“Can we go down to the creek?” It was to be the first of many requests while we were on our recent visit to the grandchildren.
First, I need to clarify the word, “creek.” In reality it is a series of puddles. The deepest part is barely a foot deep. At the shallow end, it contains only a few inches of easily muddied water. The culvert that directs the creek under the road is damp and littered with rocks. I have never seen any water at all on the other side of the road.
Elephant ears grow wild on the edge of the first puddle, as do a tangle of unidentified weeds and trees. A downed tree provides an excuse to try out balance skills. Chunks of concrete and blacktop along the edges of the water are just big enough for preschoolers to heave into the mud. A hanging vine at the top of the creek bank easily holds children who swing on it.
The creek is approximately a city block from my daughter’s house, but I commanded, “Don’t walk in the middle of the street!” at least a dozen times per child every time we went down there.
The first day we went to the creek, three-year-old Nicholas exclaimed, “Minnows!” I thought it was unlikely that there were actually minnows, but figured they might have gotten stranded in the puddle. When Nicholas proclaimed, “I caught one!” I was surprised.
He brought his catch to me and I told him it wasn’t a minnow, it was a tadpole. There were clouds of tiny black tadpoles in the shallows. Nicholas and his brother, Jacob, caught several of the wiggly creatures. Unfortunately for the tadpoles, they insisted on bringing them home.
The next day we went back to the creek. Nicholas threw rocks at the alligators that live in the culvert. Nobody else could see the alligators, so Nicholas must have been successful at scaring them off.
The clouds of tadpoles were still there. Big sister, Emma, found an empty pop can and recycled it into a handy container to hold the wiggly polliwogs. The water soon muddied, giving the tadpoles a fighting chance to escape.
After we got back home, they dumped their catch into the horse trough. I assume the goldfish in the trough ate any tadpoles that survived the trip, as we never saw any swimming around.
A few days later we discovered that the amphibians were beginning to grow legs. I wondered how long it took for them to turn from tadpoles into frogs, but when I looked it up, all it said was that it depended on whether it was a toad or a frog and what kind. Plus, we had no idea how long they had been there before we found them.
By our last visit, about half of them were tiny black frogs. Nicholas continued to throw rocks at the alligators. Jacob picked a couple of the elephant ears and pretended to be an elephant. Emma used the elephant ears as rafts for the miniature frogs. They all took a last turn swinging on the vines.
After telling Nicholas to get out of the middle of the road, I grabbed the back of his shirt and hauled him to the side. Then I told the children to cut through the woods to go home. I thought this would keep them from getting run over.
The woods is an empty, overgrown lot next to my daughter’s house. It is strewn with trees and poison ivy. My son-in-law has tried his best to eliminate the poisonous vines from the path. Our trek through the woods was bittersweet as we were leaving for home the next day.
Our visit reminded me of all the times I begged my mom to go down to the creek when I was a little girl. I remember when my grandfather and I walked the fence line and discovered a hidden pond full of polliwogs. I wonder if our grandchildren will remember the tadpoles we found this year.
Even if they don’t, I will. Tadpoles, elephant ears and invisible alligators will always remind me of the innocence of children and the luxury of going down to the creek.