My heart pounded as my bare toes inched toward the edge of the steep ledge. I peered over the side, watching the water cascade down the eroded bank below me, and inhaled a slow, deep breath.
“Come on! Just jump already!” My older brother squinted up at me, hands propped on his hips, water up to his cut-off jeans.
My cousin, Cathy, crawled up the bank toward me on her hands and knees. “What if I jump with you?” Water dripped from her long, dark hair. I faked a smile and nodded. She positioned herself next to me, bent her knees and leaned forward. “Okay ready? One, two, three!” Cathy leaped off the edge, hugging her legs and plunging into the water with a loud splash. Her hair floated to the top; then she burst out of the water, looked up at me and shook her head.
“Next time,” I said, shrugging. I slid down the muddy bank and waded out into the water until it reached my chest.
The water hole was a great place for us kids to play on a hot summer day. It didn’t have ideal swimming conditions, but it was better than nothing. And it was definitely better than the cattle tank. My brother and I learned that lesson earlier that summer. We had finally accepted the fact that Dad would never buy us a pool, so we improvised by trying the cattle tank instead.
We didn’t mind the green gunk on the bottom of the tank. It held water, so it met our criteria. My brother crawled into the stagnant water first.
“Not bad,” he said, skimming some floating scum off the top. “Come on in.”
I crawled into the warm water, but soon realized that swimming in a galvanized cattle tank wasn’t a good idea. First, it stunk. Second, two kids in a 1,000-gallon, oblong tank didn’t leave much room for swimming. And third, it wasn’t worth the nasty ear infections we endured a few days later.
So the water hole became our preferred swimming spot. Sure, the water looked dingy, and snakes were always a possibility, but it was the closest thing we had to a pool on our family’s farm.
If only we could have a pool like our cousins from Peoria. They didn’t have to trek through the pasture, dodging sticker bushes and protective mama cows just to go for a swim. They could take one step outside their door and dive into a refreshing, sparkling-blue pool. They were so lucky. Their pool smelled clean, like chlorine. Ours smelled like mud. They had inflatable pool toys. We had bullfrogs. To us, the Peoria cousins had a backyard paradise.
That’s why, when they came to visit a few weeks later, we were shocked when they wanted to see our creek. Why would they care about our cruddy creek when they had a beautiful pool in their own backyard? Even more shocking, they loved it.
At first, they stood along the bank; tossing sticks and leaves into the water and watching them roll swiftly downstream. But the temptation became too great. Before long, they kicked off their shoes and waded into the shallow end. They tromped through the water, occasionally stopping to lean over and examine an interesting rock or watch a water bug zip across the surface. Sometimes they scooped their hands underwater, trying to catch a tiny, silver minnow racing around their legs. Within minutes they were kicking and splashing, and drenching each other with water and mud.
“You are so lucky,” one cousin said, giggling as the cool mud oozed between her toes. “I wish we had a creek.”
Suddenly, I saw our old creek in a brand-new way. After all, it offered adventures no pool could provide. At the creek, we explored all sorts of rocks, plants and creek critters. We learned about strategy and determination while capturing slippery frogs in mid-jump. We didn’t need chlorine and pool toys. We had waterfalls and mud slides.
Maybe our creek wasn’t so bad after all. It wasn’t a pool, but it was still pretty fun. Maybe our cousins were right. Maybe we were the lucky ones.
(As printed in Farm and Ranch Living Magazine June / July 2013)