Friday, December 23, 2011

Snorkeling on the Shortest Day

The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, has been celebrated since ancient times. It’s the beginning of winter here in the northern hemisphere, but more importantly, it’s the beginning of the end of the dark. It’s a celebration of hope that more light than dark will return. It’s a celebration of hope that things will get warm again.

I figured I’d spend at least part of the solstice in Basin Run. This has become a bit of a ritual for me. I have jumped into the same pool in Basin Run as a way of welcoming winter for the last three years. It’s more of a reminder to me that even though it’s getting colder out, and water temperatures are to the point where I can only stay in for 30 minutes or so before my hands are non-functional, I can still snorkel. I can still explore our streams through the winter. There are still things to learn beneath the ice. But more than anything I want to tell the passage of time by changes in the world rather than a flipped page of a calendar. Getting into Basin Run and other streams regularly throughout the year, regardless of weather, lets me track the year through seasonal transformations of our rivers.

I laid down and crept upstream. The cold stung as usual, but the water clarity was incredible. Case maker caddisfly larvae covered everything. Their sand grain cases dotted every rock and boulder, and the black larvae inside dutifully grazed on algae. There wasn’t a lot of algae covering the structure of this stream, possibly because the caddis kept it in check. I can witness stream ecology in action any day of the year. I just need to look for it.

I’ve been worried about Basin Run. It’s my go to creek. Basin Run is five minutes from my house, and is still a high quality stream. Most of its watershed is still forested and while other streams run murky for days after a rain, Basin Run typically flows clear.

It’s a beautiful little steam that still retains a lot of its character, but its watershed is developing which usually means murkier water. But the water still runs clear and the creek affords incredible views, and as I watch this herd of case maker caddis larvae graze, and black nosed dace sluggishly nestle into the gravel bottom, I feel my worry dissolve to hope.

There is hope for this stream and every other one. Hope that we have learned from our past transgressions and changed our behaviors that resulted in polluted, murky water. There is hope that this knowledge protects streams like Basin Run. There is hope that water quality and diversity will return as we work to remedy more impacted streams like Herring Run, and the Jones Falls in Baltimore City. There is hope that there will be more light than dark, and clear water will return.

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