Creeks. Trees. Rocks. Crawdads. Mud. What other 10-year-old boy’s heartbeat would not race just imagining the possibilities?
I’d lived with my parents in Ferrum for just over 10 years — with three siblings arriving later in that decade — and a huge area of fields and forests became our playground. When I was not tasked with chores around the farm, I busied myself with various outdoor hobby projects: A “fort” made out of scrap metal and lumber. A strawberry garden with seeds from a Burpee catalog. And a park-like setting in memorial to a pet rabbit that had gone on to Bunny Heaven.
Those projects were all time-consuming yet fun for me, but my favorite — by far — was always Rockside Dam.
Built in a creek at the bottom of the hill from our home, it was a simple project to build and maintain: Find large rocks to stack in the creek. Add mud to prevent water from pouring through the gaps in the rocks. Scoop leaves out of the pool of water above the homemade dam.
Add more mud. Pull out more leaves. Add more mud. Pull out more leaves. Ad nauseum.
Located alongside the driveway to our family home for all to see, Rockside Dam was the proudest accomplishment of my first decade of life.
Three months ago, once we finished building our cottage back here in Ferrum, re-constructing Rockside Dam was one of the first projects on my to-do list. I strolled down the hill to the creek to see what type of restoration project lay ahead of me ... only to discover it to be far, far worse than I could have ever imagined. The water in the creek was down to a trickle, and the banks of the creek were completely inundated with vines and thistles and roots and small trees.
I suppose that’s what 40 years of neglect looks like?
Thankfully, it was easy enough to open up the spring to improve the water flow. Using a rake to pull out wet leaves, I worked laboriously to clear out the underbrush around the creek.
Imagine my surprise when, after I’d cleared about ten yards downstream, I discovered a section of large rocks—and in the form of a dam. Moss was covering most of the stones, but creek water waterfalled from the long-ago-placed rocks into the water below. It was in fact the foundation of my original dam.
With a renewed rush of energy, I re-created (and yes, enhanced a bit) my favorite youth-time enterprise. And once the springtime rains descend on Franklin County in a couple months, this is where you’ll undoubtedly find me relaxing.
Just sitting in a peaceful setting, listening to the sounds of a rippling brook. Sitting on the sides of a creek, savoring the sound of water flowing over the rocks I started setting over four decades ago.
No more working with mud. Or rocks. Or crawdads. Just enjoying the favorite of my childhood playgrounds.
Jeff Stiles is a retired insurance agent who remains active performing standup comedy and writing. He and Mindy recently moved to Ferrum.