Many years ago, when my imagination ran wild, our family went to visit the beautiful home of our grandparents in Greenbay, Wisconsin. We would venture here once a year, zigzagging across the Midwest. I always looked forward to these trips out east. I don’t think I knew it then, but leaving the city was a feeling of great joy.
It was very hot in Wisconsin during the summer months, steadily becoming so throughout the day, lasting long into the night. Our grandparents had a pool, where we spent most of our days playing. But, when we grew tired of the splashing and chlorine, my sister and I ventured out to explore what was beyond the pool, beyond our grandparent’s property. Our grandparents lived out in the county; ranch land, where my grandfather raises horses.
I can remember hearing cicadas during the heat of the day, and frogs and toads chirping and croaking as evening settled into the night. My sister and I knew of a nearby creek, but never went to investigate. One day, an especially hot day, we snuck away from the eyes of our lounging parents to see if we could catch some toads by the creek.
We had to cross the main road, and hike down a steep slope before we could get to the creek. My sister and I liked to adventure together. We came for the toads, finding them almost immediately. We could catch them, look at them, throw them, and catch them again. The cruel hands of a curious child.
We soon grew tired of the toads, they could only offer so much to us with their slimy skin and blank stares. The sun grew high, and was beating down on us heavily. I motioned to my sister to start heading back to the house, but it looked like she had other plans of her own. The creek was shallow, with barely a current. We were standing on either end, trying to avoid getting our shoes wet. My sister however, started to take her shoes off. I watched her with curiosity, and asked her what she was doing. She told me she was getting in the creek, and asked if I was coming. I wasn’t sure. The water was dark, murky, and mysterious. My sister slipped her feet in and called out with exhilaration, “oh you have to try this, it feels really good!”
I soon found myself envying her joy, and without hesitation, flung off my shoes and followed her into the muddy creek. She was right , it did feel good, distracting me from the heat of the sun.
My sister was more of an adventure seeker than I was, and probably still is today. Her excitement over stepping into muddy water amped her up, and she began to move up the stream. I followed behind, trying to keep up.
“Lets see how far up the creek we can go,” she dared. At first, I was just relieved to be out of the sweltering heat, for now we entered an understory shade covering us all around. I looked behind us, and could barely make out the little chute we came down from the road. I hesitated and looked back. I could still hear the traffic not far behind. My sister continued on, looking back to see if I was still following. Her glance was like a command to follow. The creek grew deeper as we inched along. I was holding my shoes in my hands, and tried to keep my shorts from touching the water. As the creek grew deeper, so it broadened.
By now the sound of birds singing and insects buzzing drowned at any sign of cars. Before I knew it, we had left civilization behind, and were knee deep in the messy, mucky wild. I felt thrilled, pushing forward alongside my sister. It felt like hours had gone by. Maybe they had. The creek kept going and going. We had forgotten about where we had come from, only focused on what lay ahead. It felt as if we may have been the first ones to ever explore this creek. We would seek out the farthest point we could see and trudge along, evermore curious about what may be around the corner. Where would this creek take us?
We naturally started to act the role of explorers on a dangerous safari into the unknown. I suppose this was not too far from the truth, except that the only equipment we had were the shoes on our hands. We had escaped from the world we once knew, and now existed somewhere magical. There was no turning back now. The farther we went, the wilder we became, the more we crouched, the wider our eyes grew, the more our ears perked up. Our breathing was heavy, as we helped each other over slippery snags and under protruding alder branches. We were adapting to our new environment. The adrenaline of a new and unfamiliar place had settled into our coursing bodies. I was no longer thinking, just acting through patterned motions, step by step, branch by branch.
Suddenly, my sister stopped, stooping low. She beckoned me to be silent. I stopped momentarily; holding my breath, then slowly waded over to her. She was listening, so I listened too. There were voices coming from ahead. Human voices. My hearted started to race. I sensed danger. I was swept back into reality. Where were we? How far had we come? Were we on someone’s property? Were we intruding? As we grew used to the voices, dim and muffled, I broke the silence by asking what we should do. Which could have been translated as, should we keep going? Neither of us wished to turn around, after making it so far. We wanted to find the end of the creek, or at least some sort of end, or change, or conclusion.
My sister crept forward, signaling me to follow. She whispered for me to go slowly and cautiously. I wadded alongside her as sneakily as possible. The voices were getting louder and clearer. It sounded like they were coming and going. Pulsing. Moving. I grew excited. What would be the result of this? Would we encounter others in the creek? Would we come up to someone’s home? Was there an opening? This whole time we had been in the thick alder brush, scratches across our bodies to prove it. We brushed away a few more branches and revealed in front of us was a bridge, a small bridge, with people walking across. Families walked across. My sister and I looked at each other, puzzled, and then looked back at the bridge. We clambered up the side, out of the creek for the first time since we entered. I noticed how muddy I was, but not caring too much. Where were we? The bridge looked familiar and as we made it up to the path, I realized we were standing in the park near my grandparent’s house. I had been here before! My sister realized it too, and we became excited together. We had found our destination, without knowing what it was, or where it was.
With shoes in hand, and mud up to my thighs, my sister and I walked back down to the familiar wetness and coolness of the shaded creek, our new way home.