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OUTDOORS COLUMN: My happy, wet feet

Bob Kornegay

Bob Kornegay

I don’t really know why, but wading somehow naturally appeals to me. I’ve done it and enjoyed it for quite a long time. I can’t recall the first Ashford, Ala. mud puddle into which I plunged my bare, toddler’s tootsies, but it must have been a Zen-like experience, instantly and permanently imprinted in the pleasure sensors of my developing brain.

I do remember parent-sanctioned wading at the local public kiddie pool, but not with pleasure. Oh no, not for this young adventurer a level, firm, blue-coated concrete vat filled with sterile, chlorine-spiked water. I gravitated instead to spillover mudholes on the ground adjacent to the pool’s outer walls. My watchful mother, afraid of being shunned in church and social circles, would roughly chide me, lift me by one arm, and redeposit me amongst my giggling peers in the “clean” water of the junior natatorium. It obviously never occurred to her that the pool doubled as a urinal for every brat in attendance.

Through countless adult attempts to thwart my natural-wetland wading affinity, I persevered. As a pre-adolescent, I sloshed barefoot through the jagged metal and broken bottles in tiny Bird Creek that flowed through a pasture near my home. In town, I likewise waded the ditch behind Mr. Swords’ paint and body shop. There, the water might be metallic green one week, gold-flecked maroon the next. The hue depended on the shade of automobile paint in vogue at the time. Despite my latter-day chagrin concerning the nonchalant polluting, I still occasionally wax nostalgic over those purple crawdads, canary-yellow minnows, and my multicolored toenails. And, oh, that delightful new-paint smell!

By age 13, minnows and crayfish (spray-painted and otherwise) gave way to bluegills, bullheads, and redfin pike. I now waded, fishing pole in hand, up and down a “real” creek flowing through a “real” swamp. Mom, by now realizing the absolute futility of trying to keep me safe and socially acceptable, never withheld her consent, figuring, I suppose, that the creek could offer nothing more sinister than the foot-slicing rusty cans and toxic waste of my previous wading streams. If so, she didn’t know about yellow flies, hornets, snapping turtles, and water moccasins.

When I grew up (or at least got older), I kept right on wading. As a young adult, I waded beaver ponds and stepped off into creek channels and stump holes. I waded river sloughs with alligators now thrown into the mix of potential hazards.

I waded shallow, grassy lake edges with treacherous pockets of chest-high muck. Cletus Monroe once pulled me out of one and said I was, “crazy as a sprayed roach.”

I waded the flats of saltwater bays and estuaries. I stepped on sea urchins and bumped into tentacled jellyfish. Jellyfish, by the way, are members of a group of animals called cnidarians, which is Greek or Latin for, “Say, it seems my leg has just caught fire. I think I shall now scream very loudly.”

I waded creeks carrying handfuls of bush hooks and armloads of trotlines. I tripped over submerged roots and impaled every outer extremity at least once. I waded unethically (and illegally?) on “muddin’ ” expeditions, stirring up mud with a hoe until the fish rose to the surface. On one of these trips, my friend Dwight stuck his hand into a dark bankside hole to extract a catfish. In a rare moment of sanity, I declined.

Now I’m nearly 60 and still at it. Today I wear waders, proper footwear, and take more precautions than I once did. The water I wade today is a little wilder, a bit rockier, and a great deal colder than the creeks, ponds, and sloughs of my younger days. There are no cottonmouths or alligators, but bears are a distinct possibility. The creeks contain waterfalls, impossible to wade up, but easy to “wade” down.

Yep, my wading’s different today, but there are similarities, too. For instance (discounting the psychedelic crayfish), it’s not that far removed from wading behind the old Paint and Body. That, and the fact that Clete still thinks I’m crazy as a sprayed roach.

Maybe he’s right, but I don’t care. I do a lot of protesting these days, but as far as I’m concerned, that long-ago kiddie-pool rebellion is one of the smartest protests I ever made.