April 9th, 2009

Happy boy at water’s edge

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(Note: Another sentimental journey from my period as a columnist for Fidalgo Magazine. Attached photograph is a current shot of Ace of Hearts Creek, to which I make reference in this piece. When I was a boy the creek had no name, to my knowledge).

In search of escape recently from a particularly stressful day I found my way to a reclining position, closed my eyes – and soon happened upon a mental treasure chest, flipping the lid open to rediscover past experiences related to “cricks, babbling brooks, streams and rivers.”
My first memories of the riches to be found in moving water date back to the late Fifties, to a backyard creek that had a magnetic attraction for my sisters, friends (there is an important distinction when you’re seven years old) and me.
We lived on 33rd Street, in old Dr. Noble’s house (which Dad and Mom had brilliantly moved to its new ‘waterside’ location). The creek, which pulsated with varying degrees of power depending on rainfall, served as a playground for countless childhood hours.
Best friend Gene Ferrario and I shook free from the sisters often enough, trying our hands at complicated engineering work including construction of Popsicle stick bridges and temporary dams. Boyhood life was particulary rewarding at this time of year. We raced homemade boats, ‘washed’ cuts and scrapes, chased gravity-defying ‘waterbugs,’ filled Mason jars for scientific experiments and mixed mud for a variety of projects including ‘ammunition’ for battle. Who needed the Skagit River when we had our own private river?
We waved a tearful goodbye to our Anacortes home in 1960, my sisters and I convinced we would never survive the painful separation from our Pacific Northwest home. Little did I know, however, that another ‘river’ – this one much bigger, deeper and historically significant – was waiting for me not a quarter-mile from my new Springfield, Virginia home.
This ‘crick,’ the name of which escapes me, held a special place in history simply because it was located in Northern Virginia, not too far from the Chesapeake Bay. Teachers at my new elementary school immediately set to the task of impressing upon me the fact that I was no longer living in pioneer country but in a region steeped in history. I understood that all right, but mostly I was just excited to have a place to play Huck Finn, Davy Crockett and Swamp Fox.
My new river friend was Dave Maddens. We traded the distinction of being “the fastest kid in the neighborhood,” and until a community swimming pool drew us in the direction of different water sports (my favorites didn’t require passing a swim test), we spent many hours getting wet and then drying out again at water’s edge.
This Virginia stint, like that on 33rd Street ‘back home’ in Anacortes, lasted about four years. Our next home in Everett, Washington boasted many natural features, including proximity to dense woods and a fascinating ravine – but there was no creek nearby.
By the time I established residency in Anacortes again, the 33rd Street creek had given way to Progress, hidden in underground pipes. Chances are Progress caught up with my Virginia playground as well.
There have been many more ‘river’ experiences in subsequent years, including trips to Upriver Skagit and a wonderful six weeks (trout fishing) with the Forest Service in Targhee National Forest. But when I close my eyes for a rest along the shore, it’s invariably those Anacortes and Springfield waters that wash the marks of anxiety from my brow.
“There are streams yet to be explored,” I remind myself today, “…many right here on Fidalgo Island.” My intent is to spend many more sublime hours by the water – and I urge you to do the same.

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About Photographer Steve Berentson

A fourth generation Skagit County native who was moved kicking and screaming from this island community in 1960. I finally reclaimed an Anacortes address in 1980, and I have been in constant celebration of my return since that time. Many of us who call Anacortes home love Fidalgo Island for its natural assets: among them are rugged beaches, pristine lakes, thousands of acres of forestland and some awesome views of the Skagit Valley and surrounding islands. Another element of my love affair with this community is its people, both natives and immigrants. They will “star” in many of my journal entries.

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