Walking down the rough pavement of Van Buren Avenue and around the corner where the dogwoods bloomed, past the tall fragrant pines that lined Timmy’s yard and beyond the small pasture where the scent of wildflowers tantalized my nose, past the enormous willow tree which swayed in the gentle breeze, I reached the sanctuary I call Haven Creek. Despite my mother’s persistent warnings, my bare feet were often covered with calluses; the muddy banks of Haven Creek were no place for shoes. It was nearly impossible to see the creek from the road, and as far as I could tell, nobody ever went there, except for me. Alongside the ripples and currents of the burbling stream, large oaks stood tall, erect, and decorated by little acorns which looked down apprehensively, like baby sparrows in a nest, each eager to take wing on their first flight but ever fearful of failure. Stones and pebbles lined the shallow bottom and allowed the rippling water to glide in intricate patterns over their smooth glistening surfaces. Larger, moss-covered rocks and exposed roots dotted the banks. Sheltered by the protective canopy of the towering oaks, they provided the ideal location for a child to sit, watch, and wonder.
Haven Creek taught me much of the ideals to which I hold true; in a way, the gurgling stream was my mentor. Once, in the many eddies that lined the small rivulet, I discovered tadpoles. Their energetic nature fascinated me; it seemed as if they yearned to leave their confined eddies and venture into the unknown. And so, cupped hands and an empty coffee can aided me in clumsily liberating some of the more slothful individuals. With my muddy hands and knees, I promptly ran home into the kitchen upon which I set the can on the table and watched them on a daily basis as they developed into tiny frogs. I was astonished by what was taking place before my eyes, but new questions constantly puzzled me. Dad was usually responsible for satiating these curiosities. He told me about metamorphosis and how other creatures lived in the water, too small for my eye to see. Unfortunately for him, this would further stimulate my imagination and I would often bombard him with more inquires.
Near the burbling creek, my mind was free to wonder. I remember sitting on a mossy rock and watching birds, often pretending I was one myself. As I lay with closed eyes on the soft plushy moss, my imagination would often take flight. High above the matriarchal trees I would soar, looking down on Haven Creek from the pale azure heavens, I reveled in the boundless freedom I felt and deeply yearned for this to be reality. However, when my eyes flickered open, it was usually time to go home. As I ran the distance on callused feet, I would solemnly vow to myself, one day I would find a way to be as free as a bird.
I was always up for a challenge and the creek brought out my competitive side. My cousin and I used to leap from rock to rock, across the creek and back, in a kind of improvised hopscotch course that pitted our balance and agility against one another. He was four years my elder and I practiced down by the stream every morning while he was at school. Often I would slip, fall, and splatter mud on my face, but I would wipe the mud out of my eyes and continue jumping. On the rare occasions during which I outdid him, the intoxicating sensation of triumph painted a silly smirk on my face for the remainder of the day. But, I was always to return the next morning in order to better my rock leaping skills.
The stream was a frontier. Haven Creek extended far into the depths of the woods. I thought that if I followed the rivulet and ventured too far into the darkness of the woods, I might be consumed by it and never to be heard from again. Gradually overcoming my fears, I embarked on expeditions and drafted extensive maps using my father’s old compass, a red colored pencil, and plenty of licorice jelly beans to mark my trail. As my body grew in height and weight, my boundaries grew in extent and breadth. Years later, I happened to walk to a friend’s house by way of the creek. It occurred to me then, that what was once an expedition was now merely a shortcut.
Although I had left this stream behind, I found others: new questions and freedoms, new challenges and explorations. But Haven Creek will remain foremost in my memory; no matter what new stream, river, or ocean I might wade.