The stretch of open water is pretty small – only about 5 body lengths. It’s been pretty cold here and all the water is frozen except for the fastest moving. Only this riffle section is open, but that’s ok since this part of the creek has always produced incredible life year round. It’s an unexpected place, a non-descript segment of stream in the middle of the mid Atlantic megalopolis, framed by the transportation corridor. This 300 foot stretch is bordered on one end by one of the original post roads, a north south thorofare established well before there were interstates, when carriages groaned through the undeveloped woods. This carriage path was paved and became the major road between towns, then was replaced by a 4 lane highway to speed things up, which was replaced by the current 6 lane interstate to get us from point a to b even faster. But the old post road still serves as a major traffic artery for the region and thousands of people drive on it and over Stoney Creek daily. The other end of this stretch is bordered by the Amtrak rail line that whisks people from Boston to DC at speeds up to 150 MPH, with New York, Phili and Baltimore in between. Both the car drivers and train riders pass over this common, 10 foot wide stream without much of a thought about what’s here. But as I slip into the water and make a mental note of the upstream and especially downstream edges of the ice, I expect to see amazing life, in spite of the cold.
Small darters come out of hiding to investigate the large intruder in their territory. They look like the young of the year, are more jittery than most of the adults I have seen, and don’t hold still long enough for a photo. A larger darter sits and poses beneath a branch at the upstream edge of the open water patch. The smaller ones scatter and tempt me to chase them under the ice, but I choose to keep my snorkel in air. A northern hog sucker whose coloration almost convinces me it’s a large sculpin wraps its body around a rock and watches me watch it. It is a beautiful orange and black banded fish. A large minnow, I think a common shiner, is wedged between cobbles, but I can’t be sure since I can only see the top of its head and one eye. How many creeks are like the Stoney? Common, in our back yards, under our bridges, yet a world apart beneath the surface.