When I was growing up we lived in a house near the woods and in front of the house flowed a creek that provided me and my friends with hours and hours of entertainment. Whenever we had nothing else to do, one of us would say to the other, ‘want to go play in the creek?’ and off we went. That meant wandering up the path along the wooded banks daring one other to jump across at various points on the way. And during hot summer months we would sometimes swim in the larger pools though we were warned against it.
We walked through the culverts with our hands pressed against the walls, our feet straddling the water that flowed beneath. Sometimes we sat inside those concrete pipes propped up cross ways, discussing important matters of youth such as how to reconcile with whoever was currently on the outs. (It seemed we were always mad at someone and wanted to make up while saving face.)
During that era the creek was not in the best condition though we didn’t know it or care. It was never ‘Longfellow Creek’ to us, just ‘the creek’, always there and always good for hanging around. There were no fish but I remember the occasional crawdad and frogs nearby. And I remember the excitement the year heavy rain caused the creek to overflow its banks and we rowed down our street in a blue plastic boat. The best!
I wanted to go back and visit the old house near the woods and the creek that flowed in front. After a bit of research I learned there had been extensive cleanup and restoration of the area and a new Legacy Trail added. Longfellow, it turns out, is one of four free flowing creeks in Seattle, this one flowing year round into the Duwamish River. It is now home to trout, coho salmon and salamander. Evidence of beaver activity can also be found. At the headwaters of the Longfellow is the Roxhill Bog, a peat bog 10,000 years old, which is currently undergoing restoration so it can continue to naturally filter the water.
The Legacy Trail begins at Roxhill Park and wanders the next four miles through mostly residential areas, sometimes through woods and sometimes following the creek. That’s where I begin my visit.
The trail is inviting but the creek is not visible here this time of year so I move on to where I know it will be…. the dead end street where I grew up. I drive the road that seems so familiar but somehow unfamiliar at the same time.
I pull over and an old man with long hair and beard, big dog by his side, looks down at me from his driveway with suspicion. I get out of my car with my camera.
“I grew up here,” I call out to him. “I came to take a picture of the creek. Okay with the dog?”
He smiled. Yes. But I didn’t stay long.
The road is surprisingly unchanged and still feels off the grid. At the end of the road I find the old house and the creek nearby. The house has been well maintained but is a different color and seems much smaller than I remember. The creek seems wild and overgrown, narrower, and not very accessible..
I continue on to the next access point of the Legacy Trail and find this outdoor work of art…..but no easy view of the creek…
At my next and final stop off a quiet narrow road, I find this section of the trail and creek in the woods..
I don’t mean to sound disappointed, but I guess I am.
I much prefer the creek that flowed in my memory. When we dared one another to jump across at impossibly wide spots. Where we walked through concrete pipes and paused to tell secrets. Where we played in the woods and the salmon berries were sweet and flaming orange and red and thimble berries became caps placed on your fingers eaten off one by one.
I like knowing the creek is there and still flowing, perhaps more pristine than before with native plants and flowers and beaver if you know where to look, and salmon running though not in great numbers. I like to know I can still visit whenever I like. But if I am honest, I guess I like visiting the one in my memory even more.