Down By the River

Posted by on Jun 26, 2016 in summer, Unmowed Blog | 4 comments

The river. Hot and lazy under June sun.

If I happen to feel like a swim, though, it’s a long stumble over sunbaked rocks for a hundred yards to get to the water. I stub my toes a dozen times. A persistent horsefly circles my head, buzzing evilly. When I finally reach the water, it’s brownish, murky, lukewarm.


I wouldn’t trade my river (the Schoharie Creek in upstate New York) for a thousand swimming pools with crystal turquoise water. I’ll take the smell of river mud over chlorine any day. Crayfish nibbling my bare feet? Dragonflies whizzing past? Not a problem.

But wait. What about germs? Pollution? Dirt? Pools are sanitary, filtered, chlorinated. Safe. Mm, maybe, but watching the stew of humanity bubbling in the local pool, I’ll take my muddy river any day.

Mud, yes. Pollution? I pick up a rock, any rock at random, and a little brown insect about half an inch long wriggles across it. It’s a stonefly nymph, an aquatic invertebrate that’s highly susceptible to pollution. Their presence is an indicator of high water quality. I prefer bugs I can see to those I can’t.

And an artificial swimming pool is missing so many things. It isn’t lined with cottonwoods, leaves flashing silver in the breeze. Swimming pools often lack a kingfisher splashing hopefully, searching for a fish dinner. No algae, no tadpoles, no herons. You can’t go bumping and twirling over the rapids in an inner tube—there are no rapids in an in-ground pool. That crystal clear water just sort of sits there. You never get to feel that exciting little nibble at your toe that might be a snapping turtle (but is really an inch-long minnow.)

In the last heat wave I spent a lot of time neck-deep in the Schoharie Creek. The current of cool brown water flowed endlessly past, caressing my skin like satin. Damselflies perched on me as I drifted with the stream. Gonna lay down my burdens, down by the riverside.

Come on in, the water’s fine.schoharie creek


  1. I was just trying to find information on water quality on the creek and came across this lovely poetic, wonderfully written piece. You have talent, I could picture everything perfectly.

    • Thank you so much! It’s a wonderful creek, I was just swimming there the other day.

  2. Love this immersion in your quintessential creek! All the lovely elements are there. Thanks for posting.

    • Thank you!

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