By: Stephanie Rice
“We’re going to find the Mud Hole today,” I declared to my brother and sister as we traversed down the trodden tractor path to the opening of the creek, or, as we say in Pennsylvania, the “crick.”
My sister and I spent every other weekend at my dad’s house, which was out in the countryside, an hour or so outside of Philadelphia. Long before the days of hanging out on your phone or computer all day long, we’d instead be turned outside and told to come back in time for dinner. So, for hours we would pioneer across farmland, turn over rocks, catch frogs and crayfish and then return home when the sun started to set.
This day, I wanted to do more. My dad always spoke about the “Mud Hole” where he and his siblings would go hang out and get unforgivingly messy. The thing was, we never knew the actual location of the Mud Hole or what the Mud Hole even looked like. It was always described in a vague way, as being a large area that was always muddy and located somewhere way down the creek.
I wanted to finally find it and reap its muddy benefits.
The three of us started our trek downstream, jumping from familiar rock to rock, navigating the windy flow of water like the experts we were. We knew this creek because it was simply part of who we were. We passed by abandoned hunting tree stands, failed attempts of treehouses built by the children of my dad’s generation, and disappeared deeper into the woods with every step we took.
That’s when we reached the river.
Now, this wasn’t actually a river, but rather a much larger creek where the smaller one dumped into, but we liked to call it “the river.” Because it had rained some days before, it was still a bit swollen, the water muddied and the current swift. It was the only thing standing in the way of us and the “Mud Hole” and I, being the oldest sibling at maybe ten or eleven, declared we were going to cross it in all of my infinite wisdom.
My sister, who was a couple years younger than I, and my brother, who was a couple years younger than my sister, were fine with the plan. The three of us stood on the side of the bank and stared across to the other side where the Mud Hole must have been. Where else could it have been? We were determined. We wanted to see it.
I lead us across the creek. We picked a location to enter which was next to a few trees, one of which was downed and gave us something to hold on to as we stepped into the cold, murky water. I was about halfway across before I realized the current was more powerful than I thought, and I no longer felt as grounded as I was before. By the time I had realized this, my little brother, who was behind me, was slipping and struggling. Panic started to set in, and he became upset and immediately wanted to turn back. My sister agreed. We had no idea how to turn around, though. We were stuck holding onto this tree, which was the only thing keeping us from being carried down the creek into the deeper water.
It was then that I realized that I made a mistake, and that we might be in real trouble. I put my brother and sister into harm’s way, and we might all die because of it.
I steeled myself, because if I also started to panic, then there would be no hope of returning to the river bank. “Okay,” I called to my sister over the noise of the rushing water. “You are very close! Just carefully turn around and get back on the side. We have to get out of the water!”
She was reluctant, but brave. She managed to turn herself without slipping and shimmied her way back along the tree to where we entered. From there, she watched as I tried to strategize how to safely get my brother and I out next. We were in the middle of the furious creek, where the water was deepest and in the most danger.
My brother was crying now. “Hey, listen,” I said to him. “I am going to pick you up, because then we will be heavier together and it will be harder for the water to push us over. But you need to stay still so I don’t lose my balance, okay?” He nodded and agreed to my plan, but he was still crying. I had to encourage him. Calm him.
So, I did the only thing I could think of so that we could both concentrate and remain calm, and I started to sing “This Little Light of Mine.” I lifted him up, held him close to me, and one tiny step and familiar verse at a time, I made my way back toward my sister. My brother shakily sang along with me, and we kept our focus on our song because if I slipped, if I messed this up, we would both be washed away.
“Let it shine, let it shine…” I stepped out of the water and put my brother down on the riverside, his feet on solid ground. “Let it shine.”
We were a mess when we returned home for dinner. We were muddy, shaken and unwilling to speak about any of this to anyone for fear of the consequences. In fact, we never spoke of it again.
We also never found the Mud Hole. As the years went on, developers built houses on the farmland, and the little creek slowly dried up until it was nothing at all. We stopped going down there because there were no more frogs to catch or crayfish to lure out. We got older, we got phones and computers, and the traditional summer odyssey of walking the length of the stream until the sun set became no more.
Anytime I hear “This Little Light of Mine,” I remember the journey that took place that day, when the three of us took a risk to discover the fabled Mud Hole. I remember the little creek, our lifeline, where we spent so many years together playing carefree and untethered until the twilight, when we rushed back home for dinner.