Editor’s note: Have you noticed lately that bits of the past are creeping into the present? We’re gardening more, going to drive-in movies, spending time with nature, putting jigsaw puzzles together. We are finding that these traditional pastimes are somewhat calming in this time of COVID-19. Weelunk’s series, “Bygone Comebacks,” will take a look at some of the ways we’ve been slowing down. Today’s story shows how a day playing on the creek can be magical for adults and children alike.
There is something about the flow of water that draws us in.
Whether it is a trickle we hear running down a sloped outdoor wall or an ocean pulsating with rage, we are entranced by its mesmerizing force.
As a 6-year-old, I can remember riding my bicycle to the creek on Elm Street in Woodsdale — peddling as though the creek and I had an appointment for which I had to be promptly on time.
I’d excitedly toss my shoes in the grass and spend hours just walking in the water and feeling its cool chill on my fingers and toes.
The small creek in that neighborhood was — and still is — very shallow and filled with stones, moss and even leaches.
Looking back, I loathed touching mud and dirt, so why was I so eager to play in a muddy creek that had leaches — which yes, I did have to pull off of my ankles more than a time or two?
THE TIDES TURN
While I visited the creek almost every day, I eventually stopped. It wasn’t sudden of course. As with all childhood games and joys, it was like a gradual trickle.
That change is something we don’t notice until we are adults. There is a shift that comes when we are reaching — reaching for something that grounds us and reminds us to take a step away from the chaos for a respite from our struggles.
The coronavirus has dismantled many things and has created much of the current chaos in the world, but it cannot strip us of our childlike desires. The desire to feel at ease. To take a deep breath. Not the type of breath we take in front of our computer to try and get through the day, but a real, honest breath.
I believe that — though the mud and insects that I couldn’t stand were always present — the flow of water was what really kept me playing in the creek until the streetlights came on.
It didn’t matter that I’d spend forever in the tub when I got home just to make sure my toes were extra clean.
It didn’t matter how many mosquito bites I received, and it didn’t matter how blazingly hot the sun was on my neck.
There’s a freedom in allowing ourselves to be immersed in a creek and leaving all of the literal and figurative noise in the world behind for a day.
IMMERSED IN NATURE
Avid outdoorsman and Wheeling resident, Jesse Mestrovic, has been playing in the creek for as long as he can remember.
From his humble beginnings living in Elm Grove to turning his passion for nature into a full-time career as the Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Wheeling, Mestrovic has truly immersed his life in nature.
“I remember catching fish in the creek behind Reisbeck’s with the neighborhood kids, either with a pole or with our bare hands,” said Mestrovic.
“I love the creeks and waterways and the corresponding trail system that follows them through Wheeling. As an avid kayaker, I am playing in the creek more now than when I was a child.”
While Mestrovic primarily enjoys kayaking and fishing for smallmouth bass and catfish, he agrees that, even without a paddle or fishing rod in hand, the water calls to him.
“I think people have a natural affinity to water and the tranquility that a peaceful spot can bring,” he said.
“I am excited to see increased users in the waterways, and hopefully that interest brings more environmental stewards and awareness of our natural resources.”
Mestrovic thoroughly enjoys the tranquil sounds and smells that come along with a day on the creek, including the sound of a wood duck when met by a passerby and the crisp scent of the woodland landscape.
SOCIAL DISTANCING ON THE WATER
While the coronavirus has driven Mestrovic to explore the outdoors in more areas, he believes it is where he would be spending his summer with or without the pandemic.
“Due to COVID-19, I personally have been utilizing the waterways as a social distancing activity,” said Mestrovic.
“However, this is something that I am passionate about and would be out playing in the creek regardless.”
Debby and Bill Koegler of Wheeling have been taking the pandemic “very seriously since early March,” Debby said.
Because they have not had physical contact with their five grandchildren during their isolation, “I have been trying to think of outdoor activities to engage in so that we could be together, but apart,” Debby said. “Yesterday, I took them on a Mo Adventure [her grandchildren call her Mo] to Wheeling Creek for a stone-skipping contest. We had so much fun! From the 4-year-old on up to the 14-year-old, we all played in the creek water for two hours; cooling ourselves off, finding treasures and exploring.”
Debby noted that the creek is easily accessible from their homes, and the day made for a memorable occasion. By the way, the 14-year-old won the contest with 21 skips!
Wheeling resident, Brandi Burger, like many of us, holds playing in the creek close to her heart.
“I have a lot of positive memories from the creek as a child,” said Burger.
“My family would take my sister and me camping out there a lot during the summers. We learned how to swim, fish and kayak during those summers.”
Burger, who is an associate attorney pending bar admission for Thomas E. McIntire & Associates, can often be found floating down Big Wheeling Creek on the weekends, especially since COVID-19 made its appearance.
“Floating down the creek has been a great stress reliever. [This year] has been hard on everyone,” said Burger.
“This pandemic has added a lot of stress to our lives by the loss of employment [and] social distancing. Being able to get away from it all and relax by floating in my kayak on the creek has allowed me to escape the stress of everything that has been going on lately.”
To many, a creek is just a flowing body of water.
For myself, Mestrovic and Burger, a creek is tranquility.
It is a calmness you cannot experience practically anywhere else, and we have it right in our backyard.
“To me, the creek feels like home. I’ve built lasting friendships by meeting people either on the water, at Bonnie’s [bar and kayak drop-in point] or while camping,” said Burger.
“The atmosphere is peaceful, and the people are great. The creek plays a huge role in the memories I have as a child, and I plan to continue making these memories for years to come.”
WHAT PEACE FEELS LIKE
For those of us who have been lucky enough to experience the wonders of life in the creek, we are thankful beyond explanation.
I have been left exhausted, sunburned and even have gone all day without eating just to float down the creek with the sun on my cheeks.
Every time I’m on the water I think, “This is why West Virginia is special. This is what being at peace feels like.”
While it may sound like an exaggeration, I, and many like me, have always felt a kinship with the flow of water.
The birds singing, the rope swing with children fighting over who gets to do a flip next and the families that live on the creek who have weekend cookouts — these are some of my favorite landmarks of gliding down the creek on a warm summer day.
These are what make the creek a serendipitous escape from the real world. So many little things working together — just so we can take a deep, honest breath.
• With a background in journalism and being a true Wheeling native, Jessica Broverman was destined to work with Weelunk. She holds a degree in journalism with a minor in criminal justice and works with Williams Lea Tag as a legal proofreader. When she isn’t typing away for Weelunk or WLT, she is enjoying a coffee at one of her many favorite spots in Wheeling, spending time with friends, or having fun with her husband Zachary and their two cats, Proctor and Max.