There are magical places in my world, and Mingo Creek County Park is one such place. In fact, the park was such an integral part to my childhood that I keep returning year after year.
As defined by its moniker, the creek is a major feature of the park. The shallow waterway, meandering through the valley, is stocked with rainbow trout each April. Fishermen, including myself, flock to the banks each Spring to attempt a successful bout of Man vs. Fish. I’ve never won that battle, at least not in this park.
Mingo also has the distinction of featuring two covered bridges: Ebenezer Covered Bridge, construction date unknown; and Henry Covered Bridge, built in 1881. Both structures span Mingo Creek, and you can drive your vehicle across each, if you dare, to access additional portions of the park.
I have my fair share of painful childhood memories, as we all do, but they are eclipsed—for the most part—by a greater number of delightful recollections, including spending time at this park with my family.
Old black water, keep on rolling / Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shining on me? …
The car windows are rolled down, I’m somewhere around the 8-year-old mark of life, the summer breeze is flowing through, and the archaic push-button radio is blasting hits from the 60s, 70s, and Today.
Our family cruises through the park—trunk loaded with baseballs, bats, gloves, frisbees, footballs, and any other type of sporting equipment—seemingly without a specific destination, before selecting a patch of grass to play upon. We usually selected a spot near the water’s edge, so that my brothers and I could wade in the cool water. The water seemed so deep back then, but, in all reality, the creek is never more than six or eight inches in depth.
Filled with aquatic life, part and parcel of a summer afternoon spent in the park always included the effervescent search for elusive crayfish. Catching the lobster-like creatures is a delicate business, for if they catch you first, the snapped pincher hurts like something fierce. Crayfish live under rocks, and to catch them you must lift a rock very slowly to reveal the creature underneath—a swift current is an ideal condition as water sweeps away all of the mud and sediment, revealing (or not) your prey. Lastly, crayfish swim backwards, so if you’re trying to scoop them into a net or bucket, place the container behind their backside. Oh, I nearly forgot to mention: remember to grab their shell behind the pinchers when you pick them up to inspect.
…I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland / Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand / Take me by the hand, pretty mama / Come and dance with your daddy all night long ~ Black Water by The Doobie Brothers
My wife has awakened from her Sunday nap, there is only an hour of shortened daylight remaining, so I sell my plan of photographing in the park today, before the sun sets. The Patriots versus Jaguars football playoff game—my team, the Steelers, should be in this game instead!—has started on the television, but I don’t need to watch it entirely.
Of the three children, only one seems to be available for my trip to the park today. My daughter has finished her homework, prepared for her extracurricular activity at 6:00pm, and agreed to join me for one of the last images of the year. Besides, the image that I’ve imagined requires a model.
I’ve parked the car in the nearest lot, prompted her to bring her spotted umbrella (even though it’s not raining), and we walk across the street, hugging the shoulder and guardrail.
Of the two covered bridges in the park, I’ve always favored Henry Covered Bridge which spans Mingo Creek at Mansion Hill Road. The bridge feels more picturesque than its counterpart, located at the end of the park. In April, trout fisherman vie for a spot near the base of the structure, to hunt the beasts that frequent the deep pools underneath. This location is fairly popular in the summer, speckled with bridge-gawkers, so we are lucky today as the only two spectators in the park.
Inside, outside, underneath. As we photograph Henry from all angles, I tell her how my dad would bring our family here, when I was a kid.
“Go inside. Stand in the middle. Now…open your umbrella…hold it up high. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I coach her, like a paparazzi. That’s enough creepiness for today—the specialty of portraiture is not in my skillset of expertise. Ten years ago, I visited this same bridge and asked my young son to walk in the middle of the structure with his open umbrella. I do believe that image made it into my how-to book about pinhole photography.
The most beautiful things are not associated with money; they are memories and moments. If you don’t celebrate those, they can pass you by. ~ Alek Wek
In general, I really enjoy spending time with my kids. Many of the best conversations occur in the van, to or from our destination. Today we discussed activities that we want to experience on a summer vacation to Florida. Whenever possible, throughout this year, I have attempted to coax them, from behind their magical 3-inch electronic device, along on my photographic adventures. Some of the children, like my model for today, were more enthusiastic, on more than one occasion, to join me; others were more difficult to prod.
With only four narratives remaining, I believe that I succeeded in including all three of them in my activities, and incorporating each into many of my narratives for the year. After all, this project was as much for me, as it was for them—even if they don’t realize it now, they will eventually.
While walking back to the van, I find myself whistling that familiar tune from The Doobie Brothers: old black water, keep on rolling…