There was something different about the crick in spring. In the winter we sometimes skated near the front of it, where the water collected just enough to almost be a pond, or we rode our toboggan down the hills in the middle, where the trees hadn’t recovered from years of grazing cows, with nothing to stop us until we had slid down the first big hill, right through the flat part at the bottom, and down the second hill where we finally stopped, always just short of the underbrush. Everything in the crick in winter felt still, like it wanted to be in one place forever.
But spring was different. It was when we walked to the very back of the woods. When we could hardly stay away. When we followed paths covered with leaves still crispy, even after spending the winter covered in snow. Even the light was different in the spring, flat and cold and dead. And it smelled like mud.
You had to cross the crick to get to the really good part of the woods, although what made it good, I don’t remember. It may have just been where the path led, and so we had to follow it.
It was scary until you fell in, and then suddenly it wasn’t, like the thing you feared most became the thing you most wanted to happen, like when the dog runs off in the woods on our morning walk, and then he comes back, tongue hanging, at a dead run, and the twenty minutes of whistling and calling and straining for the sight of his buff-colored back deep in the woods, and the hundred racing visions of all of the bad things that could happen turn into relief, and maybe the secret pleasure that now he’ll sleep all day and not bark at the rabbits in the back yard.
My dad always said it wasn’t spring until somebody fell in the crick, and even though I hadn’t seen the older ones go in, I know it must have happened often enough.
It wasn’t deep enough to be really dangerous. It wasn’t like we needed to be saved. But we stopped and went home anyway, tongues hanging, our pants and coats and shirts dripping mud and crick water, and grit in our shoes as we trudged back up the hill at the front of the crick. Because spring was never warm enough to be that wet and muddy for that long. And part of us secretly didn’t care what fussing or disgust or contempt would happen when we got home. It was no different than the dirt under our clothes, a temporary discomfort, something we just felt, because it wasn’t spring until somebody fell in the crick.