My brother announced after dinner that he was going to walk to the woods on our farm’s back forty. I excitedly begged, “Take me with you! Please? I promise to keep up.” Being nine-years-old, I no longer needed to be carried home as I did when I was five.
Moments later, equipped with apples to munch on, we left the muddy cow yard and turned down the cow lane. Wide enough for a tractor and farm wagon, this long narrow fenced area served as an alley for cows who wanted to go from the barn on our front forty acres to the woodlot on the back forty. A lush corn-field bordered the fence on one side and an oat field on the other.
I stopped to admire the yellow flowers of a tall, fuzzy-leafed mullein gently swaying in the breeze next to one of the fence posts. A red-winged black-bird swooped low overhead, scolding excitedly. My brother explained, “He has a nest nearby and doesn’t like how close we are. Let’s move on!”
I ducked and ran, swatting the air overhead in case the crazed bird tried to peck me. By the time we were several yards away, the bird had calmed down.
When we crested the hill, we saw the small creek with our field and woods lying beyond. I wasn’t as interested in visiting the woods as I was in visiting the creek’s two crossing spots. As I walked, I stared at the stream of water. My brother snapped, “Watch your step! You almost stepped into a cow pie!”
Glancing down, I noticed a clod of manure sticking to one of my shoes from an earlier misstep. Changing the topic, I said, “Sister Florence told my class that we aren’t supposed to call that trickle of water a crick. Saying creek sounds so stupid, though. The same thing goes for saying roof, instead of ruf!” My brother hummed noncommittally to my rant.
Leaving the cow lane, we waded waist-deep though swamp grass. I knew from experience not to grab these grass blades to break some off. They were sharp and would cut my hands.
A long pile of rock ran alongside the approach to the creek where the cows liked to cross. My brother reminisced, “Once, when one of the calves died, I buried it in this pile.” I eyed the great heap of stones, knowing the truth of his words. I’d played here other summers and had found bare, bleached bones.
Reaching the creek, I leaned over the water and saw small minnows darting around in the hoof-pocked bed. Two blue-green dragon flies took turns chasing each other, stopping to rest occasionally on tufts of grass growing along the water. A frog, submerged except for his eyes, blinked lazily.
I’d seen the cows on hot summer evenings standing mid-stream here, drinking. The cool water must have made their legs and bags feel good. Today, none of the cows were anywhere in sight. They were probably all lounging in the shade beneath the trees.
Crossing the water by hopping from one stone to another, I sat down on the opposite grassy bank. My brothers had found railroad spikes here from the spur-line that had once extended onto our property long ago when Connor’s logging mill still existed in Stratford.
Sitting in the warm sunshine, I enjoyed listening to the countryside silence of birds singing, bugs buzzing, murmuring wind, rustling leaves and water trickling over stones.
When my brother was ready to walk back to our farmyard he suggested, “Let’s take the stone road on our way home.” I nodded in agreement.
Although I’d seen Daddy take the small tractor through the cow crossing, I knew big harvesting machinery couldn’t be taken through the creek. Finding a less marshy area downstream, either Grandpa or Daddy had long ago placed a large culvert for the creek to flow through, then made a road of rocks picked from the fields over it, leading to and from the farmstead. Dirt pushed over the rocks made a smooth road surface for the machinery.
So, our creek had two places where you could cross. Each place fascinated me. Little did I know at the time that I was also beginning a place of crossing in my life. The passageway from being a cute, small child into an awkward, mini-adult with opinions, is a messy, rocky process. Eventually time smoothed over the rough spots there, too.