I believe in nature. When I was a child, a creek ran through my backyard. I grew up in Woodland West, a planned community of 1960s tract homes. We had a neighborhood park and recreation center and a public pool. In the evenings, children on bicycles owned the roads. It was a managed childhood, idyllic in its way, but short on adventure. But I had the creek and it was my wilderness.
I watched the seasons change in that creek, the ebb and flow of nature. In spring, fresh water brought the creek to life. I scooped up tadpoles in a glass jar, longing to find one with the green legs of a frog jutting from its black body, like the picture in the World Book Encyclopedia. But they were always fully tadpole.
In summer, the tadpoles morphed into tiny green frogs that grew into large green frogs that got squished in the road. The air buzzed with dragonflies by day, fireflies by night, and mosquitoes day and night. With the heat of late summer, the water turned brown and green and stagnant and finally dried up. In autumn, the rains returned and the creek was clogged by oak leaves raked from neighborhood lawns. Where the water could not penetrate the brush, the creek shifted its course, carving away the red clay and dark rock, our own little Grand Canyon.
Winter was my favorite time on the creek. Cold days were quiet, rife with adventure. I spent long winter afternoons creating stories, casting myself as the hero in epic quests. At night in my room, I read adventure tales about children who, with a dog and a pocket knife, could overcome any obstacle. Then I invented my own stories in the creek. I was a fugitive from the great villains of a child’s life—a cruel orphanage director or a scowling librarian. Alone in the wilderness, with only my wits, I could conduct myself to a better life, where mom waited with cookies and milk and put my muddy shoes and socks into the washer without reprimand.
An urban planner who traced the tributaries of the Trinity River, all the small creek outlets that carried away urban runoff, showed me my creek on her map. I followed it to its final union with the river. The thin line on the map looked small and insignificant, important only in water management. Nothing designated it as a child’s wilderness.
As a child I believed in nature as infinite possibility, a place where imagination and adventure converged and where I could discover and create. As an adult, I still believe in nature. I still feel uplifted when I wander through the woods and awe-struck by the power of a thunderstorm and the serenity of bird song. I no longer have the creek, but I still head for wilderness to imagine and escape.
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