When the days get hot, I like to take a cooling wade along the shady banks of the river behind our house. Some would call this a creek or stream, and with the lack of rain this summer, it’s lower than normal and less deep. Regardless, the water is clear, cool and refreshing for wading.
Every year, the river changes depending on how the water carves the bed as it passes through. Floods create dramatic changes. Hurricane Irene eroded whole banks and reconstructed the landscape. Smaller floods create deep pools, which later will be filled up again. This year, the bed downstream has small stones, gravel and sandy flats that make walking so much easier than slipping over 5-6″ cobbles. A good year for wading!
There is a spot where the water has carved a hollow that is chest-deep. With a quick bend of the knees, I can completely submerge, giving me welcome relief from the heat.
It is peaceful here. I never see a soul, though the state highway passes not more than twenty feet from the bend. Foliage cloaks the banks, birds twitter and flit in and out searching for sustenance. I hear the ‘zee-zee’ call of cedar waxwings, the scolding cry of a catbird or the chittering of a belted kingfisher as it cruises upstream. Occasionally, a frog will plop in a quiet pool. I see animal tracks– deer, raccoon, mink and otter, letting me know that others use this river, too.
Little minnows nibble around my feet as I stir up sediment and debris with each step. Sometimes, I spy a crawfish, but mostly only pieces of them left behind after a critter has had a meal. Small invertebrates like caddisfly cling to stones and water striders skate the pools.
The stones themselves are interesting to look at. They have tumbled for eons, their sharp edges long since smoothed. I love the ones that have veins of quartz running through them or the perfectly round ones that feel smooth in my hand. Slices of gneiss make great skipping stones.
Occasionally, I find a treasure, a broken piece of pottery or piece of glass worn smooth.
Recently, tucked into the eddy formed behind a large stone, I discovered a 2-1/2″ shard from a Flow Blue dish. Flow Blue pottery dates from the early 1800’s, so it could be at least 150 years old. How long did it flow downstream to come to rest here for me to find?
I once found a piece of a Staffordshire plate with Franklin’s Moral Maxims printed on it, circa 1830’s. My kitchen windowsill is chock-full of finds and bowls overflow with broken pottery. Some day, perhaps I’ll make a mosaic out them.
Up until the creation of a central town dump site (after the internal combustion engine became commonplace), folks threw their junk ‘over the bank,’ which included the river for those living along side it. It may be the origin of the term, ‘to throw something away,’ because the river would carry a lot of it out of sight.
Behind most old houses there lies a midden of discards. As kids, we loved to hunt for treasure in one behind our house. Parents today would be horrified to see their children pawing through broken glass, rusty cans and wire, but we were careful and I don’t recall any of us being injured or getting tetanus. We proudly showed our found treasures to our mother, who was just happy that we were occupied and weren’t underfoot. But I digress.
Let’s go cool off at the river and see what we can find…