Life on a Blue Ridge Farm – Creeks and Crawdads

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One of the best sources of hours of enjoyment for me was the creek that bisected the south-end of the property. This small stream bubbled out of the ground on our  property and snaked its way through the pastures into the Knobs. The two main pastures were situated so that each had easy bovine access to the creek. It was a trusty creek, even in a drought, the cattle never suffered from thirst.

The water needs of our home were supplied by a spring house located at the spot where the spring emerged from the earth. Good, clean, pure water, tainted by nothing, cold and sweet. My grandparents built a spring house as well, this one by the creek after the first pasture. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “A water source downstream from the cows? Gross!”. Yes and no. There was also a spring birthed from the ground that also fed the main stream as it passed. This was the site of my grandparent’s spring house. They tapped the underground stream before it made it to the cow-enhanced water. It was as pure as the water from our spring.

We took the drinking water for granted and never thought about the source. What we valued was the source of play that the creek provided. Hour after hour sloshing around in drenched sneakers and wet pants.  The smell of the wild spearmint that grew by, and in, the creek added to the ambience of my grandparent’s springhouse. Watercress was also in abundance, and both it and the spearmint were occasionally harvested to garnish an evening meal.

Rock dams were constructed to divert a section of the creek and just as quickly demolished. Mud was scooped and fashioned into aquatic pens for the creek wildlife that we could catch. Frogs, small fish, salamanders, water striders and crawfish (or crawdads as we called them) were shepherded into the pens for study. The frogs and salamanders didn’t stay long, with four legs they could exit when they had had enough fun. The fish, handicapped as they were, were forced to stay until the engineers either deconstructed the pens or the creek undermined the walls and sent them tumbling into the current. The fish and crawdads always escaped.

Of all the creek critters, the crawdads were my favorite. They were complex, fascinating, agile and to my amazement had a reverse gear. Forward motion is a seemingly laborious affair for a crawdad, slow and deliberate. When they saw one of our hands approaching they would scoot backwards at a fast pace with several quick flips of their tails.  Gone, hidden in the tangle of watercress and grasses.

They were an interesting study with their beady little eyes, twitching antennae, segmented tails and those menacing claws. We tried to avoid the claws. If they got a whole finger it hurt a bit, but real discomfort came when one found a piece of skin and pinched it together. That’s when you pulled your hand from the water and shook the varmint off . We soon learned to sneak up from behind and grab them just behind their claws. Worked every time, well, most every time. When one was captured we would examine it intently, all the while avoiding those straining, snapping claws.

Crawdads (crawfish, that is. Sorry.) are supposedly a Southern delicacy. Having never tasted one, I can’t say, but it does seem to me to be a lot of trouble for a small portion. We simply caught them, played with them and then let the crawdads go. They went their way and we went ours. On to grandma’s house to let our shoes dry on the porch in the afternoon sun while we ran barefoot in the yard.

© 2013, Bruce Denton. All rights reserved.

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