In the creeks of Alabama, life is easy…life is simple…life is fun. Feeling the cold rush of the clear water over your feet feels right…and feels like Alabama. Feels like happiness.
We walk the path to our favorite rock bar…(sometimes it is a sand bar if you are lucky) We descend down the natural steps of the overhanging tree roots worn away by the rise and fall of the water and the tread of past visitors. The water is perfect today – not too high and not too low. I was happy.
“Look momma a frog!!” my 8-year-old daughter screams and beckons me to come over, squealing with excitement as if she has never seen a frog before. My 11-year-old son runs over “Where????…. I am gonna catch it!” “You better not,” I warn him “He’s sitting under a poison ivy vine now. Remember ‘Leaves of three, let it be.’ ” We all watch the frog hop away. I smiled. They were happy.
My son is skipping rocks and trying to throw one all the way across to the other bank while my daughter hunts for what we call “heart rocks” – rocks shaped like hearts. She yells for me to see the heart rock she found and the mussel shells that open to look like a butterfly. Later we walk down the rock bar a ways and find a beautiful white flowering vine. It’s a wild rose and it is elegant and makes the creek visit even more enchanting. We breathe in their scent and smile. We are happy.
We walk in the ice-cold water. The sun burning hot on our backs. No swimming today. It is a short visit…just enough to reset our digital day-to-day lives and let our stresses wash downstream. My phone has just enough signal for an emergency call to go through if needed. Not enough for social media notifications. I breathe in the fresh air and listen to the water flowing, my children splashing and playing, and I am happy. After all, I’m in a creek in Alabama, why wouldn’t I be?
As we begin our walk back, the kids are tired but it’s the “good tired.” The kind where your body is relaxed and whatever the next thing you put in your mouth is the best thing you have ever tasted. We are happy.
I flashback to my days at the different creeks when I was younger. For three years, each summer a group of us would set out for 4 days and 3 nights of canoeing down the creek. We packed a cooler full of frozen water bottles, frozen meals, snacks, a couple of changes of clothes, and plenty of bug spray. We loaded the coolers into the 2 person canoes and hit the water. No phones because they were not invented yet… Could I let my kids do that in the future? Would I be able to handle them not being accessible? Me not knowing where they were? How did my parents do it? Has my parenting evolved into this super protective state or has the world gotten that much scarier in the past 25 years? Maybe it’s a little of both? I dismiss those thoughts… they don’t make me happy.
I think back to swinging off the tattered rope swing hanging from the tree that we came upon during our creek camping trip. I climbed really high in the tree and went for it. Soaring through the air, the wind blowing my hair, I could see the tops of the trees. It is simultaneous fear, joy and adrenaline as gravity takes over. My body fell deep into the ice cold creek. I see the bubbles and notice the eerie silence. As I came up I felt my ear pop. Pain. It ached for the rest of the trip. I paid it no mind because I was having so much fun. I climb to jump again. I was happy.
I think back to my canoe partner and I losing control around a curve and cutting into the steep bank. The overhanging trees scratching us up as we try desperately to paddle our way out. I look up into the branches. Two water snakes stare us down directly above us. Somehow I pray and yell for my partner to paddle to the right at the same time. Those snakes must have thought we were crazy! Once we are in the clear we laugh until we cry. I was happy.
I think back to the marvelous stars above our heads at night. None dimmed by city lights. The campfire crackles nearby. The darkness feels like a big blanket over us. That same tired feeling hits. My hobo dinner of ground beef and vegetables wrapped in tin foil cooked over the fire was the best thing I ever tasted. We sat and talked about silly things and serious things. It was a great conversation. I laid my head down to go to sleep. It’s easy despite all the strange noises from the woods behind us. I was “good tired.” I was happy.
I think back to the mud fights…The next morning we set out bright and early. By the middle of the morning our long line of canoes round the bend to find the perfect mud for a mud fight. We don’t get a lot of snow in Alabama but we can find some glorious mud in the creeks of Alabama. We dodge and duck and scream and throw. The simplicity and excitement of the hurling balls of dirt and clay are exhilarating. Exhausted, we rinse off in the ice-cold water and have a snack. I was happy.
My mind flashes forward to taking my now older children to the creek as babies. Such sweet memories. My son was 4 and my daughter was barely one. They played in the sand bar of a creek in the middle of downtown Prattville. The banks are mowed and clean. Sand is imported so they have a safe place to play. He lays his head down on a towel with his bareback on the warm sand. “I’m gonna take a nap momma” It is the good tired. We are happy. Time moves too fast and my heart aches and swells at the same time.
I could tell you story after story of my fun in the creeks of Alabama. Randomly, day-to-day life will trigger a memory and I will smile… if you have ever spent time in a creek you understand. The carefree simplicity of time spent near moving water.
We are happy in the creeks of Alabama.