Friday, October 1, 2010

Schroeder Creek: Julie Arndt Place Essay

I'm home for the weekend and already I am bored with my surroundings. Everything in the house is the same as it always is. My mother is cooking away in the kitchen while she casually spies on the neighbors, commenting on their numerous misdeeds. My dad is sleeping in his chair with the sound on the television up as loud as it can go, and with surround sound the house shakes every time there is a battle scene in the history show that he is "watching". I have to get away from this monotonous and lackluster scene, so I quietly slip into my flip flops, go out the back door, and stroll across the backyard to the creek that flows at the end of the grass. I jump across the creek using the trusty boulders that peek out of the water like icebergs. From there I walk to the overhanging roots of the tree and take a seat in one of the best chairs I've ever had the fortune to sit on. This is not just a space in which I happen to come occasionally to see the pretty sights; this is the place I used to come to everyday when I was a child. A place where I could do anything or absolutely nothing, and it never lost its appeal.

There are two ways one could describe the creek and the surrounding woods; either a space or a place. Space, as defined by Hubbard, is "characterized by velocity, heterogeneity, and flow" (43). Place, however, is defined by Hubbard as "bounded and meaningful" (43). With these definitions in mind, I would choose to describe the creek as a place, or specifically, "my" place. To some this area is just a space in which wildlife grows and flourishes, a space in which the local children go to get messy and full of bug bites and poison ivy. To me, this is a place where I could go to be alone, to be with friends, to plan adventures and be free from the constraints of the rules of adult society.

Perhaps it would be prudent to describe more fully the place that I like to call mine. The creek divides my backyard and the Schroeder Farm. The tree on which I sit is just within the limits of the farmer's property. The roots had grown deep into the bank of the creek and with years of erosion from the constant flow of water, the roots were exposed. The tips of the roots turned right and grew back into the earth, which left an expanse of roots that were sturdy and quite comfortable; creating the perfect sitting spot. I sit among the roots and dip my feet in the water as I watch the little minnows swim to and fro. The wind picks up, rustling the boughs of the trees and I can smell the wildflowers that grow on the banks of the creek. The quiet whispers of the leaves and sweet smell brings memories of the summers I used to spend here with my friends, gallivanting in the creek and the woods. The sunshine peeks through the leaves and branches of the trees lining the water that create an enclosed but free little world.

As I sit musing, the cows grazing in the pasture behind get curious and come over to greet me. I used to observe these cows a great deal when I was younger, as they are strange creatures. There is always an adventurous cow or two that would come over with the calves to see what I was up to. I loved watching them grow from little calves that could barely run without falling over to fat cows that basked in the sunny pasture all day. These creatures are so simple in their day to day lives. Their only tasks for the day are to graze and sleep and, if I just happened to be there, they come and stare at me with their big, docile eyes hardly blinking, while chewing on cud and, occasionally, look longingly at the creek. At one time, I believe the fence that divides their pasture from the creek and my backyard was nonexistent and these cows would have been able to bathe in the cool creek water, but the development of my neighborhood has cut them away from that.

Scanning the water below me, I search for any poisonous snakes or snapping turtles that may take a liking to my flesh and, finding none, I jump into the creek. Now the water in this part of the creek is about five feet deep, one of the deepest parts of the stream, and it is the best spot to swim. My friends and I would swim here as children when the Missouri summer would become too much to bear. We would splash each other and a brave few (I was always too afraid to do this myself) would climb to the first limb of the tree and cannonball in; an impressive feat as the limb was extremely difficult to climb onto as it was six feet up the trunk of the tree. We would imagine that we had the spirit of Huckleberry Finn, wanting to be outdoors and having the freedom that we always desired. We would swim all day and, to dry off, we would go back to sitting on the tree root, warming ourselves in the sun and letting the soft summer breeze sweep over us without a care in the world.

The root chair was also the best spot to catch the local wildlife. My friends had a fascination with the mudpuppies and crawdads that hid at the bottom of the water. We would watch out for anything that moved on the floor of the creek, and if we were lucky, we could catch the mudpuppies as they tried to scamper out of their holes to fetch food. My friends would try to take them home in a tank, but I could never bring myself to entrap one of these strange animals. Mudpuppies are a type of salamander that live in Missouri creeks and, in a way, they were cute with their flat bodies and the fringed gills. They deserved to live out their lives in the peaceful creek that was their home, where they were free, not in a water tank to be stared and poked at my small children. I have to say I have liberated a fair share of mudpuppies from the greedy hands of my friends.

As I muse on the memories I have of this spot, I realize how much of it is no longer there. The developing community has taken its toll on the creek. Houses were built right along the creek, and in order to stop the flooding that occurs every year in spring due to the rainstorms, the city widened the creek. They have taken out many trees and plants that were essential to the ecosystem of creek life. I no longer see the animals that once gave me joy to see, though the cows still come up to say hello, and I am glad that part has not changed. My tree is still there, the roots still providing rest to anyone who searches for it. This little part is still enclosed from the outside world, but the outside world has grown bigger while this one grew smaller.

There is no way I could ever think of this as a simple space. This place is too complex and holds too much to ever be that simple. Even with all of the changes that have occurred since my childhood, I still consider this creek, this tree to be "my" place, as it holds my memories and my adventurous spirit; it still gives me the freedom that I desire. I am as much of a part of this place as is the tree, the cows, and the ever present creek.

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