdad tails and we could seine up a bucket full quite easily. The part of the crick that runs through our property today is still spring fed and never goes completely dry, so down through the years it has supported even mussels.  Of all this diversity, only a small amount survives today because of pollution. But some still remains, replenished by fish from the small river into which the crick flows about three miles downstream.  One of my favorite pastimes in earlier years was watching these fish leap over a little dam I made as they moved upstream in the spring.

Today, there is much worry and rightly so over creek bank erosion. Where farmland or pasture runs right up to the creek, the water eats away the soil in worrisome amounts. I used to get terribly upset by that but I now wonder if mankind’s activity is only speeding up something that happens naturally. A creek always meanders as a bank in its outer bend washes away faster than at the neck of a bend. If a video of a flowing creek could be speeded up to where a minute would show the passage of a century, the creek would seem to be slithering along like a wiggling snake. Eventually the meanders are cut off from the creek into oxbows, as they are called. Then the creek makes another turn which becomes a meander and by the time eons have passed and new oxbows shaped, the old ones have transformed into rich bottomland soil or wetlands. The soil washed away during this never-ending process goes finally into oceans or lakes or old oxbows or sometimes earthworks built by prehistoric humans as is the case along our crick. Time passes so slowly in nature that it is difficult to judge what is calamitous and what is natural. The continents slide apart on tectonic plates to form new land masses. Mountains wear down and spring up someplace else. The creeks wear away one bank and then another and the oxbows so formed continue to support all kinds of natural life. Nothing goes away. Geology and biology just change form. Do humans cause calamity or merely speed up natural processes? I’ve walked beside my creek for over 80 years now and I’m still asking myself that question.


Your stories reminded me of my Godmother’s little beck that ran behind her house. Beck being the Cumbrian (England) word for a little stream. Needless to say, my parents always had dry clothes in the car for me, as I would invariably end up in it whilst trying to fish. Not sure I ever caught anything, but it was fun trying.

Some interesting research done in Yellowstone, has said that the reintroduction of wolves in the area has lead to less erosion of rivers, as the deer are now afraid to spend too much time by the river edges eating the vegetation. So wolves have led to rivers running straighter – who’d have thought! 🙂

how DO you catch a snapper? Great images on this frigid snowy day in Wisconsin, thank you! I’ve always loved the power of the spring thaw, there’s a lovely little rock bed crick in the woods here that fills full in the spring. The banks are lined with spring ephemerals and delicious ramps, just magical. I know what you mean, are we speeding things up? Would they happen anyways in it’s own time? Are we part of nature, or are we messing with “it”?

    You catch a snapper by the tail and keep it way from your leg.I actually know a few guys that will wade larger creeks and feel up under the bank overhang to ‘feel’ for snappers.Not me I don’t have the nerve as the ‘business’ end of a snapper can be pretty rough and there are a lot other animals that live under those overhangs including snakes that don’t take being bothered real well.

      sounds like noodling for catfish, which the very thought of scares the bejeezus out of me!

      Gary and Farmer, we would catch turtles with a large fishhook and heavy line, Bait the hook with a dead English sparrow. Overnight, the turtles will get hooked. Another almost safe way is to use a steel rod and poke down into water along the edges of the creek. When you strike a turtle’s back with the rod there is a tell tale thud. Then you step on the turtle’s back to make it sort of immobile and slide your hand down along your leg and feel around the edge of the turtle’s carapace. Towards the back, the shell has a more jagged edge which is how you know you are feeling your way to the right (tail) end. Grab the tail and lift, making sure you keep the turtle’s head as far from your leg as possibile. A turtle can jab out farther than you think. I suppose this is a good way to lose a finger or two. Gene (Lefty) Logsdon

yes, I live in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. When I was a child we used to walk quite some way to a little creek and just be there. We could catch frogs there. I brought them home, which was not a good idea, they died. Now one of my favourite walks is beside the creek leading to the Waimakariri river Christchurch. Its dairy country here, quite a polllution consideration.

When a child, I lived in a small town. Our backyards sloped down to a ditch that was dry most of the summer. But it had water in the winter and spring. The ditch was the border between the yards on our street and the next one over. There was even a small marsh on it that sometimes had a muskrat in it. We decided to trap the water and made a dam of mud and sticks. The neighbor boy from the next street played in it but got all wet so his mother came and used a hoe to hack and hack and hack until she had broken our dam. The next day, our “gang” stood behind a garage and sang “The old gray mare” as she hung up the clothes on the line. We were not punished by our parents. Some years later the village got progressive and put the creek into huge culverts. They also raised taxes to build a pool in the local school to give kids something to do. Hmm.

Oh what wonderful stories. We too had the crick and what constituted a wild expanse around it for a 5-year old. But the most fun I ever had as a kid was one time we made a dam at the end of a bean field after several days of heavy rains. The little dam created a long sluice that functioned like a natural Slip-n-Slide! We would run and slide and get coated in the black mud from the rich topsoil. We looked like chocolate dip-cones at the end of the day! That photo brings back memories.

There is much to learn and appreciate just by watching life and death happening in a creek. I once spent an hour watching a water snake capture a minnow and get it alligned for swallowing. That’s a difficult way to make a living.

I’ve tried to line the banks of the creek with rocks to keep erosion down, and made a small dam that in normal flow creates a relaxing sound. I put a chair near the dam because it’s a great place to read and think, or just look around with the binoculars. In spite of our cold weather, in another month and a half the salamanders will be headed for the creek to lay eggs, regardless of what the groundhog sees.

Children with visitors always end up at the small pond I had dug down in the meadow. There is something maternal and soothing about water.

We have a branch as we call it running thru the farm near the main house, it originates at a spring on our place, one of the advantages of a mountain on ones farm is being at the ‘top’ of the water chain.When I was growing up my grandmother would always send me out to the branch to catch a snapping turtle after a thunderstorm.Seems like storms prompt the turtles to get moving and they are always headed upstream against the current.Spent many hours there as a kid catching bullfrogs,watching minnows and tadpoles,checking out the tracks of wild animals on the little sandbars and countless other adventures.Even now I can’t hardly cross a stream without checking for tracks.Great memory provoking
post Gene.

My paternal grandmother spent most of her time admonishing us to get out from underneath that bridge – “There’s snakes in there!” We weren’t very good listeners at that point in our lives. Eventually her warnings rang true – there was a 4′ black snake living under the bridge. We just moved down to the next bridge to play in the crick under that one!

My maternal grandmother spent most of her time admonishing us to “stop throwing rocks in the boat well – you’ll fill it up!” at Indian Lake, Ohio. Couldn’t keep us out of that water either, regardless of the time of year. The spillway into the Great Miami River was great fun as a snow slide in the dead of winter!

Water is bait for kids. Can’t keep us out of it! Even today – when we visit the Great Smoky Mountains, the first thing I do is get in the crick!

Gene – you’re the best at bringing those memories back to the front of the brain!

Gene, you have a magical way with words. From Creekside Stalker to the shifting of continents. I just wish it wasn’t so cold out, now I want to go for a walk along my crick. And I just got your new book today…can’t wait to start reading. I hope a lot of folks stop by to see you at OEFFA.

I too had a crick that ran through our woods and several of our pastures. My favorite spot was an old willow tree that hung over the creek. I spent countless hours in the woods and creek. However my favorite spot was in that old willow overhanging the creek. Unfortunately I am not as gifted as Gene to express my joyous memories in words.

Today I have two young boys who are crick/river/pond/lake rats. They have even spent many hours in the Cuyahoga River catching crawdads, insects, and fish (If you want to see a true living expressions of pure joy, watch a child catch their first crawdad!). I am amazed that there are many people who would never allow their children in a natural body of water because it is “dirty” but will spend hours in a chlorinated chemical soup at the pool. In fact I have a pretty good idea of how I will get along with a person by their reaction when they find out that my kids play and swim in a natural body of water!

Oh Gene, you have taught me to appreciate the world of nature where I am. A backyard “crick” transforms into “sliding plate tectonics”. You are a magician in the best sense.

Thankfully my kids grew up with a creek which allowed for dam building, splashing , a facsimile of swimming, swinging from trees on Tarzan ropes to make huge splashes in pools they deepened with rock dams, and fishing. Sadly now that creek flows in great gushes for part of the year then goes dry.

I don’t really think humans have a real good grasp on hydrology yet in spite of who knows how many years of living in association with bodies of water. Although I’ve been a Water Quality Scientist by profession I still like to think of a flowing creek as something magical, not totally within our comprehension but very precious.

In addition to all the activities Gene mentioned I can’t forget the winter my kids found a large camper’s type of icebox and a board that would serve as a good paddle and then they became instant rapids running kayakers, by using the icebox as a kayak. There was just enough flowing water between the iced in edges of the creek to allow for the icebox to float and just enough ice to support the edges of the icebox to float it upright for a significant distance. Of course the kids had a blast, somehow didn’t drown. When they were dunked and soaked they ran home to get rid of the cold, wet clothes, bathe in hot water, dry off in front of the wood stove then get dressed and do it all again. When their mother and I came home we were astounded to see a huge pile of cold ,soaking wet clothes piled by the washing machine; oozing puddles across the floor. This demanded explanation from the children. I think both my wife and I were so astonished that we really didn’t do much discipline. I was reminded of the saying : That which doesn’t kill you serves to make you stronger”. Maybe so, but I think several guardian angels were on overtime that day. We also recalled several similar instances in our own childhoods so how can you punish kids for doing what comes naturally. Although it isn’t :”Safe” in the common sense, nevertheless, not for a moment would I deprive my children of creeks, trees to climb in and play Tarzan in or lots of dirt to play in and with. Dirt , vegetation and water are still the raw ingredients for great toys and too much fun. Creeks are indeed magical, if there is dirt involved so much the better, and some trees for swinging ropes is just this side of heaven. Thanks Gene for stirring good memories.

In my region, for reasons I think are somewhat ridiculous dam building with rocks and sticks by humans such as the kids did and I and my wife did is now highly frowned upon and some of the powers that be are actually threatening legal actions against dam builders. This is allegedly to protect endangered fish. Somehow the converse of beavers building dams which creates areas where said fish can prosper is regarded as different, although some fisheries biologists will in fact tear down beaver dams to :”Improve Fish Passage”. I was paid at one time to remove wood from “Creeks” then a few years later paid to place wood back in “Creeks for fish habitat.

Well I think kids building dams to play in the water is an opportunity that is at least as valuable for the kids as the endangered fish are to the ecosystem. Let’s do what we can to make sure that future generations can play in unpolluted creeks so they can create their own memories . Playing in Creeks, including building dams is part of being human. Long may they flow.

Our childhood creek began and ended with the Mississippi river, it supported lots of great fish, crawdads and turtles. We lived less than fifty yards from it, needless to say the fishing rods never even came home, I left them in the brush next to the water, knowing that I would be using them first thing in the morning anyway. I knew every fish under every rock for a three mile stretch at least. To some this sounds like a lie however anyone who grew up near a creek, crick, or river probably has the same story. Elementary school was about a mile away along this same creek, my brothers and I came to class late and soaking wet nearly every day, even in winter. I have fond memories of many of the games mentioned above from time spent in and around this creek. No matter what was going on in the world we had this creek, we lived in reference to it, all things were measured by it.
No matter where I end up in life I know that creek forged a part of my character.

Once a river rat always a river rat…..

As I was growing up in Michigan, I too had a creek like that to play in. Being a temporarily misplaced Southerner, I called it a “creek” but my friends called it a “crick.” (We also taught each other a new phrase: “y”all guys.”) In the summer, we caught fish (large minnows) on string, safety pins, and Mom’s leftover pie dough. We tried to ride our bicycles full-tilt down the creek bank and across a log to get to the other side, without falling off the bikes or into the creek. We never did. One of us broke an arm, but new games arose to replace that one. In the winter, we cleared the creek with shovels and ice-skated on it as best we could, staying out til our toes were numb with cold. I can still feel that cold and the sting as toes and fingers rewarmed.

Thanks, Gene, for jostling up these happy memories!

My brothers,sister and I grew up playing ‘down at the creek’. We were blessed with a big grove of witch hazel trees through which we cleared paths and built forts out of old fence posts. Flat rocks from the creek bed allowed us to even have some ‘pavement’ in places. Ma always knew where to find us (when we weren’t working in the fields) and it was close enough that a mighty motherly holler could bring us running up the pasture.
When my wife and I looked at our house-to-be, the two things that sold us was the fireplace in the center of the house and the beautiful creek meandering through the woods that covered most of the 5 acres. My three kids grew up along that creek, just as I did on the farm. Now the grandkids head down there to wade and throw rocks and seek out crayfish. I like to just sit there, in the shade of the beech and hemlock, and watch the birds and squirrels – a pastime befitting an old Grandpa I guess. I’ve always insisted that I prefer to die on my little bit of land, and by the creek would be a most fitting place to go rest in peace.
Thank you Gene for making us think of what really matters in this life. May you wander the crick for many years to come.

Your creekside stalking reminds me of a quote by the great educator, Luther Burbank:
“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.”

Our little creek wasn’t big enough to do much in so one summer the six of us got the idea to dam it up. We worked for weeks plugging this hole and that one until we had a spot about six feet in diameter and four feet deep. We thought it was the best thing ever! We must have done a good job too as it is still there sixty years later. We spent many an hour in that water hole and collected our share of crawdads for supper too.
I used to put a big metal tub on the porch in summer for my grandkids to play in when they were little. Without knowing it I trained them to have a friend in water.
Nowadays my grandchildren have a pretty nice creek down the road half a mile and I worry about the chemicals from the farming around it and how it might harm them.
Despite that I don’t stop them. The memories they make there will be treasured for the rest of their lives. It supports them when nobody else will, plays with them when they are alone and gives them a peaceful place to sit and appreciate the world around them.

I only lived by a tiny creek – rivulet, really — until I was about 7. Spend so many hours there building dams, harvesting ‘spinach’ (some water plant, who knows what) for pretend meals, hiding from adults and so much more. It was wonderful!

As to the notion that humans are ‘just speeding up’ nature’s course… a fairly recent theory (backed by considerable research from chemistry & physics) is that humans have evolved consistent with the 2nd law of thermodynamics. We are hugely better at entropy-generation than any other species in the history of the world. I was gob-smacked when I first read but I’ve come to think it’s quite reasonable.

Consider, for example, that how rapidly we’re using up the earth’s stored energy in fossil fuels: It’ll take us maybe 200-400 years to burn up what it took 100s of millions of plant life to create. We bomb cities into oblivion in days, hours or now minutes, dissipating all the represented stored energy that those complex stored systems contain. And we expend lots more of energy (fuel, planes, missiles) doing so.

Now if that’s not ‘speeding up’ nature/entropy, I don’t know what is.

What I love about contrary farming (no matter how small or large) is our working to build complexity by living within the cycle of life/death, creation/dissipation. Or as Gene says, “Holy Shit.”

I have very fond memories of growing up in a valley with a crick running through it. Grandparents on both sides of me and about 6 square miles of personal playground. Dad and I would catch a few sunfish and cook them on an open campfire. I thought I was Daniel Boone. My grandmother would tie us kids with a long rope to a tree while she fished. At least we did not drown.
No toys, video games, phones, or TV…just fresh air, sunshine and playing till you could not play any longer….that is what kids need more of today.

Gene, you’ve brought back memories of some of the best times I had growing up in N.E. Ohio. A boy, a body of water, and an imagination were all that was needed for endless hours of entertainment. Later, my boys had much the same experience growing up in rural Missouri and California. Dams, rock fights, sailboats, crawfish hunting, it could all be done on our little “crick”. I suspect it still is in many places.

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