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
Me as a critic (be careful! the harshness will be well concealed!)