Creek awash with memories of childhood fun |
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“Where Go the Boats?” was of my favorite poems when I was small, an early indication of a lifelong fascination with creeks.

“Away down the river, a hundred miles or more, other little children shall bring my boats ashore,” appropriately describes the feeling young children have whenever they are presented with the opportunity to play in a small creek.

Whether it be tossing rocks and creating splashes, or floating “Pooh sticks” under a bridge, or building tiny dams and bridges, children cannot resist creeks. One of the highlights of our family’s annual visit to my father’s home in Franklin County was playing in “Uncle Joe’s Creek.” It was just the right size, big enough for Joe and me to float toy boats down it and to simulate the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack. It is no surprise that I have become a lifelong amateur hydrologist.

I just finished reading “The River Why,” a delightful coming-of-age novel by David James Duncan about a fly fisherman on one of Oregon’s coastal rivers. In one episode, Gus, the protagonist, sets out to find the source of his mythical Tamanis River and eventually follows it to a tiny spring high on a Coastal Range mountain.

This, too, has a familiar feel. When we were young, an annual rite was to follow the small creek in Cow Hollow through the Indian Tunnel under Mayview Road a couple of miles to its source just before you get to Morrow Road. It was a special treat to hike up Cow Hollow in the spring when there were tiny waterfalls at the end of each intersecting gully, a miniature version of Yosemite Valley or the Columbia River Gorge.

Another memorable expedition was up Coal Pit Hollow, tracing its creek to its source. From the place where it runs under the Washington Pike, the stream runs several miles to the southwest, almost to Hickory Grade Road.

Finding the source of Chartiers Creek was well beyond our ambitions. If we can believe today’s maps, the source is southwest of Washington, Pennsylvania, very close to Route 18, perhaps two miles south of Lone Pine Golf Course, in a small wooded area. Sounds like a good excuse for a trip down that direction this summer.

After the protagonist of “The River Why” found the source of his river and realized how insignificant it seemed, he concluded that “source” was an improper name for it. After all, the source of a river is the sum of all its tributaries plus the rain that falls into it. Consequently, the source of Chartiers Creek includes Cow Hollow Creek, Coal Pit Run and even the tiny stream in the woods where I live.

Our stream is indeed tiny. Between rainstorms, its flow is of the order of magnitude of perhaps one gallon per minute. Its floodplain is four or five feet wide, with a tiny rivulet meandering back and forth across it. Despite its size, it is a magnificent hydrologic laboratory, demonstrating a wide variety of open channel flow phenomena in a few hundred yards.

When I finally get my time machine perfected, one of my first trips back in time will be to Uncle Joe’s Creek. I hope my brother and I will be able to locate our old toy boats.

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