The creek ran cold and clear, rushing over slates made from the mud of an inland lake millions of years before and rapidly eroding back into mud. Water striders slid across the water where it eddied and dragonflies patrolled just above the surface of the riffles. Rushes and grasses grew lush along the banks and in many places willows and birch overhung the gurgling water.
But Charlie wasn’t interested in any of that. He was laser-focused on what lay beneath the smaller slates in places not quite in the most forceful stream but not in the quiet backwaters either. He stood still, bare feet immersed to just above the ankle, bent at the waist and gently lifted one flat rock with his left hand. His patience and care was rewarded as a two-inch long blue-black crayfish was exposed.
Stunned by the sudden light it was stationary and Charlie reached his right hand slowly around the tail-end of the crayfish moving to lightly pinch it just behind the extended pincers. At the last moment the crayfish sensed the hand stealthily approaching and burst backward with a powerful flick of its tail and disappeared into the shadows of the nearby bank.
Undaunted, Charlie replaced the rock in his left hand and lifted another with his right. Again he was rewarded by an adult crayfish temporarily dazed by its exposure. This one had a white splotch across its carapace. Charlie noted it without thinking and reached his left hand in, repeating his previous maneuver from the other side.
This time the crayfish was none the wiser until his small fingers closed on its thorax and he managed to gleefully extract the crustacean from its watery home. The crayfish snapped ineffectually at the air in front, Charlie’s expert grasp effectively pinning the pincers so they could not reach him.
Charlie stood up straight and held it directly in front of his face, staring at it eye to eye. “Hello,” he said in a conversational way, “hope you are having as good a day as me!”
Then he bent down again and returned the crayfish to the creek, releasing it a few inched below the surface but not quite at the bottom. A couple strokes of its tail and the crayfish disappeared under another rock.
Some days Charlie could play this game for hours but today he only caught 5 (and missed 4) before he decided to take a break. He sat on the bank, dangling his feet in a slightly deeper pool and watched the tiny dace flit back and forth in the deepest part of the pool. Suddenly a slightly larger fish burst from the school and broke the surface to plunge back to the “depths”, a mayfly larvae barely fitting into its fully distended mouth.
“Good catch!” Charlie said aloud as if to encourage the fish.
He lay back in the grass and looked up at the sky. Clouds were coming up, big ones that had not been there when he had walked down to the creek. Unconcerned, he lay on the bank plucking the seed heads off the grass and watched as the clouds scudded across the sky until one eventually blotted out the sun.
A cool wind followed the cloud and Charlie reluctantly stood up, pulling his wet feet onto dry ground. The sun returned briefly and he let it dry his feet as much as he could before it vanished behind the next cloud. He slipped his shoes onto his now only damp feet and, socks in hand, started up the hill toward home, another day of “fishing for crawdads” at an end.
(c) 2018 Greg Schroeder
It is the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. The score is tied. There are two outs and the bases are loaded. The loudspeaker blares, "Batting for the pitcher - Greg Schroeder!" I stand in the box and size up the pitcher. He's a wily old veteran reliever. I dig in.
The first pitch burns in low and away. I take it for ball one. The next pitch breaks over the center of the plate for a strike. The third pitch nicks the outside corner for strike two.
I ask for time to readjust myself in the box. When I'm settled the umpire calls, "Play ball!" The pitcher winds up, kicks, and throws. A slider high and tight1 Bat meets ball with a loud "crack" sending the ball over the leftfielder to the wall. The winning run scores and we are World Champions!
Alas, it is just a fantasy, a daydream of mine. Yet I try to make my fantasies, my daydreams, come true. Today, four months after my tenth birthday, I will take the first step in making that fantasy a reality. Today I will start my first Little League game.
As I don my catcher's equipment I look over the other team, the Cardinals. They have fifteen good athletes on their team, no slouches. No wonder they won every game they played last year. By comparison our team does not have overwhelming talent, we are not all superstars and we know it. Still we have an undying drive to win if possible and therefore are not intimidated by their unblemished record or superb appearance.
I crouch behind the plate, catch a few warm-ups from Gerry, our pitcher, and indicate to the umpire that we are ready. He yells, "batter up!" and the game begins.
The first inning is a disaster - four errors, one passed ball, one wild pitch, four walks, and two hits result in eight runs before we can get the side out. In our half the first two batters strike out before Gerry pops out to the shortstop and we are right back on the field.
Now Gerry bears down. He faces only four batters and strikes out three of them. However the batter he does not strike out sends one of his pitches over the rightfield fence for a homerun, giving the Cardinals a 9-0 lead.
Determined not, to stand idly by while they clobber us, we start attacking. Our first batter grounds out, but the next two stroke singles into left center. Steve, our third baseman, walks to load up the bases.
Now it is my turn to bat, my first at bat as an organized baseball player. The pitcher whips in a fastball that glances off my right shoulder to the backstop. I go to first base and our initial run scores. Three batters later we are back on the field down by just six, 9-3.
The third, fourth, and fifth innings pass by with us vainly trying to match the ever growing number of Cardinal runs. Now it is the last of the sixth, our last chance. Though we are down by eight, 37-29, not one of us does not believe we can and will win.
Bobby, our second baseman, helps to confirm our beliefs by drilling the very first pitch of the inning down the rightfield line for a triple.
Andy punches a pinch-single through the infield to score Bobby and trim the Cardinal lead to seven. Randy, our shortstop, hammers a double to center and Andy races home. Six runs to go.
Gerry steps in. Their pitcher is upset and sends his first pitch over the catcher to the backstop allowing Randy to take third. Gerry walks to bring up Eddie. Eddie, too, walks to load the bases. Unfortunately Chuck, our best hitter, strikes out for the first out. Bill walks to the plate. He allows the first pitch go by then drops the second in front of the centerfielder and behind the second baseman for a single. Gerry and Randy score to cut the Cardinal lead to four. Steve peps out for the second out and I step in.
I let the first two pitches sail outside before missing a fastball high and tight. The next pitch hits the dirt in front of the plate and bounds to the backstop allowing Eddie and Bill to advance. I foul off the next pitch to fill the count. The next pitch hurtles toward me. I time it perfectly and hit a hard chopper to short. It leaps off the shortstop's glove into leftfield. I end up on second, Eddie and Bill score and we are down by two, 37-35.
Bobby is up again and draws a walk. Their coach has finally had enough and changes pitchers.
Andy fouls off four straight pitches before straightening out the fifth. He hits it so hard I don't think anyone will ever find it. Bobby scores. I follow and Andy crosses the plate with the winning run!
Annisette sat cross-legged on the grass peering through the stalks of the zinnias waving gently in the summer breeze. Her eyes were just below the level of the blossoms. She could hear the bees working busily but could not really see them until they slowly hovered from one flower to the next.
Her vision anyway was locked on her brother on the other side of the yard looking painstakingly through the rhododendron and lilacs. She could almost hear his whistling over the hum of the bees. She knew it was the theme to The Andy Griffith Show even though she never thought his whistling and the song sounded remotely similar.
She waited until he made it to the pump house and the small white building blocked him from her view. She sprang up and dashed ten feet to suddenly sit again, this time behind the bed of snapdragons, the multi-colored flowers now waving at eye level.
Jeremy emerged from the far side of the pump house and looked right at her without seeing. Her print dress blended perfectly with the flowers screening her from his view. His gaze passed to the zinnias and then even further to the sunflower bed. He started to amble in that direction.
Annisette took her chance, jumping up and racing for the giant sycamore. Jeremy shouted “Ha!” and burst into a run on an intersecting path. She started to giggle as her bare feet pounded across the soft grass. She could hear him gaining ground, his much-longer legs eating up the distance between them, but, like often, his steps seemed to slow as they all closed together – Annisette, the sycamore, and Jeremy.
She reached the tree. “Safe!” she squealed. And then he reached it, and her, and one finger tickled her ribs, expanding the giggle to peals of laughter. She collapsed to the ground out of his reach, still laughing, and a grin split his face. “You are so-o-o-o fast.”
“And tricky!” she giggled.
“And tricky” he agrees. “Next time I’m going to start looking at the zinnias!”
“OK! Count!” and she starts to run into the middle of the yard, the giggling stopping with the seriousness of the next hiding place.
Jeremy hides his face in the tree and starts counting, loudly, and peeking to see where she goes, “One! Two!...”
Me as a critic (be careful! the harshness will be well concealed!)