Pretty as it gets

Country Roads

What do you call those little tributaries that flow through Iowa’s countryside? Poets call them brooks and streams. In some parts of the country they are referred to as branches, kills or runs. I’ve also seen them described as gills, rills, rivulets and freshets. The most common term, I suppose, is creeks. I grew up calling them cricks.

Cricks are among my favorite works of nature. A nice crick… er, creek… trickled through a pasture east of my maternal grandparents’ rural home in Grundy County. Against our parents’ wishes, we cousins walked up the gravel road to a bridge, slipped off our shoes and socks and waded in the cool, shallow water below.

A picturesque Buffalo Creek ran through a pasture on my paternal grandparents’ farm in Kossuth County. I don’t recall ever wading there but I fondly recall Opa’s herd of Holsteins grazing along the creek.

My cousin, Keith, is nearly eight years older than I am so I thought I was a big shot when he invited me, at age 5, to go wading with him in the creek which ran through Uncle Harold’s farm in Hamilton County.

The summer I was 13 we lived on a farm a half mile south of Uncle Harold’s place. Several acres of timber stood north of the house and a peaceful pasture rolled to the west. The creek which ran through Uncle Harold’s farm continued through this timber and pasture. It provided hours of entertainment.

One afternoon, I recall, Harold and Larry ̶ neighbor kids from just up our gravel road ̶ walked to our place and joined my brothers and me in constructing a dam across the creek. Like busy little beavers we spent hours hauling tree branches, rocks and other debris to the dam site in hopes of building a pool of water large enough to play in. Alas, none of us were engineers and we were disappointed the next day when we saw that our dam had been washed out.

When winter came, I bought some steel traps from my buddy, Wayne, who helped me set up a trapline along the creek. Though I checked my traps religiously, I was not a successful trapper. I caught only one muskrat that season.

One frigid morning, however, I got my money’s worth of thrills from the trapping project. While checking my traps and crossing the frozen creek, I broke through the ice and fell onto my rump. Icy water soaked my clothing up to my chest. I scrambled out of the water and ran for the house, nearly a quarter mile uphill away. By the time I reached the house I was so cold I ached. The cob-burning cook stove in the kitchen never felt as good as it did that day. A tub of warm water felt even better.

Later that winter I inherited a pair of hand-me-down ice skates and used the creek for a skating rink. The narrow stream had not frozen smoothly so the surface was rough. My lack of grace and agility added to the difficulty as did a constant worry about breaking through the ice again.

The creek crossed the road just north of our farm drive. During the summer I often waited at the bridge for Dad to return home from work. Chances were good that Dad would let me slip behind the steering wheel and drive the car up our quarter-mile lane. A 13-year-old boy can kill a lot of time waiting for a chance to drive by simply dropping stones into a creek.

One day something irritated me while I was dropping stones from the bridge and I barked out a profanity. At that instant a tiny insect flew into my mouth and stung my tongue. Coincidence or Providence? I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t cuss again for a while.

I’ve seen the mountains and the dessert and rivers both large and small. I’ve admired the ocean and the high plains as well as forests, swamps and caves. As Louis Armstrong sang, “What a wonderful world!”

Among my favorite pieces of God’s handiwork, however, is a gurgling crick meandering through a rolling green pasture dotted with stands of shade trees. Add a summer sun, a few cottony clouds in an azure sky and a herd of Holstein cows and… well, that’s about as pretty as it gets.


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