This creek must have been a mud hole 100 years ago. The forest from the whole region was clear cut, so I’m sure the soil flowed into Linn Run like syrup. I have a hard time imagining such an impaired river and forest as I gear up beneath mature hemlocks and laurels. The river is clear and the bottom is clean rock and gravel.
The river is really forceful and I am lucky to ferry into the large eddy on the opposite shore before getting swept downstream over a low foot tall shelf. I float in the eddy behind a large boulder and enjoy the peace. Such a different world than the torrent just a few feet away, and a universe apart from what this place must have been like 100 years ago. I have no doubt this pool was completely silted in.
I instantly see a crayfish crawling over the bottom, then I see another. A sculpin emerges from the background that closely matches the fishes camouflage. The crayfish approaches the sculpin and I expect the crayfish to take the sculpin in whatever kind of conflict I was sure was going to happen. This crayfish is an Appalachian brook crayfish, native to this area. One of the threats our rivers face is from biological pollution – species not from here that take over. The threat from invasive crayfish is that they run off, kill off, and out compete the native bethos, including sculpin. And while sculpin are common right now, nothing is guaranteed forever. A new threat can emerge and wipe these out too. I never take anything for granted in our streams, no matter how common. The crayfish crawls under the sculpin completely disinterested in the fish, The sculpin skitters off a few inches away from the crayfish and seems unconcerned. Woody debris swirls in the eddy with me. My presence in the river has changed the currents and re entrained material that was out of the mix on the bottom. Each of our actions has an effect.
I pick my head out of the water and picture this forest as nothing but stumps, with topsoil washed into the stream that flows thick and brown. The reality is very different. The river is restored from where it was but that doesn’t mean there are no threats. In addition to the threat of unwanted biological introductions, Linn Run is susceptible to the effects of acid rain, which is a result of coal fired power plants and car exhaust. Everything we do has an effect. Still I celebrate the restored condition and twirl in a deep eddy behind a boulder.
We often think that the environment is getting worse. And it certainly seems more impacted now than when I was a kid. Fewer fish, muddier water. What I sometimes forget is that we really have come a long way already, and that gives me hope for more restoration.