Monday, May 6, 2013

Same River, Very Different Day

I have snorkeled this spot hundreds of times, usually in late summer when the water is warm and clear. I have been to this river thousands. But I never snorkeled this place now, in mid spring. The river scape is alien. Gravel bars that are covered in thick green stands of water willow in summer are barren and caked in a fine dried mud. It feels like I’m on the plains and can almost see horizon to horizon. Rock hoodoos pop up from the flat river and give the scene some texture. A few rotted shad carcasses are strewn on the naked gravel islands and the place looks more like the exotic opening scene from River Monsters than it does the lower Susquehanna. The water is low, the way it usually is in late summer, but not very common this time of year. This is an opportunity to see the same river on a very different day. The bottom is its usual gravel and cobble strewn among scoured bedrock monoliths, but its texture is different. The grazers haven’t caught up with the excess algal growth yet and everything is covered in soft olive fuzz. The dismembered head of a dead shad lies on the bottom encased in gelatinous decomposition ooze, and hovers as a temporary tribute to the end of life for this individual who returned from the ocean to spawn, but the beginning of life for the next generation. A school of common shiner dodge around me. I never see them here in summer. Smallmouth, usual summer residents that patrol just barely in view, are missing. Sunnies are out and jockey for territory and a few yellow perch, a rare sight in summer, hold under some newly rearranged cover. This is a big river system where the only thing constant is change. It’s the same river, and the same place on the same river, but a very different day.

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