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Story of The Creek

March 15, 2021

Owen along the banks of Brandywine Creek

Last week, we received an email from Owen Loustau, a 17-year-old resident of southeastern Chester County. “I am really interested in the ways that your organization promotes sustainable living in my community,” he shared.

Owen told us about a service project he was doing in school a class called Human Population and Resource Consumption. “My goal in the project is to create a piece of writing that encourages more people my age to interact with the preserved natural spaces in our community. I believe that in a world in need of so much environmental attention, one of the first steps for change is to bring young people like myself into closer proximity with the natural world.”

We are delighted to share Owen’s writing, inspired by Brandywine Creek, which winds its way through southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware.

Story of The Creek
By Owen Loustau

Last December, I began an online class called Human Population and Resource
Consumption. We are studying the ways that humans affect the natural world. One of
the principal foundations of the course is a community service project with a certain
focus on combating climate change and promoting sustainable living. I wanted to do
some writing, but I didn’t want to talk about the importance of picking up your trash or
why you should pay for a membership to the Laurels. That wouldn’t be very interesting.
For my research project, I journeyed out into the Brandywine Valley in search of my
story.

It wasn’t until yesterday, after months of searching, when my story became
perfectly obvious. I was sitting in the back of a canoe, floating along about five miles
north of Northbrook, looking out into the leafless forest. The winter blanket was rapidly
fading away, yet I could still see deeper into the forest than any summer day. It was
quiet, cool, and the sun shone evenly across the landscape. The air smelled like melting
snow and nothing else. It was weird to see this place without its leafy façade. It felt new
again. I began to think about all the moments I had spent along this short stretch of
water, and as always, I was seeing it in a new light. I am grateful for this place.

I was fifteen when I first walked into the office at Northbrook Canoe Company. I
told them I was sixteen, asked for a job, and it wasn’t long until I was working five or six
days a week. The people I was surrounded by every day: Brian, Steve, Zeke, frequently
guided me with their folksy wisdom. At first, I was skeptical. Just a job, I thought. But
now I am beginning to understand that their love for the Brandywine Valley came from
the feelings of groundedness, purpose, and hope that the Creek provides.

Yesterday, it was unusually warm for late February. It felt like spring was upon
us. I woke up to fresh air and decided that I could wait no longer. I dusted the snow off
my red Old Town canoe and flipped it onto my shoulders, carrying it up from its winter
home behind the barn. It was just a tad lighter than I remembered. Maybe I had grown
an inch since the last time. But it felt familiar– as if summer had just recently ended and
was now beginning again.

The banks of the creek were almost completely clear, and only a thin coating of
snow remained on the path over Corcoran’s bridge. As we neared the far side of the
bridge, I peeked out from under the overturned canoe to see a magnificent wave of
red-winged blackbirds rolling through the wide-open clearing before me. The murmur of
a million fluttering wings encapsulated the space– a home for the both of us.

This is a home I discovered two summers ago as I searched for my first summer
job. I remember putting the address for Northbrook Canoe Company into the GPS and
feeling how far it was from Chatham, but something had drawn me here.

I flip the boat from my shoulders onto the muddy bank. Slipping the bow into the
clear green winter water, I step one foot in and push out into the current. The bridge
soon disappears as we are swept around the bend and our trip begins.

I fell in love with the Brandywine at a critical time in my life. Some of the most
crucial moments of being a teenager presented themselves to me earlier than expected.
The time when I first rode my bike into the forest, into the cool, dark canopy where the
air tastes emerald green and the roads are always wet and the river is always in view,
was also a time when my future felt incredibly uncertain. Many of my closest friends
began pursuing dangerous paths, and I felt abandoned. I was going to this fancy prep
school, but I was pretty much ready to drop out, come back to Avon Grove, and hang. I
didn’t know what I cared about.

Seven rippling j-strokes guide the canoe towards deep, green water. I rest my
paddle on the gunwales and pull in a full breath of cool spring air. A pair of mallards
babble quietly among the branches of a recently fallen sycamore tree. I peer at the
steep muddy bank on either side. “When there’s a big storm and the bank washes out,
does it ever come back? Or does the river just keep getting wider forever?” I ask.
Maggie doesn’t know either. She says that the idea scares her. This is all that we’ve
got, we guess.

Maggie

In the wintertime, Brandywine’s green mask disappears with the summer crowds
and its beautiful skeleton is revealed. The vast preserved open spaces, with miles of
previously cleared pasture turned meadow or forest, and the emerald green river, with
its deep pools and trickling riffles– this is what brings us all back to this place, summer
after summer. Summer after summer, we call this place paradise, taking a little piece of
it home with us every time. But I call this place home. This is my home. This is our
home.

Sixteen more j-strokes over ten minutes. Maggie’s paddle has rested on the
gunwales so long that drops no longer throw concentric circles across the placid, green
expanse. I begin to paddle without lifting the blade from the water. Our boat falls into
complete silence, tip-toeing forward like a secret. After several minutes, we reach a
short stretch of creek that meanders off away from Brandywine Drive. With high banks
on either side and arched branches overhead, the red canoe is encapsulated by green
yet again.

Brandywine Creek

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