A Forever Memory along Line Creek

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With over 6,570 days until that new baby turns eighteen, you never really know what one thing during that time will shape their personality — and the one they’ll remember forever.

Such an event happened last weekend when our two granddaughters, Little One and Sweet Caroline, went on our first hike of this year. But even though what we saw was indeed a once in a lifetime event, it’s what we didn’t see that was so memorable.

Confused? No worries, Dear Reader, all will be clear by the end of this story. But if you just can’t wait that long, a word of warning. When you go hiking this summer and want to be safe from anything that may cause you harm, don’t only look down.

Look up.

We had taken the “white” path that followed alongside the meandering creek and was considered one of the safest paths to traverse in the nature area. Half an hour later, the Girly Girls and I were gazing in disbelief at what stood on the banks of Line Creek.

Even during all those adventures my three brothers, The Sister and I had in the woods while growing up back on Flamingo, none of us had ever seen what the girls and I were currently looking at.

And, in my over sixty plus years of tromping through all kinds of woods since Flamingo, I’ve never come across anything close to what we discovered during our hike. Sure, we’d seen something like it on TV and pictures in National Geographic, but never in real life.

Busy as a beaver.

Years ago, I’d spotted a beaver building his dam at the mouth of a lake near our house, or at least I thought it was a beaver. It was all the way across the lake and could’ve been just a log floating in the water. Still, it has been my only beaver sighting during my entire life. So, did the Girly Girls and I see a beaver floating in Line Creek during our hike? Nope, we saw something even cooler.

At the start of our hike, Sweet Caroline said, “Papa, think we’ll see a beaver? I’d really like to see a beaver.” Following the well-worn white trail next to the creek, I shared that I’d never heard of any beaver sightings along the creek and doubt we would see any.

She replied defiantly, “I’m going to look for them anyway.” For the rest of our hike, she kept her eyes transfixed on the murky waters announcing, with every passing stick or small log, “Beaver! There’s a beaver!”

Looking at the water is how she missed it.

Walking right past it at first, I caught a glimpse of something really strange out of the corner of my eye. Doubling back on the trail, I now stood within two feet of it, still not believing what was right in front of me. Not seeing what I had, the Girly Girls had continued to walk ahead until I called them back, “Girls! I have never seen anything like this in my entire life. You gotta see it!”

Sweet Caroline called out, “Is it a beaver?”

“Close.”

The girls ran back down the path, stopped next to me searching the water for the beaver, then finally saying, “We don’t see it.” “Where’s the beaver, Papa?”

“It’s not a beaver, and it’s not in the water. Look at this.” I pointed to a small oak tree, about ten inches around, growing on the bank of the creek. About six inches up from the ground, a beaver had chewed all the way around the tree. Gnawed chunks of wood surrounded the entire tree base, but it still stood. “It’s only half chewed. Looks like Mr. Beaver got tired. He’ll probably come back tomorrow to finish.” After taking a bunch of pictures of the girls posing as beavers chewing the bottom of the tree, we continued our hike.

We climbed Mule Head Rock and posed for more pictures before making the steep climb up to Hill Top Lake in search of baby frogs. Unfortunately, after an extensive search, we found only tadpoles, but no baby frogs. It seems we were a week or two early. We agreed baby frog hunting was a good excuse to come back next week for another hike and, of course, to check on any progress made by Mr. Beaver.

Just before leaving Hill Top Lake, we ran into Luke, or I should say he ran into us. Luke is a very friendly golden lab who loves kids and loves getting petted. We told his owners, a mom with two kids, about the beaver-chomped tree just before Mule Head Rock, and she said they might hike back down to see it. What she asked next, when we were turning to walk away, is what made our trip so memorable.

“We didn’t see that, but we did see a large snake hanging out of a tree.”

“What?”

“You had to pass right under it. It was just before Mule Head Rock.”

That’s right, Dear Reader, while the Girly Girls were searching the water for a beaver and I was scanning the creek banks and dark overhanging of large rocks for lurking dangers plus the pathway for any mud or slippery rocks we had to cross, we had missed the obvious. The real danger had been just above our heads…a three-foot-long black water snake hanging down from a tree.

This weekend we’re taking another hike down at Line Creek to check to see if Mr. Beaver has felled the tree. We’ll take some hiking essentials with us this time: snacks, water, a small container to gather baby frogs, and a long walking stick that will double as a tree-hanging-snake-whacking stick if needed. And during the car ride over, I’ll give the Girly Girls some advice.

Life Lesson #10

“Sometimes in life, it’s the unseen dangers that are far worse than the dangers you can see. And sometimes, the safest pathways we take aren’t really safe at all.”

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]