07 September 2009

An Expedition to Christmas Run Delta

WOOSTER--We set out to find the end of Christmas Run Creek on a fine mid-summer day when we both should have been working but the allure of going down a mini-river with a pail to catch minnows surely seemed like a better option.

I live in Wooster, Ohio. It is not my native town--though I am no longer sure where that might be--but this creek has run through my days here for well on nigh twenty years. I have walked it before a little. I still don’t know where its headwaters are but it runs from the private property of Miller Lakes, through the country club golf course and through Christmas Run Park. There the stream splashes past pavilions, a steep bank to one side and a groomed park on the other. Mothers take their children to play in its clear and innocuous waters. It passes under a covered bridge and if you walk a little down the banks are choked with a species of mint that smells of chocolate.

At the end of the park is a viaduct, higher than a tall man’s head and at the other end its deepest pool. You continue downstream past the old Wooster High football stadium and past houses and then through a run-down trailer park and soon you are at the fairgrounds. I had gone almost that far before several times and always I had wondered where it finally ended.

I suggested the venture to my friend Patrick because I knew he would be interested, that he rarely says no to any adventure no matter how small or large. So we set off to find where that piece of water ended. Of course the expedition would be very limited as I am pretty sure the watercourse ends in New Orleans. That Christmas Run would empty perhaps into the Killbuck, which would go somewhere into something and eventually into the Ohio River and finally the mighty Mississippi. But our plans were not so grand that day.

We crossed into the fairgrounds which led us through a long rectangular tunnel filled with spider webs which might have been easier had we still been the nine-year-olds we were feeling like. Past the tunnel the course narrowed between high, grassy banks and just out of the fairgrounds the mud began. At first we sank up to our ankles and then our knees and soon it was often deep enough to swallow a nine-year-old. We trudged and fought on. Pat stayed mostly in front, leaving me the choice of either stepping in the deep holes he had made or making new ones myself. There was little difference. For a moment we considered calling it quits. Where we stepped in the deep mire, bubbles of methane from the rotting foliage that had collected in these lowlands bubbled up like stinking jets from an unholy Jacuzzi.

But the thought of quitting passed quickly. We were on an expedition of exploration and just because we could quit and walk home didn’t mean it was right to. Finally, however, the constant struggle with the mud became too odious so we climbed the bank into tall grass and followed the course from above. We were lucky, it wasn’t saw-grass and later we found no ticks and we made good time. The landscape seemed African and I could imagine the tension of hunting lion in similar country. But there are few roving lions in Ohio and we saw not so much as a groundhog though in the water I did spot a fair-sized snapping turtle and earlier Pat had seen a water snake.

And finally we came to our goal. The end came suddenly, somehow. One minute we were following the creek and then we were at its end, barely a stream trickling into what I think is the Killbuck joined also by a section of old canal. We sat under a bridge, muddy and stinking like a couple of fairy-tale trolls, drinking water and admiring the handsome old iron pilings painted with high-water gauges. The bridge they supported was part of Old Columbus Road and the end of the Christmas Run Creek down by the corner of Wooster’s waste-water treatment plant. We agreed next time to follow it the other way, up to the Mountains of the Moon or wherever Christmas Run Creek begins. And then, in the hot, afternoon sun, we began the walk home and I told Pat of how once, long ago, my friend Robert and I followed the railroad tracks out of Oxford, Ohio only to end up in the exotic town of Hamilton.