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swimming hole

swim. To be supported in water or other fluid; not to sink; to float; as, any substance will swim, whose specific gravity is less than that of the fluid in which it is immersed. To move progressively in water by means of the hands and feet, or of fins. — Webster, 1882

Suddenly they came out of the high grass and the creek was there. It ran twinkling over white gravel into a wide pool, curved against a low bank where the grass was short. Tall willows stood up on the other side of the pool. Flat on the water lay a shimmery picture of those willows, with every green leaf fluttering. – Laura Ingalls Wilder, On the Banks of Plum Creek, Chapter 4, “Deep Water”

Last month (July 2010), Little House researcher Rebecca Webb and I had an adventure between the banks of Plum Creek; we waded in the water and went from the dugout site on the Charles Ingalls preemption claim to the north boundary of his claim, then walked back to the parking area by way of 140th Street and County Road 5, through the Gordon farm and back to the car.
Click HERE to read Rebecca’s report and see some more of her photographs. Look for the July 21, 2010, entry.

Plum Creek really is a different creek once you get around the tree-clogged bend just west of the bridge over the creek to the dugout. If you want to try it for yourself, be as prepared as Rebecca was, and never attempt any creek adventure by yourself! She brought us both walking sticks and life jackets, which we really did wear between photo ops and while in the creek. We wore socks and shoes, tight-at-the-ankle long pants, long sleeved shirts, and hats. The creek was up to my neck in places when walking on the silty bottom, and while I always managed to keep my head above water (thanks to the life jacket, but I do regret not swimming in Plum Creek!), I came close to losing my balance a time or two, thanks to the often slippery creek bottom and submerged limbs, rocks, and roots.

We’d been planning this adventure for over a year. Last summer, I tried to hike to what we speculate is the true tableland location. I don’t mean that “Oh look, it’s the tableland!” high bank you can see from the dugout site, but a half-acre circular spot which is now smothered in trees and dense, weedy underbrush. If you follow the walking trail along the high bank to the west, the area is in the thick growth to your left. I didn’t get very far in before I turned back. It just happens to be in the approximate spot that Laura herself placed it on maps she drew for daughter Rose Wilder Lane. We had planned to leave the creek and explore once we got to that area, but even the low bank is too high to climb easily, and the undergrowth is wicked thick, thanks in part, no doubt, to the lack of free-range cattle grazing and the decades of fertilizer applied to crops that’s been distributed across the low land during periods of high water. The photo shown here was taken early in our travels, just past the bridge. Even here, the low bank is high!

I know I had tableland on my mind most of the time we were in the creek, and I was sad when we passed the drainage ditch (irrigation ditch?) that was dumping water into the creek and we realized that the bank was just too high and slippery to climb out easily in water-logged clothes; the ditch was deeper than I am tall. There were a lot of limbs and trees in the way that would have to be negotiated, and something that sure looked like poison ivy was everywhere. We slogged on, the water getting deeper and deeper and us zig-zagging from side to side to avoid scary things under the water or in our way.

With water spilling around a curve in the creek in front of us, we stopped at a wide gravelly beach to empty our shoes of rocks (my shoes seemed to always be full of rocks!) and snap a few more pictures. I don’t remember who said it first – and even though this place didn’t seem quite as deep or as wide as my imagination saw it when reading about Laura’s big splashes that lifted her off her feet, water rising past her middle and up to her arms as she walked faster and faster – the water was soon past my middle and up to my arms… this could be the swimming hole!

For the top photo, I pieced three of Rebecca’s photos together and added bits of the Garth Williams illustration from the “Deep Water” chapter in Plum Creek; they just fit into place like magic. Behind the life jacket in the center photo, the creek takes another turn to the left and that area was a bit deeper than the one shown here.

Here, I’m standing at the east side of the swimming hole, in shallow water. If you look at the composite photo above, you can figure out exactly where I’m standing.


swim / swimming (FB 11, 14, 17-18; LHP 2, 9, 19, 23; BPC 18; SSL 12; TLW 1, 3, 11; THGY 13; PG)
     Jack lost (LHP 3)
     swimming hole / swimming-hole / pool (FB 18; BPC 4-5, 10, 14, 27)