After the long baking walk across the drought-crisp field, the air of the creek greets us like, well, like a breath of fresh air. A deep inhalation of the water-cooled air on the shady creek bank suddenly makes those ubiquitous yoga t-shirts make sense: breathe. Ah, yes. The heat in the field has worked everyone into not just bodily sweat, but into anxious and cranky mindset, which instantly lifts under the cool sated trees. We savor one more gulp of calm, then plunge in, ankle-deep in clear cold ripples, mud clouds billowing up under our heels, minnows and crawdads shooting away from our footfalls.
My sons explore the creek with reckless little-boy abandon, not yet having internalized my stuffed-down maternal fears of snapping turtles and copperheads. They earnestly construct piles of stones and rotting leaves to dam off channels between platforms of rock, watching with fascination their own power to affect the water’s route. Sunlight, bright through summer’s lace of leaves, dances madly on the pebbles beneath the surface. A fish appears, slides into shadow. A pencil-thin snake shimmers red-brown against the long grass leaning down into the water. The boys splash after him, scaring him off in their attempts to get a closer look.
I grew up here, the creek my source of private sanctuary for the difficulties of childhood, a place to hide within deep banks, its calm coolness a balm to troubled mind or heart. I come back to this Tennessee valley now each year; each year I unexpectedly receive this healing again. The creek is still here. It has not run dry even with the overdevelopment of the surrounding former farmland, even with the hot dry summer after hot dry summer accumulating. The heron who astounded with his wide span floating between the close banks has gone, but look, the hawks are still perched on the dead trees in the fencerows above the banks. Deer tracks and raccoon prints draw a festive calligraphy along the water’s edge. My children will know this place the way I know it, from before memory begins. Their as yet unblemished faces expose a pure joy in connecting their bodies with this creek.
The creek does not cure my deep anxieties about the changed world my children will live in, but it does give me a moment to feel that it perhaps all is not lost. The small power that they discover today in seeing themselves change the water’s flow will grow with them, and I pray that power will be guided by the love of this place, of clean water and animal tracks and cool green shade. May the creek still be here for them to watch their children disappear around the next curve, curious and safe. May they seek sanctuary here, and breathe.