I remember the backyard of my childhood home. As a child, the yard was huge. There was a small stream, which we called a ` crick ',flowing along the northern boundary of my yard. It went dry during my adolescence. It dried up so gradually I did not at first notice its demise, but it did die. Yet life continued. There were some differences. The adults began calling it a ditch. I just figured it was all a part of growing up.
There was a time, though, when the creek was at its prime. Majestic monarch butterflies danced on the pleasant summer breeze. The deep bass calls of bullfrogs would resound among the poplar and the mulberry trees. Tadpoles would writhe around as if unable to create forward motion and then shoot away like bullets if another came too close. I and my brother would go wading and catch the crawdads thriving abundantly in the gently swirling current around the rocks and bends of the sandy realm of water. My sister never cared much for this pastime, but even at my young age, I knew girls were different and I just didn't give the matter much more attention than that simple conclusion.
Most of the time, the creek was placid and calm. But, when a contrary Kansas thunderstorm decided to unleash its fury, the creek could become a furious thing. Water would over flow its banks. Flooding of our neighbors' houses was not uncommon. Our house was on a rise. Only once do I recall the water level coming to within a six foot distance of threatening to flood our house. The water would recede as quickly as it would rise.
The day after a rather mild storm, I went out to survey my domain. The grass, which I was supposed to have mowed a couple of days earlier, was lying down in long streamers showing evidence of how high the water had come. I would have to mow it soon, but not until it dried out in another day or two.
The creek was already back to its normal trickle. The banks of the creek were about three feet higher than the bed. There was a bend in the creek at the east edge of our yard, parallel to the street. One block to the west, was what I called the start of the creek where it came out of a tunnel from under the Grade School playground. Two blocks further downstream, the creek entered another tunnel to go under the intersection of Oak and 1st Streets. I knew this tunnel to be less than a block or so because it came out again behind the Methodist Church yard. All the kids in my neighborhood knew about the hapless kid that had ventured to walk through this ominous cavern. He was never heard from again. Someday, I swore I was going to brave this challenge and solve the mysterious disappearance of a foolhardy soul. I never entertained the notion I might become trapped also, rather I was convinced I would find his skeleton caught somewhere inside in the impenetrable blackness. I just was not sure what I would do after I made the discovery. A proper burial, I was sure, would be one of the first things to do. Scoop Clark, of the Gazette, would be there to take pictures. The poor kid's parents, now older than my Granddad, would be there also. I would humbly accept their thanks and be the admiration of the whole town. Even Mr. Koontz, the town banker, would ask to shake my hand and have his picture taken with me.
But I would never attempt to enter the beginning of the tunnel. People said it started over by the swimming pool, but I didn't believe them. There was no creek over there for one thing, and for another, that would make the tunnel over a mile long and it would go under Sherman's forest. If that were true, all means of foul and hideous creatures would be lurking in the tunnel's depths. Some would surely wash out during a storm and I had never seen an unrecognizable scale, talon, wing, or body of any such unimaginable type critters. The mouth of the tunnel was simply the beginning of my creek and that was all I needed to know. I still checked for unidentifiable things after a rain though, just in case.
This day, there was a log, or really it was a small tree, lying across the stream. Maybe, I thought, it was washed here from Sherman's forest. It was caught in the roots of the old elm by its leafy end and its trunk was firmly wedged against the boulder jutting out on the far bank just before the bend. I could not budge it. The water was murky where it swirled coming under the tree in the main current. Being a cautious lad, I commenced throwing rocks at this area in the off chance there was something in those opaque eddies that preferred biting toes over eating crawdads.
After a few throws, I noticed the flow of water had slowed under the tree. With both hands, I started pushing sand up against the rocks and was able to stop the water from coming under the tree. I stood up and looked the situation over. It was obvious to me that the water would soon find its way around either end of this natural dam. It was going to be necessary to bury the entire tree with sand.
Glancing around, I spotted an old coffee can. It would make an excellent scoop. I first piled a few more rocks in the bigger gaps under the tree. Then I started shoveling with the can. I found it was necessary to scoop sand from both sides of my dam because there was a clay bottom about ten inches beneath the sand.
I heard someone call my name. Peering up at the house, I saw my Uncle Dale walking towards me. The water was beginning to pool up behind my crude dam. Uncle Dale saw what I was doing and asked if he could help. I said sure. He went to the work shed and returned with a spade, hoe, our snow shovel, and the dogís old blanket. He tossed everything to the ground, rolled up his pantís legs, pulled off his socks and shoes tossing them atop the blanket, grabbed the spade, and waded into the water beside me. Without a word, he began digging right into the clay I had exposed with my small can. In short order, the dam had taken on a life and shape all its own. It seemed to tower above the creek bed. It spanned the entire breadth of the creek from the old elm to the boulder. It was magnificent.
Uncle Dale went again to the work shed. While he was gone, I grabbed the hoe and cleaned up the base of our grand dam. I saw Uncle Dale coming back. He had a huge coil of rope draped over his shoulder. Walking purposefully to the opposite side of the creek, he gazes up at the boughs of the elm. He looks at the rope and then glances up again. He begins gathering a length of the rope into one hand. He is carefully looping it into almost symmetrical loops. After a couple of more glances up, he tosses the rope perfectly over a stout limb almost directly over the deep pool being held back by our dam. He tells me to wade out and bring him the ropeís end dangling over the water. I hand it to him and with a few deft flips of his wrists, he has tied a slip knot with it. He pulls the rope taunt, and cuts the rope with his pocket knife. He calls me over and tells me to stand atop the boulder. He tells me to reach as high as I can on the rope and then he ties another knot slightly higher then I could reach. Then he tells me to jump up and grab the knot. I do and he lets go of the rope. I laughed as I sailed though the air and splashed into the water. It had become a glorious day.