Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Only Thing Constant is Change

It has been frigidly cold for a while and so a 33 degree rainy morning felt warm. I took advantage of the perceived warmth to visit an old friend, Big Branch. I know Big Branch well. I snorkel here frequently, and lead trips here through the spring and summer. It’s a place I know well, at least as well as a stream can be known. It was apparent that this area flooded recently. Fine mica flecked silt was deposited high up on the flood plain. The stream bed seemed shallower and filled in. But the water ran clear today and as I scanned upstream it seemed that a lot of the large woody debris that really makes Big Branch unique compared to other rivers in the area was significantly rearranged. The cold water stung for a few minutes as I worked upstream. Big Branch is deceiving. It looks like there isn’t much flow, until you get into it. Then you realize the real force this river carries. A northern hogsucker made itself a bed by carving out a divot in the sandy bottom and pushing a few cobbles out of the way. In warmer weather hogsuckers usually dart into the distant underwater haze with a few powerful flicks of their tail. But this one didn’t budge. Cold water slows everything down, and I appreciated the opportunity to get close and watch. I approached what used be the first water scoured hole. I was here just a month ago, and I didn’t recognize this spot at all it was so different. I picked my head out of the water to get my bearing, to make sure I was where I thought I was in the river. What used to be a large hole was now small and half as deep. A new linear hole formed just upstream behind the remnants of a beaver dam. This was shallow water where the dam trapped sediments as they flowed downstream. But now it was scoured deep and minnows wriggled into the protection of the leaves trapped on the upstream side. An extensive sand flat now contained dramatic changed in depth and topography. A tree fell across the river and trapped floating debris to form a strainer that forced the flow of the river underneath. A new deep hole was carved where just a month ago shallow sand riffles existed. Long buried logs were re-exposed. A large fish darted into the shadow of the new cover. Rivers are dynamic and Big Branch is no different. So much change in such a short span of time. I can’t wait till things start to reemerge with the arrival of spring. The structure of the river is different so I’m sure the pattern of life will be too. The only thing constant is change.

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