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Listen to French Creek


From my beginnings I flowed quietly and deep. In Summer you could hardly see my current as it flowed to the Great River. When the Fall rains came and the streams that fed me overflowed, on their way down hill you could hear the rushing currents as they fed me. The waterfalls that brought streams from the high ledges to the creek bed brought more water rushing and tumbling to find me and flow with me on to the river. Great trees lined my banks; towering pines, maples and oaks, the smaller cedars and birches. Bears came to me for water, and deer, cougars, all kinds of animals large and small. In the Fall huge flocks of Geese paused in their flight southward to rest and feed in my waters. Stately Blue Herons waded near my banks and fed from the millions of fish that swam near the shores.

Does the water remember, as it flows from my banks on to the Great River, and on with the River to the Ocean and on and on forever? Does it remember the waterfalls and the giant trees and the Bear and the Heron and the Deer? It's not given to me to know.

But I am French Creek and I remember. There was a stillness all around me. When the wind rustled the trees I could hear the murmur. When the wind blew harder, there was the sound of my waters lapping the shore and tumbling over the rocks where they lined my banks. At times I could hear the sounds of the wildlife all around me: screams of pain as they fought each other for survival, night birds calling to each other, and the sounds of songbirds always all around me.

And then it was Winter, ice and snow, my surface frozen and silent, but still there was life in the deep mud beneath, and my waters still flowed, but slowly. And then it was Spring. Renewed and refreshed, swollen banks and more rushing waters tumbled from the high banks to feed me.

First the red skinned people came. My waters were pure. The Red People knew how to live, richly fed from my shores and from the silent forests. For many generations they survived in what they called The Garden Of The Great Spirit. Their tribes grew and prospered. They hunted in the forests for the bear, the deer, and the wolves. They ate the flesh, and tanned the hides to build shelters for their families and clothing to keep them warm in Winter. They caught the fish and cooked them over their fires. They thought it would go on forever, but as I flow on and on every day, I realize that nothing goes on forever, except maybe my clear waters flowing on to the River.

The first White men came slowly. They were traveling westward, looking for more vacant land, and they were traveling south, looking for warmer climates. First there were trappers and hunters, solitary men, strong and silent, moving quietly through the forests. There was abundant wildlife for food and the furs brought good money when they gathered for the Rendevous in the Fall at the head of the Creek. There was whiskey and gambling and many fights. Many stories could be told but some things are better forgotten. Before long most of these wanderers traveled on to the west.

The first settlers were the farmers. The land was rich. These early families settled along my banks. There was no time to dig wells, and water was the greatest necessity.These were small farms. The forests provided wood for cabins, cooking fires and heat in the frigid Winters. The land was cleared for gardens and crops.

The Indians watched silently from the forests. Who were these strange people with the pale skin, strangely colored hair and with hair growing on their faces? What were they doing here in the forests that had been given to the Red Man by the Great Spirit? The elders spoke about it every night around the camp fires. But as the years went by, and more small farms appeared along my banks, most of the Indians left, their canoes gliding silently down the creek and on to the Great River, moving north to Canada and the Indian tribes there. A few would stay and learn the white man's ways and mingle with the settlers. The first settlers faced many hardships as they fought the weather, the animals and the loneliness of the frontier. They were strong and they believed in this land, fertile and majestic, with its forests, its gently rolling hills and always clear water from my banks and from the Great River with its many islands. They cut down trees to build their cabins and barns. They cleared the land to make pastures and to fill their barns with hay for their cattle.

They lived a simple life and learned how to survive in this new land. But this would not go on forever.

Before many years had passed there were ships bringing goods to the towns that started to flourish along the banks of the river. It wasn't long before men came with saws and axes and began cutting the giant oaks and maples in the forests; even the pines, and hemlocks. Lumber was needed for the growing towns along the banks of the river, and there was money to be made as the ships traveled to the ocean and on to Europe. It seemed that there was no end to the forests, but in a few years much of the surrounding land had been stripped. Hazy smoke drifted over the land as the limbs and brush were burned to make ashes, which were made into potash to make soap and gunpowder.

 

At one time there were soldiers marching along my banks to the river to fight the invading armies from across the river. But wars and fighting are not things I like to remember. I have memories of good times from long ago and I have memories of the people who lived and worked along my shores. I remember the canoes of the Indians and the early settlers. I saw life and hope and love of the land and of each other. I saw sadness. Yes, there were times that people died along my shores, or through the ice in the Winter. I remember a farmer standing helplessly by when his mule wandered into a quicksand bog and sank slowly under while the old man cried helplessly on the bank. Many tears have been shed , but I have seen much happiness too. 

And now my current runs deep and still from the streams and waterfalls in the higher land around my beginnings. The flocks of Geese still stop to rest on their way South in the Fall and North in the Spring. The blue Herons still wade proudly near my shores, although there are not as many fish as there once were. The deer still drink at my shores although most of the larger animals are gone. I am not lined by the great Oaks and Maples and Pines, but new trees are starting to grow and there is much beauty to be seen along my shores.

I sometimes wonder if the water remembers as it flows on to the ocean. I wonder if it remembers the trees and the waterfalls and the deer and the blue Heron. I wonder sometimes. It is not given to me to know. But I am French Creek and I remember.

 

By Nancy Bond

Nancy Bond began writing in high school 60+ years ago, but then family life took hold, as she and her husband Leo raised twelve children, on their farm in the town of Clayton. It was only recently that Nancy began writing her memories on paper, for her children to enjoy. The Thousand Islands Museum persuaded her to share these memories with the Thousand Islands Sun and now with TI Life for all to enjoy.    See Nancy’s other articles.

Kristi C. Bushy drew the illustrations especially for her Grandmother's story.  Kristi is in the sixth grade at Thousand Islands Middle School. 

Posted in: Places, Nature
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Comments

Melody Brabant
Comment by: Melody Brabant ( )
Left at: 2:06 PM Wednesday, January 15, 2014
I really enjoyed this story; used to camp up French Creek, and still spend lots of time there - so peaceful and beautiful!
sue taylor
Comment by: sue taylor ( )
Left at: 7:23 PM Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Your stories are fantastic love reading about the river and land where u all grew up. Kristy your pictures are wonderful
Bob Gates
Comment by: Bob Gates ( )
Left at: 2:55 AM Friday, January 17, 2014
Many people don,t know that there was a steamboat that ran up french creek to pick up water at Frontenac Crystal Springs and went back to the Frontenac hotel on round island before it burned many years ago
Nancy Bond
Comment by: Nancy Bond ( )
Left at: 1:57 PM Friday, January 17, 2014
Mr. Gates, thank you so much for your comment. I never would have thought that French Creek had ever been deep enough for a steamboat. That was very interesting. Our home is at the upper beginnings of the creek and I have to believe that there's a lot of History around us. My imagination sometimes gets the better of me. Perhaps the real facts are more interesting. Thanks again.
cathy
Comment by: cathy ( )
Left at: 2:41 PM Saturday, January 18, 2014
Another great story Nancy. You have a beautiful way with your stories. I enjoy them so much..
Tom Pullyblank
Comment by: Tom Pullyblank ( )
Left at: 4:49 PM Saturday, January 18, 2014
Beautifully written article, Nancy! My wife and I brought our kayaks when we came up to the river a few years ago for my "Napoleon's Gold" book launch. The river was too choppy for a couple of novice paddlers, however, so we decided to explore French Creek instead. We spent hours going upstream and back down, marveling at the beauty of what we saw. It was an unforgettable afternoon, and your essay captures beautifully the physical and spiritual vitality of the stream and the land that surrounds it. Thank you!
Len Ewald
Comment by: Len Ewald ( )
Left at: 2:20 PM Monday, January 27, 2014
Loved your story, Nancy. My dad who has since passed away learned to swim in French Creek as a young boy back in the '20's during a summer vacation from Yonkers, NY. He fell in love with the 1000 Islands, and little did he know at the time he would some day own one. We still have the island in our family, and visit every summer. Maybe some summer day I will venture up French Creek by kayak. It sounds like it would definitely be worthwhile paddling!

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