Friday, January 05, 2007

Big Creek

At Christmas dinner we were talking about old childhood friends and my brother Tim mentioned Big Creek. I hadn’t thought about Big Creek in years. It brought back a lot of great memories.

Across the street from my childhood home and tucked behind the homes that lined the southern portion of my block was a wonderful woods. I spent many of my childhood days roaming through that woods. It wound around the perimeter of my neighborhood and stretched for several miles in a southerly direction. There also was a place where it bent and headed northward. It practically stretched from one graveyard in one city to another one about five miles away and ran past a golf course.

The woods did not have a name. However tucked within was Big Creek. It was a tributary of the Licking River that supported all sorts of wonderful woodland life that a boy could pick up and enjoy. As it trickled towards the woods near my home the creek became much smaller. And of course the smaller portion was called Little Creek. Between the two was a slight waterfall. It was given the name Clay Falls.

Within the creek's questionable waters dwelt crayfish, frogs, salamanders, water skeeter, snakes and assorted creepy-crawlies that hid under damp rocks. These woods were home to deer, fox, squirrel, chipmunks, rabbits and racoon. All were vying for safe haven to hide from the likes of us wild little screaming kids that would run through the woods playing Indian or Tarzan.

The tree were put there for climbing and hiding from your friends. You could carve your initials or pictures in the bark. The best fun was swinging on the vines. There were never a shortage of vines of one type or another that were tangled in the trees. They were plenty strong to hold the weight of an 80 pound Tarzan or an even tinier Jane. Some of the vines were strategically placed over a portion of the creek, so that you could swing across to the other side.

When I was 8 or 9 years old I knew no fear. At 57 year, you couldn’t get me up on a roof now, but as a boy I would scale tree tops with no thought of falling. I could swing on vines with no care of the limb breaking or giving out. I would pick up all manner of wee, nasty beasts with the recklessness of the Crocodile Hunter. As a matter of fact we did have a pet crocodile, but I will save that for a later story.

There was all manner of wonderful junk that folks had been kind enough to dump in the woods just for the benefit of the neighborhood’s boys. What did we know about enviromental impact. It was treasure. We could find an old rusted coffee can that was perfect for holding crayfish or as we called them crawdads. Mostly these invertebrates were the little ones that wouldn’t hurt too much if they pinched you. Occasionally you would find a big one the size of a small lobster. These invertebrates were filthy. What did I care. I didn’t think about disease. We snatched them out of their habitat, took them home and set them on a shelf in our room until they began to stink too bad. At which time they mysteriously disappeared. The same held true for frogs, toads and snakes. We dragged them home to Mom to display our bounty along with some of the vile creek water in which they dwelt.
It appeared that Big Creek at one time held some sort of reservoir. Perhaps it was left over from some long forgotten WPA project. There was this large circular concrete structure that had been filled in with gravel. One side of it appeared to have sustained some damage.

As kids we thought perhaps it was bombed by enemy aircraft. Although I don’t think there were actually any air wars in the northern section of Kentucky. Although the Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio regularly flew overhead making sonic booms for their training excercises. After all, these were the Cold War years.

Not too far away was a rectangular cement structure that may have been some sort of holding tank.

I recall my good friend Danny Koenig cut his foot up pretty badly on some broken glass that was in the bottom of this tank. Why he was barefoot and walking through the nasty sludge, I don’t recall. He was quite concerned that he would contact typhoid fever. Danny ran home. The next time we spoke he had received a few stitches, some penicillin and a good bawling out by his folks.

Despite the punishment, Danny was grateful that he never contracted typhus. So was I. It would have been quite difficult to explain to my folks the origin of my best friend, Typhoid Danny.

Mostly it was us boys that would run amuck through the vines and trees and along the trails, but there were a few girls that were tomboys. And though the girls enjoyed the woods, they could not engage in impromptu pissing contests. This was the sport of men...uh or boys.

As we were modest around the ladies, the pissing contests mostly were held as designated stag events. One boy would announce that he had to take a leak and this was the queue for us to unzip and see what sort of stream you could produce. We never aimed at a target. The object was to be the guy that had the highest arc and the longest distance.

Without a doubt, the Roberts brothers, Mike and Dave, held the undefeated title of world class pissers. I swear they could produce an arc about 10 or 12 feet high and piss a distance of at least 20 feet. These guys had the strongest bladders ever.

Occasionally I watch the World's Strongest Man Competition on ESPN 2. For the life of me I don't know why they don't include a pissing competition? Ask any man and he will tell you that pissing outdoors is one of life’s great simple pleasures.

Tennie Komar and Debbie Tallon were tomboys that lived nearby. Tennie was my best buddy for a number of years and we would hang out in the woods. Mostly we walked and talked and made funny noises.

Tennie's Dad had built this wonderful treehouse between four or five elm trees that were in a grove behind their house. It was just a platform made from scrap lumber. He had put a railing around it and a ladder to climb up in it. Gosh that was a great place for kids to hang out, talk and dream.

Tennie’s dad was sort of a quiet introspective guy and it was not odd to see him walking through the woods. Even at the young age I attributed his quite demeanor to Tennie's mother. If you look under type A personalities in the dictionary you will there will be a picture of Mrs. Komar.

There was a time when our friend Jimmy Perry was visiting. He swang out on one of the best Tarzan vines over a ravine. Jimmy wasn't a large kid, but he was solid. The vine snapped and he went tumbling into the ravine and fractured his leg. Mr. Komar was called for and he carried Jimmy all the way back to his home and called for an ambulance. We were somewhat more cautious about the vines after this episode.

I suppose that I explored those woods as well as Daniel Boone explored the Cumberland Valley in the Southern part of the state. I knew every twist and turn of the creek, where every trail began and ended and how to find my way back home. It was in a day when the sky was so much clearer and the air was sweeter. These days I find myself suffering from poison ivy just by looking at the miserable weed. I have to shower after mowing the yard. But as a kid I was totally immune.

The biggest danger of Big Creek wasn't the wildlife, Tarzan vines, typhoid or weed poisoning. It was bullies. Around the corner from my house and halfway down that street were two guys named Rick that had a reputation for being mean to younger kids and me in particular.

As a young fellow I admit that I had a problem with my temper, but essentially I was a pacificist. I didn't care much for hurting other people. I was a friendly kid and I hoped that others would have the same attitude. It was a damned shame the Ricks didn't feel the same way. Occasionally they enjoyed pelting me with rocks or their fists. For the life of me, I don't know what I ever did to those guys.

One thing that helped me to allude The Ricks was the lesson that I learned from reading of a great childhood tome, Smokey The Bear. When danger was present, climb a tree.

I made great use of this strategy many times. It is amazing that people only see things at eye level. As long as you are very quiet you can see all manner of happenings from 20 feet up on a tree limb, even if you are not camoflauged. No one looks up.

I decided after our Christmas dinner to check the woods and Big Creek out via Google Earth. The airplane view that appeared on my computer screen showed how much the landscape had changed.
Today at the most distal southern end of Big Creek is I-275 and it's egress and exit in the area of Wilder Kentucky. Along the Western perimeter in Wilder is a new highway that leads to the AA Highway. Along this new road many businesses and industries have sprung up that did not exist in the 1960's. On the right side of that road behind the business is the Licking River.

I haven't walked through the woods but it's doubtful there is any longer a creek since the road and developements have long since blocked up the tributary. Along the Northern perimeter the Highland Country Club golf course has expanded and scores of condominiums have sprung up along Moock Road.

Big creek, the wild creatures, avoidance of disease, the pissing contests, tomboys and bullies all served as a microcosm of life as an adult. I won't subject you to the analogies and allusions. I leave them to your fertile imagination.

But you know there is still a good sized patch of woods across from Mom's home on the Eastern side of the creek. Although it does not cover the expanse that it did when I was when I was a child, it is a remnant of the way things used to be.

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