When I was five, my folks bought an old two-story railroad boarding house. The house was in less than less than less than perfect shape at the time of acquisition. My folks got some help in fixing it up, and we lived there from 1965 or so to 1975. I liked living in that house, because I could get up after midnight and watch a passenger train pass on the rails across the street.
We had a little stone bench in the side yard--one of those ornamental things that looks at home in a garden or a cemetery. One of our neighbors here in Texas did us a great courtesy when a beloved dog died some years ago, but giving us a little smaller outdoor stone bench in memory of that dog. The bench at my childhood home used to play host to a huge woodpecker, what one of the older men in town called a "Lord God Woodpecker". I suppose an ornithologist would pronounce that it was most likely a huge pileated woodpecker, but my own view is that it was instead an ivory-billed woodpecker.
I could write long revels about chilly-day touch football games, hunting pecans under the tall trees, and even the joy of wielding a slingblade against the weeds on the chain link fence. I am a repository of stories involving a reflecting telescope bought from the JC Penny catalog, and of the massive firecracker collection of the boy across the street.
Tonight, though, I will tell you about the ditch. Out behind our house, behind the the fences, past the
place where we burned our trash (and, yes, sometimes enjoyed burning an aerosol can, because its combustion ended in an explosion), there was a little upcline and then there was a drainage ditch.
This ditch was perhaps a creek at one point. I seem to recall reading a legal case that the diversion of a local stream gave rise to a court dispute. But in my childhood, it was a simple ditch of water flowing towards Caney Creek. It had tadpoles in the Spring. It had a rare catfish, once in a great while. Mostly it had mosquito fish.
Mosquito fish--gambusia--are little native livebearers. They are hardy, prolific, and live well in little tiny streams. We used to try to "fish" for them--by putting pet store single-fish nets on the end of broomsticks.
It was much more sporting than ordinary fishing, because the fish were nearly impossible to catch. The effort was a huge lesson on hand-to-eye coordination and refraction.
I looked at that ditch tonight in satellite view on google maps. It's a dry summer, but the ditch was even more narrow than I recalled. It had a water flow, but was more a solid little stream than a little creek.
It's really just a water drainage system, even yet, I suppose. But I learned so much at play there, and I never felt it was ordinary or inadequate. I felt it was a great place to play--and I miss fishing for mosquito fish, just a bit. I remember once some boys used sacks to actually capture fish. I thought and think this unsporting. But to watch the huge tail of a tadpole in the water, or to miss while trying to net a tiny fish--that's adventure.