A Remembrance of Valentine Creek
My Childhood Home
Growing up in a waterfront community was not only good for the body, but it was also good for the mind. Before our next-door neighbor's trees grew up, I could look out over Valentine Creek from our two-story, wrap-around porches, and see all the way out to the mouth of the Severn River.
Standing on the porch, I could feel the wind blowing through my hair as the breeze whirled through the seashell-made windchimes, and rustled the pines. I could hear a lone seagull flying overhead, "scree, scree," searching for a place to land. And in the distance, the motorboat engines created the perfect harmony of high and low pitches.
Revival of the Senses
At night, a silence settled over the waterfront community. The water looked like glass; smooth and flawless. A fish jumping out of the still waters, shattered the silent sound barrier. The pool of ripples spread out to the edges of the shore, disturbing a blue heron, which took flight. I could hear a dog barking nearby, and the sound of a bug catcher zapping mosquitoes. As I laid in bed, I imagined the bats swooping down over the water after the fireflies on a hot, humid evening. Across the creek, I could hear people laughing. Their voices drifted across the water and through my screen window. They sounded so close, yet so far away.
Just before dawn, I could hear a whip-poor-will calling out his name over and over again in vain. After eating breakfast out on the terrace, I walked down the gravel road toward the pier. I could smell the salt in the air and almost taste its bitterness on my tongue. I followed the sound of a fire truck siren as it winded down Old Herald Harbour Road, pinpointing its exact location. The elwise fish swimming in the cove looked like silver slivers reflecting the sun's rays from underneath the water. And the mud in the cove was like quick sand, creating camouflage for the snapping turtles submerged beneath its surface.
Valentine Creek and the lower part of the Severn River were estuaries; a mixture of both fresh and salt water. The salinity in the water was affected by the amount of rainfall. Sometimes, the jellyfish would inhabit the salty waters by the hundreds. Out of the water, they wiggled like jello jigglers as I poked them with a stick.
One winter, and the only time in my life, I can remember Valentine Creek, the Severn River, and part of the Chesapeake Bay, freezing solid all the way out to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. We had an unusual amount of rainfall that summer, followed by freezing temperatures that winter. The ice measured a good 12 inches thick around the pilings.
Many of the piers had buckled up from the ice. The wooden planks looked like a roller coaster track as they twisted and turned in midair. There were people ice skating, bike riding, pulling sleds, walking their dogs, and driving six-wheelers on the ice. The ice had created a natural bridge enabling people to walk from one side of the creek to the other. These were all things I thought about on my way to the pier. The gravel underneath my bare feet helped to jar my memory.
My Thinking Place
Arriving at the boat ramp, I took my usual place at the end of the pier. I sat there with my legs crossed, throwing pieces of bread to the mallard ducks, and watching the minnows feed on the green algae that grew on the barnacles. The dinghies and rowboats moored at the pier had sunk from heavy rain, trapping the blue crabs helplessly in the skiffs, awaiting the return of the tide and their release. Meanwhile, young children with crab nets were busy scooping them out and into buckets.
The waves rolling rythmically up along the shore rocked the sailboats from side to side. The metal cables clanked against the mast and made me recall our weekend sailing expeditions. Closing my eyes, I could picture the beautiful orangish-pink sunsets of Smith Island, and the taste of delicious crab cakes. I remembered peering through the windows of the antique stores in St. Michaels. I could feel the sand squishing between my toes as I walked up and down the beaches of Calvert Cliffs, searching for dinosaur bones and sharks teeth. I could feel the water from the bough of the boat splashing up on my hot, tan skin. And I remembered watching the fireworks from our sailboat on the Fourth of July. They were mirror images of one another; the sky, the water, the fireworks, and everything sandwiched in between.
The pier was my thinking place. A place where I could drift back in time. A time long forgotten, but revived by my senses. The sense of being here once before.