There were at least two important creeks running through the town where I grew up. One is famous and the other is not. The fame of the one rests on the Canadian Open and Glen Abbey Golf Course, a bright green-yellow golfing wonderland designed by Jack Nicklaus, but never (to my knowledge) conquered by him. Golfing fans across North America have seen that creek, giant trap for wayward golf balls, on their TVs. But the other creek, although quite a bit less grand in most ways, was “the Creek”. It wound rather weakly through an underdeveloped patch of green that broke up the streets of my neighbourhood and it was there that my friends and I were often waylaid on the way to and from school. There was something about that place, you see. It captured our imaginations. It was a place to explore and to have adventures. It was A Location, a place of power. It was a Wild Place, a microcosm of some vast and unexplored world.
The creek itself had carved a valley through the parkland, flowed under the streets through a series of corrugated metal tunnels (wide enough for three kids to walk side by side) and through yet another park before disappearing at the far end, gasping below into darkness. None of us really knew where it came from or where it went. Our creek, lined in places by walls made of caged stones, existed in a section of about four blocks, something of an anomaly when compared to the polite neighbourhood and orderly streets of our town. It was a wild place. In the summer, the flow of the creek was minimal in places, and the water was as warm as bath water, heated by the sun and with red clay banks that would harden and crumble beneath our shoes. It smelled of earth, of growing things, of leaves and slime. Across its surface, battalions of water striders stood guard, sliding this way and that as you moved your hand over it. Just beneath lurked crayfish, which some of us tried to catch. Minnows darted there too, unexpectedly in unison. Just up the incline to where the creek flowed, grew stocky, gnarled crab apple trees where a lot of kids had crab apple fights. Those round little apples were not soft!
In the winter, the creek froze and where it didn’t, the water ran black against the snow on the bank. The creek wasn’t deep on clear days and there would be clusters of kids down there, kicking at the ice with their plastic boots. We all loved that satisfying “crunch” of a boot heel against a pocket of thin ice, the shards skittering across the marble-hard surface of frozen water that was pocked with past attempts of the same pursuit. There were inevitable “soakers”, which I am pretty sure is a unique slang term invented in Canada for accidentally getting water in your boot, after trying something foolhardy. But soakers were as much a part of winter as Christmas, as aching ears and cheeks in the frosty wind, and March Break. Nothing could stop us from going down into the creek, except when it rained, and the creek ran fast and angry like blood, coloured that way because of the red clay bed it ran along. It was like seeing someone raging about some thing or other, and you know that it’s time just to keep your distance. As far as I know, the Creek never took any of us. But, on rainy days in the spring when the ice melted far up stream, past the invisible barriers of the last tunnel under Miller Road, it looked like it might try.
I saw the creek again last year. The underdeveloped park it moved through now has a paved walkway and a lamp. The creek itself is now shrouded by trees; it is hidden like a secret. It had been blocked the winter before and it had flooded the neighbourhood at one end, destroying at least one house, and a good deal of my collection of books and pictures that I had been storing at my Father’s place. I ventured down into the basement a number of weeks afterward as I had come home from England, where I was living at the time, to visit My Dad. The smell was there. That earthy smell things of growing, of earth of slime. It was The Creek, finding its way into the basement, and back into my nose where it had lived for a long time in years past. I supposed that I could live without some of the stuff that had been damaged. The Creek was an old friend. How could I really be mad?