Monday, January 30, 2012

Mid-Winter Swim

There’s about a month to go till things start to come alive again around here. Not that things are really dead. Life is there, it’s just not as active and noticeable. It’s nuzzled down into the cobbles instead of flying over the bottom. It has been a warm season, and while most days it hasn’t felt like it, it is still winter and things, while present, are more muted.

We haven’t had any ice on our creeks and I’m starting to wonder if we will ice over this season at all. Not that I particularly enjoy snorkeling in ice, but ice is part of the system, and its absence is a departure from normal. Not good, not bad, but different, and different has an effect. I wonder what effect no ice will have on our stream ecosystems if in fact we remain ice free for the next month.

Temperatures are off, but everything else points to winter. The sun sits low in the sky and long shadows are cast early. The stream valley is grey by four. Cold knife points of frigid water stab my face and hands as I crawl upstream. Caddisfly larvae have sealed the openings of their cases with quartz grains as they usually do right about now.

Other caddis are still out grazing. A Northern case maker caddisfly is clawing at a smooth cobble, as it tries to get a firm grip to hold against the current. A blast of water blows the caddisfly off the rock, and a single thread keeps it tethered. Its twig case vibrates violently like a kite in a storm, drops to the bottom, scrambles for a good grip and gets blown into the water column again. If fish were out and active this insect would have been eaten long ago.

I want to explore more, to see who is out and who isn’t. To see who is struggling to hang on and who is just waiting till water temperatures increase and the flourish of spring life ensues. But my hands become painfully cold after just 20 minutes in the water, and it’s time to leave. There is always amazing life in our streams, even our most common ones.

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