Sunday, June 20, 2010

Homecoming

I grew up on creeks. 16 Hawthorne Avenue in Colonia, NJ backed to the Pumpkin Patch Creek. The Pumpkin Patch is a tributary to the Raritan River which is the major river entering the Raritan Bay, which in turn forms part of the Hudson Raritan estuary complex. I visited the creek daily, in all weather. The Pumpkin patch was where I was a master crayfish fisher and knew their life cycle by being a part of it. The Pumpkin Patch, at least my section of it, started at three storm sewer outfall pipes near Public School #22, flowed through the last remaining patch of woods in this suburbanized part of New Jersey, trickled over a concrete lined channelized section where algal mats grew thick, to my deep hole, that was even too deep for me to venture into. Calf boots, hip boots, chest waders, all were successfully flooded by me in all seasons so my mother gave up trying to keep me dry.

I knew each rock, and every hole. I knew which rock held what crayfish. I knew where the big ones were. I knew the flood carved clay bottom that formed the deep hole that held the big suckers, at the end of the concrete channelized part. I would watch the rainbow gas and oil spill slicks bend and flow on the surface around rocks and down gentle riffles. The smell of diesel mixed with clay heavy mud as bull dozers and excavators straightened the stream and laid rock into gabion baskets to keep the creek in its channel, and to keep the channel from moving. And thanks to Mrs Beck, knew what the creek looked like before the houses were there, when the forest was intact, when the stream was allowed to act like a stream and flood its banks from time to time, and change the course of its channel.

Mrs. Beck lived in a Tudor style house the she and her husband Karl built from materials they harvested from the local forest and creek. Ruth and Karl Beck escaped Nazi Germany just before Hitler came into power and were the first to build in the woods off Inman Avenue, before my street, Hawthorne Avenue, was even a muddy smudge. The fireplace and chimney were made from round water smoothed red, grey, brown and rust colored rocks they collected from the creek. All the lumber, the plank paneling, exposed beams, and hard wood flooring, was milled from oaks they cut in the course of clearing their homesteading site. Mrs. Beck’s description of the area when they first arrived captivated me. There weren’t any other houses and Inman Avenue was a pothole filled dirt road. But what really grabbed my interest were her stories about the creek. Mrs. Beck’s blue eyes sparkled behind her small gold framed glasses as she described how the creek ran clearer and deeper than it did now. She told stories of how she and Karl fished as many huge trout out of the cold water as they could possibly use and took pictures of Karl holding stringers full of large, 2-3 foot trout down from the mantle to show me examples of the bounty that once was. I could barely imagine the area covered in forest, with her house and ½ acre garden patch the only clearing as it was all houses and streets and lawns now. I couldn’t imagine that kind of bounty coming from the 1970’s Pumpkin Patch. The best I could do was catch 4 inch crayfish and foot long suckers. That’s all that was there, and I considered this to be abundance, but I still dreamed of a day when the Pumpkin Patch was restored. When the water ran clear and cool and native trout again topped the food chain. Creek snorkeling is a homecoming of sorts, and my dream of clean abundant streams remains.



2 comments:

  1. I used to play in and around "The Creek", as we called it, near School 22. I used to cross Jeffery Road and head into the woods through a neighbor's yard. No one ever denied us kids use of their back yard as a throughway to the creek. We used to build forts back there, and hunt for indian arrow heads (I never found one) and fossils (I found some, or so I thought at the time). In the winter, we would skate on the frozen creek with our boots. In the spring and summer we watched little fish that we called minnows swim through the running water. Sometimes I would ride my bike there to be by myself in what I thought was a wilderness. Boy did I love going there. Thanks for the web site. Marie

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  2. Pumpkin Patch Creek ran behind my grandparent's house on Oxford Road in Colonia. I spent many weekends over their house, and my friends & I always played down at the creek. I remember catching minnows, crayfish, and trying to catch catfish. We would walk the creek up towards Inman Avenue and in the opposite direction towards Clark. There was a deep spot just beyond the channeled area by Hawthorne Drive (I believe this is part of Clark), and I recall seeing what looked like large goldfish in that deep spot.

    In the winter when the creek froze over we would 'skate' on it (really just sliding on our boots). I also remember the bulldozer widening the creek too. I'm glad I found this blog, it brought back great memories of Pumpkin Patch Creek.

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