It had been 16 years since I was here, when I had to clean out and close on my fathers house. My parents died 6 months apart and even though a lot of time has passed, the empty pain is still there. I don’t remember the closing, outside of feeling like I really didn’t want to sell the house. But I remember going to the river afterwards to sort things out, to help me make sense of this next parentless stage in my life. Rivers have always been so much more that conduits for water to me. They are spiritual places, sacred. As I snorkel them the feelings of connection and flow of time and spirit grow. Its grounding to be face down in a river.
Cooks Creek empties into the Delaware here under the Delaware canal. This is the site of an old industrial complex. The buildings are long gone but the 30 foot tall caissoned sides of the creek walls, abundant slag and canal and road bridges high above stand as reminders to the sites industrial past. There were rumors of hazardous waste contamination of this place when the buildings stood, when I lived here, and that thought made me a little nervous to stick my face in the water.
I slip into the Delaware just upstream of the Cooks Creek confluence. Thick, unnatural algae covers everything, in unnaturally warm water. I drift downstream and see thermal waves where the cold Cooks Creek water meets the warm stagnant eddy water. The thick brown fur that covers everything, rapidly plunging bottom scattered in industrial chunks of concrete, and the thermal waves give the place an eerie feel.
A boat goes by and the flocculent crap shakes free in its wake. I am swimming in crud. The last time I was in this part of the Delaware, it was clear, and I eagerly anticipated the same conditions as I drove from home. I see a huge river chub in Cooks Creek under the canal bridge with a large sore on its head. Another chub had an ulcer rotted through its operculum gill cover. Creepy and concerning, but really can’t say much as to the cause. Either way this was quickly becoming a disappointing trip. I can’t believe this stretch of the Delaware is so degraded.
I made a few drifts into and out of the cold Cooks Creek water and started to notice fish. Large smallmouth bass swam in the deeper water. Smaller ones stayed a little more shallow and watched me as I watched them. Schools of minnows hung right at the cold/hot interface and fed.
One of those schools is satin fined shiners. I have only ever seen these as solitary fish, never as a school. Pale blue fins make them look tropical, and watching the school feed made me forget about my creepy surroundings.