Sunday, February 17, 2013

Biological Doldrums

Sometimes it’s the structure of the stream, the way water sculpts rock. Sometimes it’s the force of the water itself, sometimes it’s the life. This time of year it’s more the first two. We seem to enter a biologic doldrums towards the end of January that lasts through the middle of February, where life becomes a little scarce. While we are approaching the end of this dormancy, we’re still in it, so I expected todays swim to be more about geology and hydrology rather than biology. But exploration underlies it all. It’s hard to imagine that two weeks ago this place was under 10 feet of rushing muddy water. We got a few inches of rain in a short time that rapidly raised this creek beyond flood stage. Clear water fills the stream today and the only evidence of the torrent are redistributed gravel bars that embed more and more of the rocks in the rapid and a tree that was placed on top of a large boulder as the waters receded. Ice formed on grass and twigs that hung low enough for the water to lap them, which resulted in oddly shaped ice formations hanging in midair. The creek water hovered right around freezing. The air wasn’t much warmer, so creek water readily froze to anything hanging into it and the dropping water level of the stream was evidenced by gravity defying bell shaped ice globs. A mayfly clung to a rock next to a chunk of ice. I thought it got the timing of its emergence wrong, crawled out of is old exoskeleton a new being a few weeks early, and died there stuck to the freezing rock. It’s awful cold out for an insect. But as I watched I saw one antenna move, then the other and the mayfly inched one leg forward. This animal was far from dead; in fact its adult life was just starting, right at the end of the biological doldrums. Maybe this is the beginning of spring.

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