Sunday, January 04, 2009

Childhood Rivers


This is the San Sebastion River in St. Augustine, Florida.
It's almost certainly the river that gave my Dad polio when he swam in it's openly polluted waters back in his youth.

It is also the river of my youth, but I'm not done with it yet.
When I was really little, it's where Dad took us to castnet shrimp to use as bait when we went surf fishing.
As a little guy, I was the shrimp pickerupper and toss back dude. My job was twofold ... pick up the bait-sized shrimp for the bucket AND toss back the tiny ones and the multitude of juvenile fishes that came up in the net. Dad could not stand to waste life and he would point to the circle of dead fish and small shrimp that other shrimpers would leave on the shore and tell me how shamefull that was ...'It only takes a minute to toss 'em back."
Especially if you had me along.

Later, he had Mr. Capo, Minorcan castnet maker extraordinare, knit me a tiny 3 foot net so my 9 year old frame could cast too. This was before machine-made cheap castnets at Walmart existed.


That net just lit a fire that kept me returning to the San Sebastion through the bicycle days, bucket, castnet, and fishing rod clenched in one handlebar hand while the other did most of the steering. Eventually, I got real wheels, but it was pretty common in my high school days to see my green Gremlin or my Dad's borrowed Scout parked near the SR-16 bridge.

When I brought the future Mrs. FC home from college to meet the folks, I took her canoeing on the San Sebastion and got her completely covered in marsh mud. She passed the river test and we have 3 lovely children today.
(yes there is a mud picture ... no, I'm not allowed to post it)

I'd like to say I know every inch of this river from SR-16 to the King Street bridge, but that was then, and this is now, and rivers change don't they?

A bank is cut, a sandbar builds, an oyster bar expands ...

Never assume the river is telling the same tale it told you years before.
No doubt the San Sebastion has something new to tell me, it's been too long since we chatted, but something ... maybe that green fishing kayak outside, ... tells me we will talk again real soon.

So, ... what's your childhood river?

46 comments:

robin andrea said...

I think it was Heraclitus who said that you can't step in the same river twice. Things do change.

I grew up in New Jersey in the suburbs. I didn't even see a creek until I was 16! I played at the ocean during summer vacations, but there was no rushing river water in my childhood.

I like your father's sense of things.

Sayre said...

My childhood river was the junction of the St. Marks and the Wakulla. The Spanish fort is perched on the banks there and I spent many a childhood hour wandering the fort.

I moved to Wakulla as a 33 year old woman and spend many hours fishing, kayaking and eating by the side of both rivers. So I'd say the Wakulla and the St. Marks are my rivers of life.

swamp4me said...

I was a townie, so my river was a creek. When my mom died in April I went back to the old neighborhood for one last visit. The land that the creek is on is now posted with no trespassing signs. I just stood at the top of the hill and looked down on the little winding trickle as it made its way through the woods. Thanks to the current owner, the woods still stand amidst the chaos of development and the little creek still runs. I am grateful for that.

Dani said...

Up until I was 12, I lived in the small town of Gallipolis Ohio. The Ohio River seperated us from Point Pleasant WVA. Our family print shop was in town and the river was only a couple blocks away and it was were I spent most of my time. I loved watching the coal barges run up and down the river. The best part was when the Delta Queen would come through and we'd get to ride her. Amazing after all these years, I can still feel the mist on my face from the paddles.

ChrisC and JonJ said...

Chris's childhood river was the polluted Niagara River.Always assumed all rivers were that foamy and smelly.Jon's was and still is the Hillsborough River,but spent many weekends fishing the Peace River,too.

Florida Beach Basics said...

Nice posting, FC. My "river" was a creek on my Grandmother's South Dakota farm. If you were lucky, you could float down it on your back without scraping your butt. You ducked when you floated under the bridge so the spiders didn't get on you. My friend and I would capture crayfish, put a dot of paint on their backs, and have crayfish races. In the winter, I'd have to chop holes in the ice so the cows could get a drink. Thanks for bringing back those good memories.

Aunty Belle said...

Nice memories, FC. I'se wif' the Mrs. --no mud shots.

Ocklawaha is probably the one I recalls the most --we went there fer all manner of fun and loafin' when were wanted to fish, an the St John's near Palatka..But we did tube on the Itchetuckney.

I's so old I ain't sure that was me who is memberin' this. Heh.

Margaret Cloud said...

Childhood memories are the best told, this is a very interesting post. I am sure you have taken your children there. We lived along the Ohio River and it was so muddy it looked you put too much cream in your coffee but we swam in it any way. Hope your New Year is going well.

Dee said...

We had two rivers near our home. The Delaware River and the Schuylkill River were closeby. The Schuylkill cuts Philadelphia right down the middle. The Delaware divides PA from NJ and has a nifty transport canal alongside that freezes in the winter for ice skating. I've done a LOT of miles on that canal.

It's the most peaceful way to spend time with your thoughts in the wintertime.

Pablo said...

When I was but a lad, I rode with my grandparents from their home in western Kentucky to the home of a friend up in Michigan. We passed through Indiana (of course) and crossed a river that my grandfather said he had always wanted to float since he was but a lad. I don't know which river it was, but I'd guess it was the Wabash. I've wanted to float that mystery river ever since then.

I know our Ozark streams are not at all like your Florida ones, but the call of the water seems to be a universal.

elpbulls said...

"What I like most about rivers is you can't step in the same river twice, the waters always changing always flowing" - Pochantas sings that in the disney version lol :) My river would have to be the Waccasassa!!! But i bet you knew that.

Anonymous said...

Growing up in Miami I was always a beach person. My first real river experience was when I moved to Gainesville in 1973 and we went tubing down the Ichetucknee. Then we discovered all the springs around the area. We used to go to Ginnie when it was still privately owned. I remember seeing the Suwannee for the first time and thinking about the song!! I am close to the St Johns River now and smile each time I see it. Water brings a calmness to me like nothing else!
Thanks for bringing back the good times!

St. Augustine is still my favorite place. I looked at a house around Oyster Creek but it needed too much work for me to take on.

After spending that month directly on the ocean I told a friend that if I had a choice I would rather live on a river or marsh than the ocean.

Great post,

Patti

rick said...

wow remember when we got covered with the black mud from head to toe and drove our bikes home. Did we ever get some funny looks. This river holds a large portion of my childhood memories.

Flatland Mountaineer said...

Mine was the "Hooch". The Chattahoochie, that is, as it courses through North Atlanta. You could raft down it and hardly see anyone...back in the '60's. Not anymore....

Now, it's the Catawba. And the Linville. WNC

tsiya said...

Home, Sweet Home!

Floridacracker said...

Robin,
You've certainly made up for that shortage of child rivers. So many of your posts involve water.

Sayre,
What a fine area to be in! I love that area ... almost landed there instead of here.

Swampie,
How nice to return and see it's still sporting it's trees.

Dani,
What a great memory ... paddlewheeler mist.

Chris and Jon,
I haven't been to Niagra, but I've been to the other two!

Marge,
Spiders ... eek! My kryptonite ... that and dentists.
We had fiddler crab races here!

Aunty,
I spent some good times on the Oklawaha too. Had quite the adventure there when I was 17.
Y'ouse like a fine wine maam.

Margaret,
Funny, but I haven't taken them on this river although we have been on many others together.
Now isn't that odd?


Dee,
I'm picturing that frozen canal as long linear skating rink. Must have been fun!


Pablo,
You must go float that river and solve the mystery!

Emma,
I was on YOUR river just a few hours ago. Look for a post soon about it.
Love and miss you madly!

Patti,
I know those Oyster Creek neighborhoods well. My grandfather ran a civic club down there when I was a kid. We were beach people too and almost never touched fresh water bodies when I was a kid. Glad you liked the post!

Rick,
I forgot to mention that you were right there beside me often as not in that river.
I do remember that day ... that was some deep mud cuz.

Flat,
Your river became pretty famous and that usually ruins a place! Glad you found some good ones.

Tsiya,
Yup, still for me too.

edifice rex said...

"Can't step in the same river twice"; the Cowboys Junkies sing that in a very haunting melody.
My river was the Coosa, as I grew up near the back waters of it but rarely went in it. I'm a Taurus you know, we like our feet dry.

kevin said...

My wife ran into a friend of FC's and ours last week. He told her a story of seeing a poor, filthy, homeless guy walking along the railroad tracks behind his father's auto repair shop near the San's Sebastion river. It turned out to be FC collecting bottles. He said didn't feel so sorry for the guy once he knew who it was.

Nice kayak by the way.

Anonymous said...

FC-
I think my childhood river would be and don't quote me on the correct spelling, but it was either Panna Creek or Panther Creek, that ran by my granparents home in Concordia, MO. I was always scared to go there because I was sure Panthers were going to sneak up and eat us! I think my older boy cousins had something to do with telling us three little girls that! Hadn't thought about that in quite awhile!
Lightnin

Stacy said...

The Tennessee river was mine. From Scottsboro to Guntersville, my parents took us fishing and exploring. Striper in deep water under the massive bridge, bream during mayfly season along innumerable banks, and bass under any convenient lilypad.

Fishing here in Florida has been a massive disappointment compared to my childhood memories, due to massive sportfishing, I think. But, unlike the old homily, you CAN go home again.

Cathy S. said...

Ware's Creek in Bradenton. My grandparents lived on that creek and its banks were a favorite place to play as long as Granddaddy went with us. That was the rule, no playing by the creek unless he came along. He has a small rock garden with a waterfall and a tiny stream where we could play anytime though. And there were the rivers in the Smokey Mountain National Park with my other grandparents. Add in Rainbow River as a teen on tubing trips with the church youth group. But, mostly, it was the bays and gulf as my dad had a boat and we were out it in almost every weekend.

Deb said...

I guess I could call the St. Johns my childhood river...great memories of alligators and shrimping and learning to water ski and all. I didn't really have any rivers I was attached to here in Minnesota, but I did have one lake...

Alan said...

My childhood "river" is the Little St. Mary's between Macclenny and Glen St. Mary, a bit north of the bridge at US 90. Dark, black, heavily shaded, with large trees and bushes and plants all around, and a good bit of wildlife, especially spiders. I do dislike me some spiders. :) (But let them live if they aren't bothering me - unless my wife tells me otherwise!) Mostly shallow enough to walk across in many places, except during flood season, when it could flood the banks and rise by 20 feet and cover US 90 sometimes. Not many good fish that we ever caught, though.

Doug Taron said...

No childhood river for me. Cape Ann is very rocky, and has no rivers (the Annisquam is a tidal inlet). I had Wolf Trap Brook, and now I live a short walk from the mighty Fox.

Anonymous said...

Love your posts. This one took me back to Frog Creek in rural Kansas. I spent many summer days there while my grandfather farmed the fields. My sister and I were never allowed to go in without him but we had lots of adventures watching and exploring the life in and around it. The gar were so big, I'm amazed we ever went in! Today I stroll along it and wonder about the past life of the Singapore River.

Thunder Dave said...

I can't really single one out because as teenagers we used to canoe about every river in the Missouri-Arkansas waterways. Although I've got a few tales from those experiences that I can pull up sometime around a compfire!

Anonymous said...

Hey FC, I remember the Escatawpa, that runs along the MS/AL line. I spent many a day there. We couldn't go without our parents. It flooded with big rains and had lots of snags. Sand bottom river, just like the ones in Fl. Of course this part of the world was considered West Florida @ one time. Learned to swim there and was used to a current, dang near drown in the first swimmiing pool I was in. No current.

kathy a. said...

i grew up in los angeles; the los angeles river has long been lined with concrete, and i don't remember it having much water unless there were storms.

my kids are more fortunate; there are a number of creeks in our area. and the bay.

NativeMom said...

Hey, we share the same childhood river. My family lived off SR 16 and we tramped through the muck looking for snails around the bridge near SR 16 and US 1. I never threw a castnet (though my mom was good at it) but my sister and I would scoop up fiddler crabs for my parents to use in fishing off the jetty for Sheepshead.

TROLL said...

Whiskey Creek in Broward. Home to bootlegging bandits during Prohibition and site of the infamous "Murph the Surf" murders.

Hurricane Teen said...

My mom has good memories of gathering oysters from Oyster Creek near SR-16 as well as catching shrimp on the St. Johns (which I would consider my childhood river.) The San Sebastian is great, but there's something about the St. Johns River that just touches the soul.

You ought to see the bank of that river along Highway 13 between Orangedale and Switzerland...They've cut out all the palmettos and thick vegetation in one section and you can see clear across to Clay County from the road. I must admit it is a stunning view, but I still don't like the idea of messing up the natural order of things.

P.S.: I'm trying to find a scanner so I can email you those interesting photographs.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

The Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon, went right through the middle of town. I once saw a young boy (but older than me) fishing off "The Point". His bait was soft bread and egg yolk, and he had two 14-inchers in his creel. I sure wanted those fish, but even more, I wanted to catch some. Never did, nope.

Floridacracker said...

Annie,
Never went in it?

Kevin,
I so remember that day and the look on Bill's face when he saw it was me.

Lightnin,
Older cousins are bad that way.

Stacy,
You need to fish a quiet FL stream or lake during the bream bedding season for that taste of home.

Cathy S,
Sounds great ... in truth this San Sebastion is a tidal creek and technically part of the ocean too.

Deb,
Well, you certainly grew up to work around water. The St. Johns is a wonderful river to have been a kid on.

Alan,
I used to cross that one alot and always wondered what it was like.

Doug,
The mighty Fox! I'll have to look that one up.

Anon 1,
Gar can be pretty scary looking!

ThunderD,
We'll hold you to that.

Anon 2,
No current ...LOL! That is another river I need to look up.

Kathy A,
I think it was the movie "China Town" where I first realized the LA river was a concrete ditch.
Good that your kids have real streams.

NativeMom,
My parents still live off SR 16 where I grew up. We might be neighbors.

Troll,
Home to the Kennedy's?

HT,
I actually have them if they are the 1974 El Castillo as I was a sophomore 73-74.

Floridacracker said...

Hoss,
I rafted the DesChutes near Bend about 10 years ago.

Hurricane Teen said...

Ahh, I see. I still want to show you my mom and my uncle to see if you might recognize them :-D

ImagineMel said...

Blue Springs!

ImagineMel said...

Blue Springs!

Ericka said...

river is a stretch. we had a swamp that we played in that fed into a creek. it was only about 2 feet deep and about 4 feet across at its largest, but it was a raging river to us. :-)

Floridacracker said...

HT,
Yes, I'd like to see those if you work it out.

Mel,
That's a great one!

Ericka,
Perspective is reality. I spent alot of time in a drainage ditch of the same size and it was a wonderland to me.

caroline said...

Sleepy River, so named by us in the 50s. It was a swampy area that seemed to have no "headwaters" or mouth, but had enough water to harbor polliwogs and lots of mud. Hours of entertainment building bridges and dams for a bunch of kids. It was in an area of several empty lots between new residential streets just being developed.

Heard from my folks, (who still live in same house) that the city recently discovered a leaking water main in the area! Sleepy River, Morrison Avenue, Plattsburgh, NY was a leak that had been going on for 50+ years! Alas, it is now extinct, thanks to some red-faced city engineers who repaired the leak.
Caroline in the Black Hills

SwampAngel65 said...

That first picture is beautiful! I wish I could say I had a childhood river, but unless you want to count the numerous canals in South Dade or the Everglades itself (hey, it IS a river of grass!)then I don't have one. I do have fond memories of rowing my 10' jon boat through the mangroves around our old house in Key Largo to John Pennekamp State Park. I thought I were the sh!t pulling up to the dock in "MY" boat. Geesh...

Anyhoo...I'm doing a giveaway over at my place, so if you're interested in possibly winning a jar of homemade guava jam, just leave a comment!

Happy New Year, FC!

Robert V. Sobczak said...

I've always had the same thought about tossing the fish back. I'm not a fisherman, but on one day long ago when I went fishing with a long-time fisherman, I found myself concentrating more on throwing back the minnows and shiners than on fishing. It was a good day.

urbanextension said...

Mine is the River Avon that gentle roams through the English countryside near to where I grew up in Salisbury, Wiltshire. The river cut it's way through our village, with water meadows (in the old days these were carefully flooded in winter to provide good grass in the spring for livestock) on either side. I used to fish as an 11 year old on a little island in the river for grayling and brown trout (this would be around 1977). A favorite secret spot. Further up the valley we used to go and picnic in the summer, and paddle/swim in the water looking for old pottery (lots of Roman stuff around here and older - as we are within a few miles of Stonehenge) and watching the birds and mammals. Halcyon days thanks for reminding me! Jane

Bill said...

FC,
You know my river too, only it is now not a river anymore. When I was a child I grew up at lighthouse park and salt run. We used to swim across to Bird Island. Now it looks so far away. I can remember many times sailing in the river, but we were not allowed to go near the inlet. Only when I was old enough to take out my dads motorized boat were we finally allowed to go around the bend and into the bay. What a place to grow up. Those were the days.
Billy

Floridacracker said...

Caroline,
That is too funny. How many kids explored and learned something from that leak produced stream over those years?
It's almost a shame to fix the pipe.

Swampangel,
Happy new year! Sounds delicious and what a childhood you must have had in the keys!

Robert,
Sounds like a good day.

Urban,
You win the prize for most historical river! What an amazing location.

Billy,
Love Salt Run at night with a flounder gig!

Sharon said...

Definitely the St Johns, which is probably why I'm continually drawn to it. btw, the new header is awesome!!