Friday, May 23, 2008

Once Upon A Time We Had Our Own Island

My siblings and I grew up on a small farm in the Midwest. That was when you could support a family of eight on 160 acres. The farm lay adjacent to the Little Sioux River. The U.S.Army Corps of Engineers had straightened the river channel allowing the water to escape more quickly during spring flood times. They left the old curvy channel in place but since the new channel was cut deeper, the old channel was dry except during spring snow melts and heavy spring rains when it served as an overflow area.

The dry channel lay next to our farm and between the dry and the new lay a several acre "island" of pasture land consisting of grass and tree areas. It was our personal playground. Grapevines grew plentifully in the tree areas. Along the dry bed and old banks we found all kinds of mysterious wonders ... teeth from some long-dead horse, dried skeletons of prairie mice, bits of glass and pottery, and small ponds of water left after spring floods that held minnows and tadpoles and other interesting creatures. I remember dragonflies and waterbugs and cardinals and goldfinches and the smell of summer air.

We fished in the river with primitive gear...a long pole cut from a tree with fish line attached to the end and a bobbin just above the hook. For bait we used earthworms dug from the damp dirt near the cow tank or chicken guts from a freshly butchered chicken. We seldom caught any fish but sitting on the bank, remaining silent so as not to "scare the fish", we soaked in the sounds of finches in the trees across the river and absorbed the peace of the afternoon air.

We learned to swim in that river. A long shallow area provided plenty of wading. And the new channel, which cut deep, provided a swim area. I said we learned to swim but the only stroke we knew was the dog paddle. Parents today would surely be accused of neglect, allowing us to play around dangerous water.

Later, in the 1960s, the Corps straightened a long length of the river, putting in new, high banks and filling the old channel with dirt. Our Island, no longer an island, is now cropland. But the memory of that place still brings pleasure to my mind.

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