Leaves twirl in the current like Forrest Gump’s feather. Most of them dropped off trees here about a week ago and they are populating the creek now. I feel like a kid running through blowing swirls of leaves as I hang onto a rock in the rapid and leaves whiz past. Some get plastered to my snorkel and mask.
This is half of the life blood of the stream. They provide energy that is converted from plant to animal by a diverse group of insects who shred and ingest the dead leaves. The insects are in turn food for fish. The rest of the streams energy comes from algae. I am watching more than just a few leaves twirling in water. I am watching an ecological process finely tuned by eons of adaptation. It is part of an interplay of energy between the forest and the stream. In the fall the net energy flow is downstream with the water. In spring and summer, the stream gives energy back to the forest in the form of hatching insects and migrating fish. Some leaves get stuck to rocks or are captured by sprigs of rock weed as they travel by. Others become waterlogged and gather in eddies on the bottom. I am more than watching a process. I am experiencing it. Another leaf plasters itself to my facemask.
I inch up in the lee of a large rock and see the snout of a fish timidly peeking out from under a ledge. I follow it down over a sandy patch where a second one joins it in the stronger current. They are some kind of minnow but I can’t get a positive identification. They swim awfully close together and it looks to me like they are mating. But it sure seems to be the wrong season.
I twirl out into the current and enjoy the weightless flight, crawl back upstream along the bottom and do it again. The freedom of snorkeling transcends season. It is getting dark, my hands are cold and the exposed parts of my face get numb. I make my way back up river against the strong current. Just as I am about to haul out I notice a motionless school of banded killis holding in the shadow of a rock.
Banded killis are a common fish, though I have never seen them here in this rapid and they seem to be a little out of place. They are usually in quieter water, which this shoreline eddy provides. The school holds behind a large rock as they try to figure me out. They are in no rush and I enjoy watching them watch me, common or not. There is always something new to discover and experience in our rivers and streams. Whether it’s a school of common minnow or the twirling input of energy.