VERNON COUNTY - I’ve been wandering creeks since I was old enough to cross the street alone. There was rarely enough water in the creek by our home for my mom to have to worry about me getting hurt. Besides, by the time my mom let me cross the road, I knew how to swim.
My family’s home was located behind Hales Corners Park on the east coast of Wisconsin. The entrance to the park was a short blacktop road over a giant culvert with a meandering creek running underneath. To the left was a thick border of trees. On one side of the trees was manicured park grass and on the other a dirt slope leading down to the creek. The neighborhood gang and I played on the dirt side.
Now, I live near Wisconsin’s west coast. It wasn’t until after I’d started living on this property and hired a man with a brush hog to mow it that I noticed I had a creek out back, and also a natural spring.
The spring was a treasure, seeing as the house had no plumbing when I moved in. The blue tin cup I hung on a tree is still there. I used spring water for drinking and cooking, for watering plants and vegetables, for filling my shower bag and the dogs’ water bowl, and for cooling off on hot summer days. I rigged up a PVC pipe with one end in the spring and the other in a big galvanized trough to give the donkeys water, but on extremely hot days you could find me standing in that trough until I was numb.
Since the first of our 100-year floods ten years ago, the creek that I love has had as many faces as Sybil. Screaming and angry with the storms, calm and quiet in between. In fact, it gets so calm and quiet that if there’s been no rain for a while the water is hardly deep enough for a minnow to swim in.
The following year, with the second 100-year flood, my land along the creek tore loose and ran away with the water. The only tall, beautiful pine tree on my property went along for the ride. A few days after that second flood, Dane and I walked the creek looking for signs of the big pine, but there were none. The trough, a replacement for the one lost in the first flood, never turned up either. The trough from the first flood appeared in my driveway two years later with a note saying, “We thought this might belong to you.”
I was away from home for the 2007 flood and returned after the damage had been done, so I never actually witnessed the power of water until the flood of 2008. Standing in my rain gear and watching my quiet little creek become a raging torrent rushing over my land, carrying boulders, picnic tables, and whole trees, is something I will not forget.
A day or two later and barely a trickle of water again. Nature is fickle like that, and apparently getting more so in recent years.
Before our latest major flood (number four in the 17 years I’ve lived here), I decided to make better use of the small sliver of land that was still intact. I mowed a strip of grass to make a pathway to what I call the hidey hole. The hidey hole appeared compliments of flood number one, which dug a canyon across the county road I live on, about the width of a car and 16 feet deep, just 100 feet from my driveway. Eventually an enormous culvert was installed to replace the regular-sized one that had blown out. Now when the rains come it acts as a gigantic Super Soaker, forcing out mega-gallons of fast-moving water better than ever, and taking even more land with it. One positive result of this has been the creation of a wide pool where the water shoots out.
The PVC pipe from the spring has been washed out so many times now I’ve lost count, and these days the donkeys drink straight from the creek. But the hidey hole, a gift from the floods, provides for a lot of recreation. Most mornings, after everyone is fed, and while I'm still in my PJs, I head to the hidey hole, my critters parading along with me: the ducks and geese, the dogs, Téte and Finn, and even Louisa the pig. Just the other day, some human friends brought their grandson over for a visit, and both he and his father waded right in!
Maybe all of that creek playing I did as a child was to prepare me for the ever-changing creek that is mine now, for better or worse, low water or high. I’m big enough and my mom far enough away that no one need worry anymore. Unless, of course, we’re all a-splashing at the hidey hole, when another 100-year storm comes our way.