Bench by the creek

Essay by Donna Miller

I often wonder why people want to live so close to each other. I grew up in the mountainous area of Bath County, and our closest neighbor was about one-half mile away. My favorite spot on our property was a wooded area, partially cleared, with a creek running through it. The creek was stocked with koi, and my dad built a bench between two trees just for me, and that’s where I spent most of my spare time.

Watching the koi was especially soothing to me, and I’ve heard that watching fish can be relaxing. I was a kid and didn’t realize that when koi buried themselves in the bottom of the creek, they were preparing for winter and not suffocating. I can’t tell you how many koi I “dug up” from the creek bed with a stick in a mistaken attempt to save them. Now I know those looks they were giving me were not kind, and they were probably communicating to each other, “Here comes that crazy kid with her stick again — dig deeper!” Every now and then, a box turtle would make its way to the creek, and the croaking frogs created a symphony that could lull you to sleep.

I enjoyed the peacefulness that each season brought; the wildflowers in the spring, the cool breeze in the summer, the beautiful colors in the fall, and yes, even ice skating on that little frozen body of water in the winter. I remember the feel of the moss beneath my bare feet in the spring, summer, and fall, and lungs full of fresh air.

I look back on those days with fondness. Then we moved to the “big city,” which was actually not a big city at all. But when you moved from Bath County in the early 1970s, even a town of 25,000 seemed large. We were technically in the country, but still had neighbors on both sides. The backyard was surrounded by pasture, and sometimes our Mennonite neighbors would let their horses graze in those fields. It was a “kinda-sorta” private area, but I longed for my bench by the creek.

When I moved out on my own, I lived in a duplex in a subdivision. I lived there for seven years and met two of my neighbors. I had homes surrounding me, and even though my duplex was very nice, I disliked every minute of it. My bench by the creek seemed as close to heaven as you could get.

I am now in a subdivision in a very small town. I love my neighbors, but they are still too close. For example, when we eat dinner on the deck, both neighbors beside me can see if I left a pea on my plate. There is some sense of security that comes with knowing your neighbors, and my neighborhood is wonderful and safe. I have met most of the people, and when I walk by, there is always a “hello” or a wave from this friendly bunch. But I yearn for my bench by the creek.

I wonder with amazement why people who have the funds to purchase the larger homes in the subdivisions opt to live there. I would rather have a little house in the middle of nowhere; a place where I could run naked in the backyard if so moved without fear of being seen, although I would never do that.

I don’t want much. My perfect house would have a large front porch, a fireplace, and of course, indoor facilities. I really don’t care about anything else. I would much rather see a doe with her fawn stroll across my front yard, than a neighbor’s cat relieving itself in my “subdivision” yard. I’d rather sit on my large front porch in my rocking chair and watch the sunset than have to deal with neighbors’ children selling pizzas and magazines for their school. This week alone, I have been approached by a college student selling knives, and the Boy Scouts leaving bags on my door for their food drive. Don’t misunderstand me – I know these young people are working hard to make money, and most are working towards a great cause, but you can get nickled-and-dimed to death just by living where you do. It is also very hard to say no to a 6-year-old with big blue eyes. I ache for my bench by the creek.

I wish to spend my days in a place surrounded by so many trees that sunshine has to be piped in through an act of God. I enjoy my natural surroundings and am in awe of the beauty that nature provides. A bench by a creek would give a touch of perfection to my later years. I’ll always be that “country girl”. But I don’t want to set my dreams too unattainable — if history repeats itself, I’ll be living in a retirement home with three roommates, two cats, and a fish tank. I hope that fish tank is filled with koi.

    

Donna Miller resides in Mount Sidney.

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