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What could be better?

The banks were always steep and sandy, and the trail leading to the cool water was covered in poison ivy and blackberry thorns. 

It was not technically a creek, but rather a man-made canal that ran alongside the back of my family’s farm property. The bottom was full of smooth stones, white sand and sometimes arrowheads. When it flooded every few years, it dumped piles of that white sand in the hayfield nearby.

I spent many childhood days cooling off in its gully-holes — the narrow slots that held water deep enough to cover our blonde heads. The water was always moving, but it dropped to only a few inches deep during the dry, late-summer months.

We waded, sometimes fished in the deep spots, and generally did our best to stay covered in the water that flowed through our neck of the county. I think the canal has an official name, but we never bothered to learn it. To us, it was just “the canal.”

As a child, there was nothing better. Not the swimming pool at the country club outside of town, not the water park in Jackson. Nothing could beat a day at the canal, or at least I believed that as a 10-year-old.

In high school, an actual creek on a friend’s property served as a respite from the heat. It was deeper and full of snakes and sometimes leeches. It was always cold.

We spent our July days wading miles up and down the creek, armed with .22 revolvers and enough teenage confidence to take on any water moccasin we crossed.

We sometimes used canoes, but wading through the chest-high water was better. We camped on its banks, fished in its deep holes and swam in a dynamite-blown, rock pool created years before we were. For a teenage boy, there was nothing better.

At some point in my early adult years, I gave up the creeks and canals of my youth. I swam in fancy pools and let people convince me that man-made bodies of water were better. They were wrong.

A few hundred feet behind our house on Mt. Zion Road sits the perfect swimming hole. It’s deep, wide and always cold. It too has snakes, but my 12-year-old son has done a good job of keeping them at bay.

It also has a sandy bottom, at least in the spot where we swim. Just a few feet from the bank, it drops off to at least 10 feet deep, which means the water is dark and clear. I can’t imagine a better place to spend a hot summer afternoon.

My children feel the same way. There’s not a summer day that passes that they don’t ask to go swimming. They all learned to swim in an actual pool, but they prefer the pond. There’s something special about swimming in a cool, clear, deep body of water. There’s a little bit of mystery and danger that comes with it. Though the water is crystal clear, it’s too deep to see the bottom. Those childhood, irrational fears of giant alligators lurking below bring an element of fear to any swim party. The younger kids sometimes worry about big fish attacking them.

There’s also the sheer expanse of it. At a pool, you’re always a short swim from the safety of the side. In our pond, that’s not the case. You have be to a little braver, a little stronger, to venture out very far.

And that’s what makes it special. When a child gets the courage to jump in and swim out deep, they gain a confidence that’s hard to find elsewhere. They also gain the kind of memories that I cherish from my younger years.

A cold, clear pond on a hot summer day — what could be better?

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.