I know this landscape. This was the river of my youth. I fished, tubed and dove its waters. I hiked and camped its shores, canoed and kayaked its surface. But life happens, and I moved to another river where I have been exploring for the last 20 years. Things have changed. Many of the people are gone, memories remain, and I found myself missing them all as I suited up. In some ways this felt like a home coming. In some ways I felt like an uninvited guest. Been a long time.
The bottom in this small reach of the Delaware drops into deep eddy worn holes. I’m not used to big water this time of year. Most of the large rivers run murky right about now, but the Delaware remains relatively clear. I took advantage of a rain free week to get in and explore for as long as the cold water would allow. I was hoping for some fish, maybe an eel or two, possibly a remnant shad, but what I got was incredible architecture. A fractured bedrock outcrop pinched the water into flumes between blocks, and the force of the entire river funneled into a dozen gaps in the rock. Finer gravels and Asian clam shells accumulated in the eddys behind angulated slabs. The bedrock was covered in algae and sponges that made it look panted.
I couldn’t get over the vastness of the river. I was slowly heading out towards the middle but still only explored a tiny part near the Pennsylvania shore. There was 100 feet of river between me and the New Jersey side, and I could only see 20 feet of it at a time. Swimming big water is always a little unnerving for me. It feels risky. It exposes me to the forces of the river and reminds me that I really am helpless against them. I can work with them, but if I go against them I will lose. Snorkeling big water is humbling and grounding. The real threats though are those we pose to the Delaware.
I started back towards the Pennsylvania side. I saw a cluster of sticks walk over the bedrock below and realized it was a caddis fly. These insects cement twigs and pebbles together to make a protective case. A few snails also grazed. I didn’t see any fish. None of the expected players. But the geology, the biology that encrusts the geology and most basic forces made this short exploration a memorable shaping experience.
Rivers insert themselves into our lives when we let them. They are so much more than a collection of water, rock, mud and fish. They shape our communities and our lives. The Delaware partly shaped who I am, and being here is a reminder of that molding.
The Delaware is at so much more risk than when I was growing up in it and on its shores, mostly because of the threats fracking pose. We stand to lose so much for the sake of gaining so little. But today I celebrate what is here in the Delaware.