Spring always makes me feel nostalgic. Maybe because, in my growing up years, it heralded a time of magic and make believe. That time officially began every year when the first stream of water gushed down the irrigation ditch.
Let me explain. Southern Utah is a desert with less than ten inches of rainfall a year. Monroe, the little town where I grew up, was a place of beautiful gardens. The only way to water them was through a system of irrigation ditches. Snowmelt ran off the high mountains into a canyon creek. That creek supplied water to the town, which is why the pioneer settlers chose to build in that spot and why they dug the network of ditches that ran along the streets.
When I was growing up the earthen ditches had been there for longer than anyone still alive could remember. Their beds were dotted with a treasure trove of colorful gravel stones. Their banks were festooned with long grass and wildflowers where frogs, bugs and little garter snakes found a home. Asparagus and mint grew wild there. We could go out and pick as much as we wanted. And the sound of the water was wonderful.
As kids, we could spend whole days playing in the ditches. The water level varied. Maximum depth was 8 or 9 inches, perfect for wading and splashing. Sometime we were explorers. Sometimes mermaids. We also loved floating things down the ditch – boats made from wood scraps or hollowed-out cucumbers. We would run along the bank, chasing them for blocks. When the water went down, usually because it was a neighbor’s turn to divert it to their garden, we were left with a make believe kingdom of rocky pools where we could hunt for pebbles or set up dramas with miniature toys. Once we caught a good-sized trout that had gotten into the system and become stranded. It was delicious.
Spring was also a time for dandelions. Nobody sprayed them in those days, and the field behind the elementary school was a mass of yellow flowers. Sitting among them, we’d make long chains out the stems, forming each link by tucking one end of the stem into the other. Once we made a chain twelve feet long—a record! And did you know that if you split a dandelion stem and suck on the ends, they’ll curl up into neat spirals, like fiddleheads? It was fun to do, even though they tasted bitter.
Alas, those times are no more. Progressive town officials, with no sense of beauty, sprayed the dandelion fields and burned the ditch banks. A few years later they filled in the ditches and installed a system of underground pipes linking to each yard. The ditch banks and dandelions of my childhood are gone forever.
I could cry.
Is there some childhood memory you miss these days? I’d love to hear about it.