I did a bit of creek walking on my trip to the Midwest.
Creek walking is something I rarely do. There’s a part of me that feels it’s a little bit naughty to go creek walking.
When you creek walk, you get your shoes wet. Unless you take them off, which is childish and dangerous.
You might slip on the rocks, spraining an ankle or cutting a gash in your head.
There’s icky stuff in the creek: leeches, litter, runoff from crops and roads. I bring my own ick to the creek: suntan lotion, bug spray. So I suppose it’s a wash.
Creek walking is best done with a friend, on their home trail. It removes my wariness about exploring, leaving room to pay attention to the facts and stories of the land.
I did a tiny creek walk with my friend Laura in Kansas City. It was on a forested, urban trail, four miles out and back. We walked two miles on a gentle slope down to the creek where we had our picnic lunch. The creek is low this time of year. We didn’t walk it except to stand in the waterflow a bit, and to cross where stepping stones had been laid.
Later in the week, I went to Ledges State Park with some new friends, Ed and Diane, whom I met through my sister.
Diane is an experienced creek walker. I followed her lead as she waded into the middle of the creek and walked upstream through a narrow, bending canyon. Diane’s dog Snickers romped and splashed ahead.
The sandstone cliffs are cool to the touch. There are ledges and nooks along the length of the 100 foot walls, beckoningly arranged to entice human climbers up from the creekbed. I imagine Huckleberry Finn on the run in a place like this.
Diane shows me where large chunks of rock broke off the canyon wall and fell into the creek. Then she points out the tiny cracks in the rock, cracks that grow with each winter’s freeze. We ponder which piece of the wall will fall next.
As we walk throughout the park, emitting from canyons and cliffs at steady intervals, we hear the shouts and screams of children playing.
It’s not the sound of tag, or a ballgame, or a swimming pool. It’s the “screee” and “whoop” and “splashhhh” that you hear at a waterpark.
The low spots of the Ledges State Park Road make an informal splash feature. Cement blocks line the road where it crosses the water. This wall fails its purpose of containing the creek, but succeeds grandly in entertaining the children.
They line up in great anticipation, crawling, standing, or jumping on the wall, cajoling traffic to go fast and make big splashes.
One after another, cars slow down. The drivers do a quick check to make sure the children are settled. They gun their engines dramatically before accelerating through the water to create as much splash as possible.
Every splash is a shock, evoking cheers and whoops and cries for more.
There’s a special tiredness generated when I’ve spent the day outside. The smell of sun and dirt stays with me, as does the feel of stone and dirt and water. My ears ring with the delighted shrieks of children, getting away with doing something just a little bit naughty, with adults and nature playing along.