It’s nice to see ice on the creek. Not that I necessarily enjoy snorkeling in freezing water. But I wonder if ice will become a thing of the past, a legend, and if I will tell stories of how our creeks used to freeze, and how we played hockey on the neighborhood stream to my grandkids the way my grandfather used to tell stories of how the Raritan used to ice over so thick you could drive across it.
I try not to be an alarmist, but some of the things changing in the environment are concerning, and one of them is the lack of ice on our rivers in winter. Granted I can’t make any kind of climate statement based on a few years of evidence, but I really do hope for a good freeze this year. It’s been a while.
Climate change is happening whether I can see the evidence or not. The scientific jury that had been out on the subject reconvened and while not unanimous, the large majority determined that there is indeed enough solid data to say that yes, the climate is changing. The fact that the climate is changing doesn’t scare me. That’s what climates do. Where do you think all the coal in Pennsylvania came from? From when Pennsylvania was a humid swamp 300 million years ago during a period that lasted for 34 million years, when its climate was much more tropical. What I fear is the rate of this change. I can see changes in my lifetime, changes that should take much, much, longer. It’s hard to deny that we have sped up the process with our fossil fuel addiction.
I fear changes to our climate mostly for selfish reasons. I don’t want to see our streams change before I know them. After years of snorkeling the same creeks I feel like I am just now beginning to understand them, how life adjusts to season, how fish respond to rains and droughts, how the creek changes with flow. There are so many streams to snorkel at different times of day in different seasons, I can never see it all. Forget about even trying to understand it all. And now that I have just barely scratched the surface of really understanding the ecology of a handful of creeks, it stands to change dramatically.
Cold water fisheries may be no more, community composition will change. Breeding ecology of a lot of species is based on water temperatures. Exotic species whose spread is partly controlled by colder temperatures are primed to expand their range with mellow winters. Hydrology will probably be altered, maybe to feast or famine, flood and drought without much in between. This isn’t doom and gloom, because life will find a way. But it will probably be different, and possibly before I have had the chance to watch and learn the current system.
But right now the cold water is piercing my cheeks and I really can’t feel if the snorkel is still in my mouth. I’m not choking on water so it must be, but my lips aren’t working quite right. The future will bring change, and we need to modify our behaviors to slow its rate, but I can still appreciate what is before me in the present. And right now that is a school of minnows swimming under a sheet of the first ice of the season.