Grandma stood on the flat top of the stone wall, enjoying the cool evening air. A small spring-fed stream lined with stone walls flowed through the yard, under the road, and into the meadow. Locals said the springs were so strong they had never seen them diminish even in drought spells. The top of the wall was flush with the yard, so having Grandma standing on it was nothing strange. In years gone by, she and the girls had planted colorful flowers along the edges.
Twilight deepened. A bat flew overhead. Grandma pulled a flashlight out of her pocket and shone it onto the creek bottom. Yes! There they were. Lots of them. Small babies to granddaddy-sized crayfish crept around. Some scooted backwards under the stone wall when the light shone on them. Here and there were grayish brown mudpuppies.
Well, look at that! Grandma chuckled. A crayfish had crept slowly toward an unsuspecting mudpuppy, reached out a claw, and pinched its tail. Startled, the mudpuppy fled. “I wonder if crayfish actually eat mudpuppies?” Grandma wondered aloud. “They live rather close as neighbors to be enemies.”
Grandma decided to relax on the porch swing yet before dark. But the peaceful quiet did not last long. The robins and all the robin neighbors set up their usual evening ruckus. What a scolding, chirping commotion they made! “The screech owl must be out and about,” Grandma remarked as Grandpa came to join her.
“Likely,” Grandpa agreed. “I do wonder which of the dead trees beside the creek they have their nest in. Maybe we’ll get to see the owlets again this summer.”
The next day was lovely, perfect for drying laundry. As Grandma pinned clothes onto the pulley line, she was startled when several cardinals flashed past, over the stream, and into the fencerow. My, thought Grandma, you fly like your life depends on it.
“Well!” she exclaimed to herself. “Look at that!” A Cooper’s Hawk cut through the sky overhead, wheeled sharply, and disappeared behind trees. They were flying for their lives! she realized in wonder.
Just then a car drove in. It was Aunt Ellen coming for watercress. “Good morning,” Grandma welcomed as Aunt Ellen got out of her car.
“Lovely day,” Ellen said with a smile.
“Yes, it is,” Grandma agreed. “I see you have a bag. I’ll get a scissors.” The sisters visited as they walked to the creek.
When Grandma stepped over the flowers, she heard a small splash, then two more splashes. “Ellen, did you hear that?” Grandma asked with a grin.
“No! What?” Ellen asked eagerly.
“Those three frogs. I didn’t see them, but I heard them splash.”
“Aw, that would have been interesting,” said Ellen.
“We hear frogs splash more often than we see frogs.” Grandma chuckled.
Grandma knelt on the top of the wall and carefully leaned forward to cut cress. Ellen held the bag open.
“Now don’t you fall,” she cautioned. “That would be a big splash.”
Grandma chuckled. “I’ll be careful.” The watercress was so thick it didn’t take long to fill the bag. “There,” said Grandma with a laugh. “We’re finished, and no one fell in.”
Saturday found Grandpa slopping around in the water, making repairs on the intake water pipe. “See all these small stones and all this mud?” he asked. “Some creature is making its home behind these walls. I wonder if it is muskrats or mink, since Tippy caught one of each in the past.”
“Yes,” said Grandma. “I noticed. And here the flower bed is caving in. What are we going to do?”
“I’m not sure,” Grandpa admitted. He got back to work.
Abundant watercress nearly choked the stream. Grandma pulled a large bunch. Long stems ended in fine white roots. The root mass wiggled and squirmed with small shrimp-like wigglers. Likely food for crayfish and mudpuppies, she reasoned. A large red-gilled mudpuppy came along with another root clump. Grandma watched, fascinated, as with a few wiggles he dropped back into the stream. Maybe I better leave nature alone, she decided. This stream seems to teem with aquatic life.
“Look.” Grandpa opened his cupped hands. “I found this mudpuppy in a small bucket in the cellar. It’s about dried out.” He carried it down the steps to the stream’s edge and gently laid the limp amphibian on a partially submerged rock. Instantly very much alive, it wiggle-swam to a moss-covered stone jutting out of the wall and weakly climbed on. It lay resting.
“You know what?” Grandma exclaimed. “This is a different kind of salamander. It doesn’t have those red gills behind its head.”
“Sure enough,” Grandpa said.
Later that evening Grandpa came into the kitchen, face aglow with interest. “Guess what I saw.”
“Tell me,” Grandma responded. “I don’t know where to start guessing.”
“I saw a grackle walk along the top of the wall, peering into the creek. Suddenly he dropped down and came up with a crayfish in his beak.”
“Really! I never knew they would do that!” Grandma exclaimed. After supper she checked a bird book. Sure enough, grackles’ diets include small fish and amphibians. “Never too old to learn,” she quipped.