The Kyte River meanders through southeastern Ogle County, Illinois, forming a loop around Rochelle and in my childhood defined the eastern boundary of town north of the railroad tracks. Just south of the tracks it angles toward the southwest, flowing along the north edge of Memorial Park and on past Spring Lake, finally flowing northwest again west of town on its way to join the Rock River near Oregon.
In Rochelle the Kyte, more a narrow, shallow stream than a river, was known as “Kyte Crick”. Our teachers and our parents insisted that the word was “creek”, but outside school, outside our houses, out in the playgrounds and yards where children reign and the children’s vernacular is spoken, it was always “The Crick”.
Most of The Crick runs through agricultural land — corn and pea fields, small pastures, and the like. And since you cannot plow a stream, the banks were often filled with underbrush, tall grass, brambles, wild berries, hiding places for small animals. Even in town some wild areas, or at least neglected areas, clustered about The Crick, places where the brush grew close to the water and wild creatures dwelt. Near the railroad tracks and northeast of Memorial Park The Crick ran through a fabled “Hobo Jungle”, which we avoided and wondered about, and most of us never visited. And in my childhood this section of The Crick ran the color of whatever yarn was being created at Caron Spinning.
My classmate and friend David Krug lived in a house where 9th Avenue came to an end at the east side of town. The house was not large, although the family was, but the lot it was on stretched what seemed hundreds of yards behind the house. There was a small apple orchard, neat rows of trees, and beyond that, at the very back edge of their land, lay The Crick in all its wild glory.
I wasn’t often at David’s house, but on some long ago summer day I had strayed across town, wandering east on 9th Avenue, across the two highways and past the hospital, and found myself in a small wild band of boys of various ages, many of them Krugs with their ember-red hair. We roamed up and down the yard, doing what boys do, into and across The Crick, into the thicket that bordered the asparagus field on the other side.
And then came the excitement. Someone, probably David’s older brother or one of his friends, announced that he had seen a blue racer in The Crick. I didn’t know what a blue racer was, but someone knew — it was a deadly, venomous water snake.
A deadly, venomous water snake!! Our thrashing through the underbrush and wading in the water was not just messy; it had suddenly become dangerous as well. What better excuse can a pack of boys have for plunging headlong about The Crick and its weedy banks than to search for this mysterious, deadly snake. We splashed in and out, perhaps a bit more quickly than before, but also perhaps a bit more often than before.
In those days if you followed The Crick south from David’s house you would come after a while to a particularly wild area beyond the softball field behind Teen Town. We cheerfully crashed along the bank at least that far and back, and perhaps back and forth several times, trampling brambles and reeds and terrorizing fish and toads.
We never did see that blue racer. Any self-respecting snake would have found a secure hiding place, anyway, once the herd of boys started crashing about. And we didn’t really explore new territory. But it was a delightful afternoon well spent.
Since those days I have learned a few things, perhaps become a bit wiser, but probably not. There may well have been a blue racer that day — they are native to the upper Midwest, including Illinois. Not water snakes, and not venomous, they can be very large and scary. It’s probably just as well that we didn’t find that snake.