By Karen Motawi
Although I now have the joy of living on the beautiful Muskegon River, watching the bald eagles fishing, the several species of ducks diving and dabbling as they make their way past and listening to the honking of the Canada geese, when asked about my memories of water, my thoughts drift back to my childhood. While the river is the water of my present, lakes, streams ponds and bogs are the waters of my past.
Growing up years ago on a farm, lakes didn’t usually mean sandy swimming beaches, power boating or water skiing to say nothing of the wake-boarding, wind-surfing and kayaking my children and grandchildren are into. The small swimming beach a mile from our home was usually a treat for me and my brothers and cousins to cool off after pulling the weeds out of the oat fields. While I think romantically about the bright yellow mustard blooming in the pale green of the ripening oats, at the time we had to be bribed with the reward of a swim at the beach followed by an ice cream bar from the concession stand.
There was a small spring fed lake on our farm that we called Hut’s Lake. You won’t find it on a map—the name somehow derived from the name of the previous owners, the Hudsons. We cousins would hike there, drink directly from the springs and jump up and down on the rotting boards someone had put on the weedy edge of the lake for fishing. (Of course, there was no adult supervision.) One year my Dad had a table built from 2X4s on the hill overlooking the lake and we had our extended family Sunday afternoon picnics there a few times. As you might imagine, the lack of running water and other amenities got to us after a while and we gave up the view and went back to the picnic tables in Grandma’s backyard.
My memories of streams were the trickles found in our local county parks where you could wade on the sandy bottoms in your bare feet, finding watercress and sampling the wild mint. One more adventurous hike took us behind Hut’s Lake, over a bog to Bear Creek. (That was one body of water that shows up on maps today with the same name!) There we found some sizable fish hiding at the edge of the stream bank. Having heard that if you were very stealthy, you could reach down and catch them by hand, we gave it a try. Guess what! It didn’t work for us.
Now we come to ponds. No frog or turtle hunting as you might expect. Ponds were for skating or maybe just sliding on the ice. We must not have been too serious about it because the only skates I ever used were the black ones I found in the attic that had belonged to my father. I never did get around to begging my parents for white ones.
I’ve saved my most delicious water memory for last. A half mile up the “north road” were the swamp and the dump. Since you had to go past the dump to get to the swamp, I’m going to digress for a moment to talk about rural trash handling. Of course there was no weekly pickup on the farm. Food scraps went over the fence into the field. Papers were burned and everything else was stored in the garage for an occasional trip to the dump. It was my brothers’ joy to pitch glass bottles and cans and hear the gratifying crash of breaking glass. If you could tear yourself away from the charms of the dump or safely pick your way through, you came upon the “huckleberry swamp.” (While that may not be the scientifically correct wetland terminology, that’s what we called it.) When the berries were ripe, we’d pull on our rubber boots, strap a pot or bucket to our waists and head out picking. You had to watch out for the “sink hole” that one of my brothers once fell into up to his thigh. What we didn’t eat on the spot, we brought home for Grandma’s pies and Mother’s canning jars. I’m sorry to say, “Blueberries just ain’t the same.” I don’t think that’s just my memory taking over—find me some wild huckleberries, PLEASE!