The creek bed is dry enough for us to walk in it.
This is an exciting time at the Perry Farm (in the small, quiet way most things are exciting at the Perry Farm). It happens only once or twice a year, and every walk offers the opportunity for discovery. The creek bed itself will be different, having meandered a little north or south to expose the roots of yet another Osage Orange (hedge apple) tree hunkering over the bank like an ancient, orange dragon. Whatever the Midwestern “low tide” has left behind will be different, too. Old bedsprings, maybe? Perhaps a car chassis? Undoubtedly some old punch-top beer cans, bricks, and broken china.
Mostly, of course, we find rocks. From chat to boulder-sized, fossilized coral to geodes, it all washes up here in Coal Creek.
Walking the creek bed is a meditative experience. We have to walk slowly and watch where we step. There still are snapping turtles sunk in the mud in the deepest bends. Roots to trip us up. Fallen trees to climb over. And treasures to be found if we pay attention. Maybe just a startling combination of colors and textures, but maybe a gemstone colored apothecary bottle. Crinoids (Indian beads) and brachiopods. Tiny orange Meadow Fritillaries—dozens of them—pooled at our feet, sucking the minerals off the rocks.
Our most exciting find? A firestarter, a palm-sized rock used by the farm’s ancient inhabitants to spark a fire.
Which is another reason we enjoy walking the dry creek bed: It makes the farm’s past more accessible to us. We stumble over it, from the fossils and artifacts that are thousands of years old to the crockery and hand-forged nails that are a hundred. It helps remind us of our place in this place. We are not the first to make a claim on or to have been claimed by the farm. And we certainly won’t be the last.
We are reminded of our insignificance when we actually try to use the firestarter to make a fire. It’s supposed to work like this: We insert a sturdy stick into the hole in the stone and twirl it quickly between the palms of our hands. The friction creates enough heat to send out sparks, which we direct into dry grass and kindling. Et voila, we have a blazing fire.
In reality, we have blisters and splinters; our tempers are the only thing that gets hot. And we’re sure that somewhere up the creekbed, the stone’s owner is laughing at us, ever so softly, while she starts a fire with three quick turns of her long-gone stick.