Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Monsters Real and Imagined

A dark green smudge darted across the gravel flat as soon as I stuck my face in the water of the Brandywine at the Natural Lands Trust Stroud preserve (www.natlands.org). I barely saw it so a positive ID wasn’t possible but based on the little that I did see, (dark green color, robust but small body, and fast bottom swimming), I was sure this was a green darter. I hoped it was a green darter. The males get brilliant emerald green vertical stripes in spring and early summer. I really wanted to see this fish, and maybe get a picture of it if I was lucky so I searched the flat gravel bottom for 15 minutes, and didn’t see a thing. Not even other fish. Maybe seeing the possible green darter was wishful thinking, imagined. I inched my way upstream, looked to my left and saw a hefty tail sticking out from under a rock ledge. I peered into the void and saw a large chub staring back. The fish watched my every move, but held perfectly still which gave me the opportunity to take a few pictures of the sizeable minnow. We perceive minnows to be these tiny things, when in fact members of the minnow family get pretty big, like this beauty. I continued upstream searching for more fish. I was distracted by some braches from a fallen tree on my right. These make great habitat and I focused on seeing some sunnies holding in the cover. When I looked back in front of me, right there, just inches from my hand was the largest hog sucker I have ever seen. I fumbled with my camera, to try to get a picture of this fish, but all that commotion sent this giant off upstream with one flick of its powerful tail. I have seen hundreds of hog suckers. They are a common fish and I expect to see at least one just about every trip. But common doesn’t mean mundane. They are perfectly adapted for their bottom dwelling life. I turned and let the current carry me downstream. The feeling of weightlessness is always relaxing. The bottom started to pass by more quickly and I realized I was approaching a deep riffle. I came out of the fast moving water on the left side of the river and the bottom dropped out of sight as I drifted through a large circulating pool, formed by a strong eddy. It was a little unnerving. I don’t know how deep this hole is. I don’t know who lives on the bottom or what “monsters” lie below. My imagination is pretty active. I do know that our rivers always hold surprises, even our common ones. The Brandywine is a common river, and hog suckers are common fish. But seeing that large hog sucker directly under me, then watching it fade into the murky distance was thrilling. And wondering who lives in that next deep hole, or under that next rock ledge keeps me coming back to explore again.

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