By Rick Houser –
When the countryside is in the dead of winter, all the world seems to be in black and white. When there are no leaves on the trees, the grass is more brown than green, the earth has become saturated with water to the point where a person’s shoes squish as they walk across the earth, and the deepest, dullest and most disliked time of the year has overcome the earth, that’s when the most helpless feeling of the year overcomes us. It is safe to say that the winter months rule with an iron fist when daylight seems to be at its briefest. I guess by now you have figured out that I dislike this time of year very much. You are so very correct. I hate winter. I always have and I am pretty certain that I always will.
But there was a time when I was a little boy that I took to the outdoors and enjoyed the winter as much as any person alive. That was when the wet weather would take over the Ohio Valley and saturate the earth like a sponge soaked to its fullest. I have written before that our farm was on gently rolling land. Near our house was a brick building that under it held a spring house that was fed by an artesian spring. The spring consisted of a vein so strong that nobody ever recalled it running dry. I have heard my Dad tell of the droughts back in the 1930’s when the land became so dry that our neighbors would drive their cattle and hogs a couple miles or so every evening to that spring so they could get a good drink of water. This vein of water became a major part of our water supply all the years we lived there and will bet it is still flowing strongly today.
The spring was fed into the spring house at the high end to keep it from overflowing and the lower end had a drain tile that allowed the water to pass on through and empty into a small creek that emptied into the barnyard so the livestock could always have fresh water, spring summer, fall, and winter. It was cool on the hot days and never froze over in the winter. It was the perfect water supply. Perfect that was except during the rainy season and when I was a boy.
To this day I can’t explain why but I had a fascination to play in that creek and muddy it up terribly. It was like a magnet drew me to it. As the rains fell and the creek rose, I would find a pair of Dad’s boots and winter clothes that I used to feed the livestock in. I would find Dad’s long-handled shovel and a hoe and out the back door of the house I would go, fully determined to place my mark on that creek.
There was a spot about 50 to 75 feet down from where the spring house emptied into the creek where the creek became wider. That is where with all my expertise I would begin to build a dam. I would shovel scoop after scoop starting at the bank’s edge and working my way across the creek. The creek wasn’t a huge creek but with fast rushing water from all the rain it was as much a challenge as I wanted.
I loved the challenge and before the day ended I would succeed in construction of a strong earthen dam. I would build as high as it would hold solid before I would create the over spill so the excess of water could pass on. I did learn that night time was the hardest on my dams because it seemed by every morning the dam had burst and the water level had gone back down. (I learned later that each evening my
Dad would open the dam and let the water down.)
As my building abilities grew, so did the size of my dams and when the construction of Meldahl Dam began, and we all were told how much bigger Meldahl was than any other dam to that date, so I felt that I would have to upsize my dams to match. It wasn’t long before a rainy season moved in and put our creeks at all-time highs. Safe to say it was the perfect storm for me.
I started before lunch and got a good start on the structure. I got yelled at by my Mom for being soaked and very muddy. (Was there any other way to build a dam?) After lunch I returned to the creek with some dry clothes and excited to continue. By late that day I again was soaked and very muddy but I had built a dam unlike anything ever seen.
That night Dad forgot to look at what I was up to and didn’t break the dam. By morning the water had backed up into the spring house and caused all our drinking water to be a brownish color and not very tasty. Dad immediately removed the dam and sat me down and explained that there was never again to be a dam built below the spring house and then Mom once more lectured me on being in creeks in the winter and just what in the world was wrong with me and why couldn’t I go to the creek in June. I began to get the feeling that my parents were objecting to all the fun I was having. Actually, they were objecting very much.
We have all heard the saying about a boy and his toys. Well, the creek was my toy and honestly I still don’t understand it, but I was sure fascinated. These days I doubt very much you could get me to go outside in the rain in the winter but there was a time and a place and folks let me tell you this, I was a dam builder like no other. Meldahl had nothing on me.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.