Podunk at swimming hole (8/2/06)
There are three bends in the creek along Johnston’s lower pasture.
The first is actually a meander scar now after the creek cut through the neck of the meander about 5 years ago. The old point bar is growing over with pioneer trees and shrubs while the cut bank has become a convenient place to deposit debris from yard work. The old creek bed is marshy now with a tiny pond at its former deepest spot. This bend still flows at high water. As a boy, this was my favorite fishing spot. Once, I caught a fish in the eddies there at the head of the pool while an old timer plunked gloomily at the foot. He was sitting on the sand cigarette in hand with his pole resting in the crotch of a forked branch he had cut from a tree and stuck in the muck. My fishing style was a bit more energetic. I worked the flow at the head of the pool with my worm casting up into the current and bouncing the bait along the bottom and guiding it into the eddies that marked the deeper part of the pool. I would do this repeatedly until I got a strike. The old timer had watched me in a lazy sort of way. It didn’t take much time for me to get a hit and to pull in a healthy keeper brown trout. I noticed the plunker shaking his head and turning away as he took a deep drag on his cigarette. We never said a word to each other. Later I often thought it would have been interesting to talk to him.
The second bend was also a good fishing spot, deep and slow. But there were always downed trees at the head of the pool that would constantly snag my line discouraging my attempts. This pool was and is still the site of a large exposed vein of clay. We would spend time there in hot weather carving out slabs of the grey silky clay rubbing it on our bodies. After letting it dry in the sun and washing off our skin would feel satiny smooth. My high school girlfriend and I used to sneak away to the point bank and lie naked in the sun taking leisurely pleasure in our bodies. Once, having fallen asleep after sex, we woke to the sound of a tractor and saw a neighbor farmer cutting alfalfa on the opposite bank. He waved to us.
The third bend, which connects Johnston’s lower pasture with Podunk’s smallest, has a high, steep cut bank of clay impregnated with gravel and large stones. This is a tough obstacle for even the spring floods to carve and has not changed much in twenty years. Because the water can’t push the bend further into the pasture, it carves down and excavates a long deep trench – over 7 feet deep in some spots during summer. This is now the favorite swimming hole at Podunk and we have ladders leading down to the thin shore of the cut bank side of the bend. Over the years, the tailings of this excavation have moved 50 or so yards downstream and filled in a previous favorite swimming hole.
This extinct swimming hole was directly behind the chicken coop and the sauna across the bottom pasture with the three poplar giants. The old Finnish farmer who sold the property to my father had built a cement pier out into the creek at an angle to allow pumping of water to his outbuildings. Over the years the flow of water around the pier created a deep hole on the downstream side. Our first swim of the season was usually around first of May but I recall swimming in April. I learned to swim in that hole when I was seven or eight. It was the casting-off point for perilous spring runs down the swollen stream in my father’s old 4-man Navy raft and the heat of many a sauna was dowsed by a plunge into the pool accessed, if necessary, by a hole chopped in covering ice.
My brother and I often caught crawfish there and kept them in holding pools along the far bank. We would cross back over to the Podunk side and bombard the pools with stones, pretending the crawfish were soldiers in a coastal attack. I always felt bad about this behavior afterward. I knew something was wrong about it, cruel, but at the same time it was pleasurable. Contradictorily, I was often dismayed that visiting friends would want to put captive creek dwellers in jars to take home. I knew the poor things would die and I couldn’t stand the thought.
We had friends from down the street who would go swimming there with us. Two red headed sisters a few years apart. Edie was a teen and was often aloof and superior acting. Dylan was younger and a bit of a tomboy. The first time they visited us they brought their pony. We fed it green apples and I wondered at the green foam that formed around its mouth as it chomped. With these sisters, my siblings and I spent our summers as a kind of rural “Our Gang”. Between us we worked through many childhood and adolescent trials and tribulations.
For some reason, as the younger sister Dylan matured showing signs of breasts and a woman’s figure, we decided she was a slut – whatever that meant for kids our age. One day in particular, spurred on by my sister and Edie, we were teasing Dylan while at the swimming hole. Whenever she dunked under we would chant – “Dylan is a striptease dancer and she-ee-ee knows it.” She would stay under long enough for us to chant and then suddenly surface demanding to know what we were saying. We wouldn’t tell her. She would dunk again, we would chant. This went on for some time. I had a feeling she knew what we were saying, that she liked the attention.
We usually changed into our swimsuits at the Frog Inn, our playhouse up by the garage. Not too long after the chanting incident I was bold enough to peek in on the girls while they were changing. Dylan was standing in front of my peephole. She was pulling up her swimsuit bottoms. I was amazed to see wisps of red hair growing in her crotch. Suddenly, she seemed very different from me – no longer a peer, as if she had crossed over into an unknown territory. After that incident I didn’t participate in teasing her. Our friendship with the sisters started to wane around that time and soon we stopped hanging out at all.
The swimming hole gradually filled in as the pier deteriorated and the flow of the creek changed. There is a natural gas pipeline that passes through the property and crosses the creek at that point. Over the years it has been re-buried lower as the creek kept uncovering it. The subsequent construction activity further filled the old swimming hole. The continued excavation by floodwaters of the third bend just upstream finally erased all traces of the old swimming hole. It is now shallow creek bed that has a slight rise in the middle. During summer and times of low water the flow splits around this slight rise an
d wispy golden canary grass grows there amongst the rocks.