Top 25 things vanishing from America: #15 -- Creek swimming


This series explores aspects of America that may soon be just a memory -- some to be missed, some gladly left behind. From the least impactful to the most, here are 25 bits of vanishing America.

I don't remember which of my classmates first said the word candiru, and I have no idea how a fourth grade kid knew the name of the notorious spiny fish that swims up the urethra of unsuspecting Amazonians. Even so, finding out about the frightening little monsters cast a pall over my first creek-swimming experience. We were at Cunningham Falls and, after our teachers warned us about slipping, falling, broken bones, and the dangers of drinking untreated water, we were suitably frightened to ensure fifteen to twenty minutes of careful play before we began engaging in feats of idiotic derring-do. However, our discovery of the dread candiru really dampened the fun, and much of the rest of the day was spent worrying that every little tickle of a current was the invasion of a tropical parasite.

Over time, I learned that candiru simply cannot survive in the relatively cold waters of the mid-Atlantic states. Frankly, this discovery was a blessing, as much of my last 25 years or so has been spent swimming, tubing, and wading in a variety of creeks, ponds, and small lakes. I've learned to watch out for water moccasins and how to avoid screaming like a ninny every time a fish brushes my foot. I am even pretty good at detaching leeches, a skill that I never thought I'd have to learn. You see, this post to the contrary, freshwater swimming isn't entirely dead, even if it's had a hard time competing with the crystalline temptations of the community swimming pool. Most of the creeks and lakes where I spent my childhood are still in business, even if they now tend to be populated by die-hard freshwater junkies; this isn't particularly surprising, given that pollution, mercury scares, and warnings about fecal-associated bacteria have scared all but the smallest fraction of creek swimmers out of the water.