It is midsummer, and wild Turk’s Cap lilies curl back in the blazing sun. Blackberries disappear as fast as they ripen along Lucas Creek, and the orange witch fingers of trumpet vine flash through their brambles above the tide’s murky reach.
Bobbing on a stem of cord grass, red-winged blackbirds sing sweetly, while fiddler crabs scamper around their muddy holes.
Lucas Creek is home. When I left at the age of 18, to spend a year out west, my best friend cautioned, “Remember, you’re just a swamp rat from Lucas Creek.” I did not forget. I came back to live in the farmhouse my grandfather built a stone’s throw from it.
The brown channels of the creek rise and fall with the tides–dangerous, mysterious, and powerful. The creek has no sandy shore or rocky coast where people play casually. It meanders to a rhythm and meaning we have not learned. It commands fear and respect.
One bend of the creek was the favored swimming hole of the young farm boys of the 1920’s. After a hot day in the fields, they gathered there to splash, swim, and horse around. One evening they got ready to go home and noticed a pile of clothing still on the creek bank. One boy had been lost in the waters. They never used that swimming hole again.
When Mennonites first bought land here, there wasn’t even a bridge across the creek, just some logs to cross at low tide. One young man greased the logs when he knew a rival suitor was about to cross in the dark to call on the girl they both fancied.
The first bridge turned Lucas Creek Road into a vital thoroughfare. But it took another hundred years for the creek to feature a wide bridge with generous sidewalks, the bridge we have today.
When I was a girl, the bridge did not invite nature lovers. It was narrow, with high concrete sides. When riding my bike, or walking, I hurried across, hoping a car would not appear to share the bridge. Often the short bridge and the road leading across the marsh were covered in high water.
Sometimes I slipped under the bridge in a rowboat. Bunni and I launched off Stony Point along the Warwick to explore its tributaries. I felt like I was going to a secret place, where few others could go. I loved looking up at the shadowy, cool underside of the bridge, plastered with swallow nests.
The bridge for this century has been more welcoming. Wide sidewalks invite bird watchers and a few fishermen. Children can see through the railing, while still staying safe.
To be sure, this boy holds his sister’s hand securely as we trek across the bridge in a red wagon this summer, a favorite destination.
We could always count on seeing something very special. One day it was muskrats, swimming and puttering and nibbling busily at the roots of plants. Labeled a swamp rat myself so long ago, I felt an immediate kinship.
Another day it was a beautiful two-inch minnow, inexplicably on the edge of the bridge, far from its swirling swimming brothers below.
Once we startled deer in the tall grass between two loops of creek.
This week I needed to pick up library books at Grissom. The weather was awesome, so I set out on foot across the bridge. I was stunned at how much there was to see. Just in the time it took for me to make my way across the bridge, a great egret stalked its prey on long legs, its white feathers glistening. A great blue heron flew over the creek.
A bald eagle soared, circled, and then landed in a tree just above a good fishing spot, its white head reflecting the sun through the leaves and branches. Osprey fluttered and swung high in the sky.
Nostalgia is good, but sometimes things actually get better with the years. Raptors were rare to see when I was a child. Now I can count on seeing big birds hunting and fishing every time I go to Lucas Creek. The bridge is child-friendly now, nature-lover friendly. It’s a place of breath-taking sunsets, of morning mists.
These summer days, I am at happily at home in my habitat, the swamp rat from Lucas Creek.
Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected]