Across the creek is a mystery to me. It is a private little world that I only get to view from afar. Every morning as I leave the hallway from my bedroom and step into the circular, open floor plan of my home, there it is. Dominating the view through an array of open glass, visible from the living room, kitchen and dining room.
My house is perched on a slight knoll, just twenty-five feet from the water’s edge. Flowing downstream from the east, the creek rounds a corner at the beginning of my property, cascading over rapids and then calming in a series of natural pools and beaches. Directly in front of the house it narrows, creating a sense of the water moving much faster. Then, it hits a second set of rapids and bends out of sight, lost in the woods, safe from most human interaction. From my deck I look down upon the land-locked oasis of birds, deer, weasels and logs on the other side. Almost like an island, each spring it takes on a new persona because it is in a flood zone. As winter melts, millions of gallons of water come crashing downstream, slicing at the bank. Once the water recedes, the trail of debris left in its wake resembles the childhood game of pickup sticks when dumped from their canister. The leavings are mostly natural, with a few stray lawn chairs or broken buckets that were hidden under the snow and long forgotten by their owners.
Life on the creek is still relatively new to me. I moved here four years ago after three decades of being high in the rolling hills of Schoharie County, about an hour southwest of Albany. From my living room, back yard or barn, I could literally see across town to the Schultz brother’s farm, friends of mine from high school. Spoiled by the beauty of my own farm, whenever assessing the properties of other people, I would instantly determine they had no redeeming qualities because they lacked the expansive view I had grown up with.
Undaunted by the perpetual wind and endless snow of hilltop winters, I trudged through drifts and ice to care for animals. Chapped from the cold, both my face and soul were rewarded by the unmistakable lullaby of the peepers that always heralded the arrival of spring. Summer’s song was that of distant farm machinery, splashing pool water and mourning doves. Then in my rural litany was the unmistakable whirring of chainsaws preparing wood for the long winter ahead, punctuated by the honking of geese on their southern trek. And throughout all the seasons was the plaintive call of the coyotes. As they raced along the ridge, their nightly ululation pierced my solitude, causing goose bumps to rise on my skin. Despite those creepy predators, I was in my comfort zone, and I never thought I would leave.
But, as lives are prone to do, mine changed patterns and was no longer centered on the farm as I spent more and more time building a relationship with an urbanite. Then came the opportunity to buy the unique contemporary house built by his parents. I spent months coming to terms with the heartbreaking decision to relocate from the top of the hills to this forty-acre low-land wooded lot fifty miles away in the southeastern corner of Rensselaer County.
We moved in just weeks before Christmas 2009. Twenty days of blur were spent readying the house and our belongings to host Christmas Eve for the large sibling group of my partner, Guy. Then, with no farm animals to tend to, I spent the rest of the winter pretending to be one of the Stepford Wives. The house was spotless, I was neat and tidy, dinner was always prepared, consumed and cleaned up by 6:00 PM. And I was bored.
When spring finally burst out of her cocoon, I was recuperating at home from shoulder surgery. As the days grew warmer and longer, so did my time on the back deck. I soaked up hour after hour of midday sun listening to the lapping of water on stones as the creek did her daily ritual. On rainy days I would retreat behind the wall of glass in my living room, still able to watch her flowing, little white-caps every few feet as the water slapped up against protruding rocks. Each day I gained new strength in my arm. And, each day from my perch, I watched life return to the other side of the creek. Deer nibbled on the tender green abundance, frequently hidden behind large sections of bramble. A pair of beaver built an underwater lodge at the edge of one of the pools in a pile of small trees that had arrived during runoff of the winter melt. Once an hour they took a break from working and would swim out to the center of the creek, slapping their tails in the water and then diving for food.
Spring also brought the unwanted arrival of people fishing for the prized trout that legend assured they would find. I don’t like it when any one comes on my property, and when April 1st arrived, I awoke to a phalanx of uninvited guests near the water’s edge, the sun glinting off the lines of their poles as the fish tugged at their lures below the water. Leaving their cars parked on the side of the road, the posted signs of Conservation Law went unheeded as they trespassed across two acres of woods to reach the water, instead of entering the creek at the nearby bridge. Identifying the trespassers was simple, they rarely acknowledged your presence. Those who had followed the rules frequently waved as they waded deeper into the water so their cast would reach the deeper pool on the far side.
A few weeks into the official trout season, kayakers have to duck under fishing lines on their way through. Their time on the creek is limited to when the water is still high enough to keep the rocks from damaging the bottom of their vessels. By early May, the water warms and fishing season gives way to tubing season. The trout like cold water and drop to the bottom of the pools where they are rarely tempted to chase after the lures floating in the warmth above, so the fishermen give up. The tubers are generally a more likable crowd, their arrival announced by peals of laughter brought on by their precarious bouncing over the rapids and the requisite beer cooler that is tethered to their group on its own little float. They happily wave and wish me a good day as they bob past my deck and backyard.
Each day I witness slight changes in the creek as the heat of summer begins. The water level drops so low that the tubers also give up. Then the only company I have is that of the teenagers who live across the way. But they are always polite, asking permission to cross my property and fetching any stray pieces of trash that have been bothering my senses. Almost every evening in late July and most of August, Guy and I will take our Bassett Hounds and Labradors down to the beach. They run in and out of the creek, splashing us as we sit in waist high water, enjoying the cool respite of the pools and good beer.
Unfortunately, living on the Kinderhook Creek is not always bucolic. In 2011, when Hurricane Irene lashed down upon us with countless inches of rain, the creek rose swiftly. She became angry, with churning mud and large trees caught up in her water. I was home alone the day it struck because Guy was diligently working a side job to help pay for our rapidly approaching wedding reception. I couldn’t peel my eyes from the water as it continued to rise. My anxiety increased as each natural marker of height disappeared from view. I collected some “get away items” in an overnight bag, leaving it by the front door with my purse and the dog leashes. Just before dark, the rain slowed as Guy pulled in the driveway. When we went to bed, there was only six inches left before the creek would spill into our backyard.
The next morning our side remained safe, but the land-locked two acres of the south bank was completely under water. Massive Maple, Oak and Birch trees were at varying angles, their roots pulled from the soil by the unrelenting force of the water. From the safety of my deck, my eyes scanned the area, but I saw nothing stable enough to support the deer that had been there just the day before. Throughout the next few days, the water receded, leaving the once verdant greens in a sad brown layer of silt and mud. But the community across the creek is incredibly resilient and by the time the golden and red leaves of the next season began to fall to the ground, the deer and beaver had returned.
As time has elapsed, I have learned to love living on the creek, including the untouched area across the water. We don’t own that space, but we really don’t need to – due to the flood zone, no one can build anything there. But I won’t trespass to investigate the various nooks and crannies housing the birds, deer, weasels and beaver, because I honor the rights of that property owner. So even when I’m outside, it’s as if there is still a wall of glass separating me from that private little world.
For a little while longer, the creek belongs only to the various critters. Soon enough the four deer that crossed the frozen pools last week will have to share it with the fishermen. Right now, I’m basking in the beauty of a solitary morning in March before they arrive. As the sun crests over the stand of cedar trees on the east end of the pool, serenaded by the soft melody of wind chimes, two ducks float in a trail of golden light that explodes in a million dancing crystals when it hits the rapids.