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  • Summer seemed to last for…ever when we were kids, didn’t it?

    One summer when I was about 13, the oldest of my three younger brothers and several friends and I would get up early most mornings and head out to explore the streams that ran through our town. There were several and they fascinated us.

    We’d pack a lunch and head out for the day.

    Be back for dinner our parents would say. Stick together, they’d add.

    No cell phones. They didn’t exist. One or two of us had a watch. Maybe.

    We’d get down into the bed of the stream and just follow it. Through backyards, into culverts and out, past fields, past highways, under bridges. Slipping on rocks, shouting, whispering.

    We’d start out slow and quiet. Picking our way, looking in the water for fish and frogs and up in the trees, squinting in the morning light to see the sleepy birds and the chattering squirrels. There might be raccoon tracks. Sometimes deer.

    We turned rocks to find salamanders and watched small lizards basking on the banks. They’d skeeter away when we approached, even if we were very quiet. Which, we almost never were.

    Occasionally a random dog would show up and join us for the day or a few hours. We’d feed it scraps from our lunch and follow it along trails through forested lots and wild grasses.

    Often we’d be covered in burrs or foxtails, always mud and water, sometimes blood mixed in. There were never any serious injuries.

    Now and then an adult would see us picking our way through their backyard stream and come out and shout at us. We’d scamper off our hearts racing to fall laughing and breathless in a field or behind trees or just further down the stream.

    We’d pick blackberries along the streams, wild strawberries.

    As the day wore on we’d scamper over rocks, daring each other to jump that way or balance on that log. We’d make bridges with small fallen logs. They weren’t as good as the ones that were made by big trees falling across the stream.

    We would closely examine moss and lichen and ants and mushrooms. We loved to find ant piles and mess them up. Several times we got on the wrong side of their swarm and ran screaming, ants in our pants, to the water.

    We watched the way the sun lit the trees and made shadows on the water and on us.

    We rested on our backs, watching birds float lazy through clouds and talked about dreams, the shape of clouds, what kind of animal we’d be. I picked sea otter. I’d still pick sea otter. Or river otter.

    Once we found a beaver dam. We never saw the beaver though.

    We’d watch the sun mostly. When it got to a certain place, we knew it was time to head back.

    Often by then, we weren’t sure where we were in relation to home. But we’d find the stream and work our way back by landmarks and arguments over which way to go.

    By the time we got home we were just as quiet as when we left, much to our parents delight.

    All that summer, we gave no thought to how lucky we were.
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