By Rachel Owen / Elevated Wild
The most precious gifts I’ve been given are the wild spaces that have become my home. I’m lucky to count many as mine now, but the first one, a tributary creek of the Potomac River, still holds sweet in my memory. It’s the place that allowed me to find my footing as a participant in the outdoors.
"I know this creek - every drop-off, every shallow spot - the way my tongue knows every sharp edge of my teeth. We’ve been hunting and fishing here for years."
It is unremarkable, as far as creeks around here go. This is not a clear, sweet stream that rushes cold over rock cobbles. A narrow trickle for most of its length, it grows broad, shallow and sluggish for the last mile or so before it meets the deeper, darker river. The stained water rises and settles with the meager tides, the banks choked and tumbling with vegetation. It has been marred by the hand of human progress - first, by the mining that buried the creek bed in silt, and then, by the developments that flank it - a military base, a power plant, a neighborhood. This creek is not pristine wilderness. It has carried the weight of our hubris with a hung head.
In spite of all that, it has retained its wild and beating heart. In the spring, when the pickerelweed shoots are starting to break the surface of the water, the spawning carp and gar make chaos in the shallows. Redwing blackbirds sway, singing, in stands of wild rice. On hot days, young osprey rake their talons across the water’s surface to cool off. By August, when the air hangs hazy and thick enough to choke on, the water is stilled and glass-clear. The weeds grow up so high and thick that the current doesn’t move anymore, and you can peer down into the water, a world in miniature, and watch the killifish and bluegill dart between openings.
We learned how to suffer here, during our first season waterfowling. I remember launching our boat for the first time in the pre-dawn. One frozen hand gripping the gunwale of our aluminum jon boat, the other clasping a flashlight, bouncing sickly yellow light off the water’s surface. I hadn’t learned to trust my waders yet, and I spent hours inching along in my heavy boots in the mud, feeling the contours of submerged logs with my shins. I knew the water wasn’t deep enough to drown in, not really, but I took every mincing step into the black water with my heartbeat pounding in my ears. We listened, not just with our ears but with our entire bodies, to the wings of gadwall that sliced the air overhead.
"...This place has not only fed me, it has changed and challenged me, helped mold me into the person I am going to be."Summer on this creek is for snakeheads. Much like the largemouth bass before them, and us before the bass, the snakeheads are aliens that have made the creek their home. We squint into the shallows and make cast after cast at the dark shadows of fish that slink suspended just a few inches below. Our lures buzz the top of the water, cutting straight lines like a sunburst from every angle from the boat. We watch for the response - a disturbance in the water as the snakehead catches sight of the lure, turns, and torpedoes into it, a violent eruption. We fight the fish out of the lilies that abundantly carpet the water’s surface and marvel at their power, their will to survive.
If I wasn’t fishing and hunting the creek, I wouldn’t know it exists, wouldn’t care even if I did. If the only yardstick for measuring the worth of a place is how untouched it is, I’m not sure the creek would measure up to much. But this place has not only fed me, it has changed and challenged me, helped mold me into the person I am going to be.
I’ve fallen in love with all kinds of wild places throughout my life. But it wasn’t until I became an outdoorswoman that I began to understand them, and the wild places within myself. In the time I’ve loved this creek, I’ve learned courage, persistence, patience and wit. I’ve borne out discomfort, fear, and boredom to be able to have some truly incredible days of hunting and fishing. The lessons I have yet to learn keep drawing me back to my old stomping grounds.
Snakehead Summer Rolls Recipe
Prep time: 1 hour active
Looking for a recipe for your summertime catch? Check out Elevated Wild's Snakehead Summer Rolls - the perfect recipe for snakehead or any other firm white-meat fish. Rest assured, you know if it's coming from these guys, it's going to be good.
Combine ingredients for marinade. Allow fillet to marinate for 30 minutes to an hour in the refrigerator. Remove from marinade, season lightly with salt & pepper, and grill until done, approximately 3 minutes per side. Some char really adds depth to the dish.
(Alternately, pan sear the fillet on medium high heat, flip, and then broil for 2-3 minutes per side.)
Allow the fillet to cool enough to handle, then cut into strips that will fit on the rice paper with ~1” to spare on each side. Dunk rice paper in warm water and lay on cutting board or other smooth work surface. Top with herbs, noodles, vegetables. Fold sides over and roll tightly (think rolling a tiny burrito). Serve with hoisin, sambal and crushed nuts or soy sauce with chilis and lime juice.
About Rachel: Rachel Owen is a passionate outdoorswoman. She didn't grow up hunting or fishing - her love for cooking brought her to a desire for a closer relationship with her food. Being nourished by the land and water around her has given her a deep insight into the place she calls home, as well as pushed her boundaries and endurance more than she could have imagined. A former hospitality pro, she now works in the financial field. She's also the plant witch, canning queen, editor and webmaster for Elevated Wild.