Forty eight degree water proves what I felt and saw. The warmer water signals the beginning of the end. Wood frogs call for mates in beaver canals that connect a flood plain wetland to the stream. Spring is emerging and the stream is changing. What is usually a clean gravel bottom is covered in strings of emerald green algae.
A darter perches on a tangle of twigs wrapped in green strands. Minnows collect in large schools in bank den debris piles. A school of big somethings swim in the green depths of the large pool and are hazily outlined by shafts of sunlight that pierce through the pastel milky green murk. The biology of the stream is starting to reassemble.
The stream is rearranged again, significantly, and a new deep pool is formed upstream of the existing one. The restructuring has uncovered long buried stumps and they provide convenient holds against the strong flow. The large sand and gravel island that formed a good part of the dam that creates the large deep pool now has two streams braiding through it. The beaver have dammed one of them and the other cuts a deep channel through layers of deposited cobble and gravel. The stream is always changing and I wonder if it is the beaver that are responsible for changing the stream or if the stream changes and the beaver adapt. It’s probably both. The beaver influence the stream and the stream influenced the beaver.
I float into the outlet stream that has carved a walled sluice barely twice as wide as my shoulders and the trip feels like a crazy underwater log flume ride. I drop a hand and a foot to hold in the riffle. The water is forced under me and it scours a bunch of sculpin from their hiding spots between and under smaller cobbles. Sculpin are abundant in the races below beaver dams, probably because of the abundance of their preferred clean cobble and gravel habitat. The fish accidentally forced from their homes by me vary in sizes and I am surprised to see a lot of little ones. Everything has an effect, even the innocent act of putting a hand down in a riffle.
This river is very different again. Seems to be the only common theme in big branch. Every time I return it’s seriously rearranged and I wonder what it will be like underwater. The holes that I knew well and understood their ecology - where the fall fish held and the common shiner schooled - are filled in and new ones appear in different places. I don’t know what to expect. But every time change is just change. Fish are still there, living in different places to match the altered structure. The new tree that fell across the stream and the sands that filled in the deep hole just means the fish are redistributed. It adds a level of newness to a river I have visited a hundred times, and makes me realize that I will never really know a river. It changes too frequently. And I am reminded that change is a part of life. I get to witness how life goes on every time I snorkel a river. Things change, life responds and recovers. I watch the sculpin I accidentally flushed out of their holes wriggle back into the cobble.