Saturday, December 14, 2013

Early Winter

Snow hid the gaps between boulders on the bank so what is usually a quick series of hops to the waters edge was a much more cautious trip. It’s easy to snap a lower leg if not slow and deliberate today. Ice bells hang from pieces of grass that overhang the water and splashed water coats clogged twigs and leaves in ice. Cold water stabs my lips, the only exposed part of my face, and hands as the first squirt of water enters my gloves. I ease out of the eddy into the fast water in the rapid. Rock weed covers the rocks in this rapid with a thick green growth in spring summer and fall, but today the mat is sparse and the humpless casemaker caddisfly hang onto the remaining sprigs. Our rivers and streams have a seasonal progression of life that is hidden from common knowledge, mostly because we don’t look. Thick algae covers the bottoms of streams right around leaf fall in autumn, and the caddisflies come out in force in the winter. Mayflies alternate with the caddis through the cold months. Migrants like shad and herring follow the caddis in spring, and minnows become abundant through the summer. For now it’s the case makers turn to rule this rapid and hundreds cover rocks and cling to pieces of rock weed all pointed upstream to keep oxygenated water flowing through their cases. They hold two legs up into the current to snag morsels of food on stiff hairs. Cold leaks past my cheeks and lips and hits my teeth. It feels like I bit ice cream. I start to shiver a little. I take one last look at the endless pattern of caddisfly tubes that cover every rock in sight. It’s not winter on the calendar yet, but biologically, we are there.

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