The most precious legacy left me by my ancestors was a love of country and the farming way of life. I treasure every hour I spent among the hills and valleys, along the creeks and rivers and in the woods and fields. Though often weary to the core of my being, I enjoyed walking the farm. Some experiences still send shivers of fear through my soul, but surely each one made me stronger for what was yet to come.
The spring fed creek that meandered through our farm uniquely divided the property. All of the buildings and the pasture land, much of it wooded hillsides, lay to the south of the creek. Across the creek lay the cultivated acres. The creek channel was deep and the banks were steep. A sturdy bridge, built from materials from the woods, made it possible to cross the creek with the vehicles and machines for farming. Dad built the bridge from logs trimmed from huge straight oaks he cut on the hillside. Some were peeled, sharpened, and then driven into the ground on either side of the creek with a hired pile driver. Then peeled logs called stringers were laid from side to side resting on the plates on top of the piling. Oak planks were then nailed to the stringers. There were no side railings. I always said a silent prayer when we drove across the bridge that we wouldn’t slide over the edge. We could sit on the edge, dangle our feet and watch the rippling waves flow through beneath. When weather permitted we could jump into the water below, sometimes as much as 6 feet deep. It was also a good place to sit with a pole and wait for a fish to bite.
Keeping the bridge in good repair was a struggle for our family. Heavy summer rains would cause the creek to flood, bring brush, stumps, and other debris down the valley with it. When the bridge could not withstand the pressure of the backed up brush and water it collapsed and was carried away. Consequently, before any framing could continue, the bridge had to be rebuilt. How frustrated Dad must have been to see his grain ripening and the hay waiting to be harvested while he had to spend days rebuilding the bridge. I remember one summer when the bridge washed out 3 times. No wonder Dad was moody and depressed. The sights and sounds of those floods terrorized me. The thick muddy water rolled and churned, tumbling trees and logs, even animals as it was barely contained in its banks. The rushing waters ate at the banks, undermining them and causing huge portions of ground to fall away. I lay awake at night listening to the roar of the water and the splashing noise when portions of the bank hit the flood, fearful that the house might fall in too. The flooding of the small creek was no longer a problem when ridge farms and hillsides were terraced and strip farmed, thus holding the water where it fell. Today the creek is a gentle stream winding its way through grassy banks.
Next week: Farming in Chipmunk Coulee