By this time of winter I am usually just enduring the cold waiting for springs first emergence. There often isn’t much to see as winter trails off and the lack of life makes it feel like spring will never arrive with its biologic explosion. The 50 degree air temperature was deceiving because the water was still freezing. I’m not sure why I expected the water to warm in a day. Our weather this winter has been a roller coaster. Frigid weeks separated by a day or two of teasing warmth. The water stays cold, and an ice chunk hits me in the mask, which startles me. I laugh when I realize it’s just an ice chunk. I hoped to stay longer than what I would be able to based on cold.
I have labeled this time of year the biological doldrums since it seems fish and other life are hard to find right around now. But the Principio is beautiful regardless of fish. The river cascades down a 30 foot falls into deep canyon pools and flows over orange bedrock. The bottom is patches of smooth bedrock, quarts cobbles and clean sand, and this time of year there is a forest of winter time rock weed that holds against ice chunk batterings and swift water. I got in the river to see the forest, and to photograph it.
But I wasn’t in the water for long before I saw my first fish – a black nosed dace that very sluggishly eased back into its crevice. I pushed upstream, further into the falls. I forgot how loud it is here, and how chaotic the river becomes. Strong currents pull my legs out into the main flow while my torso is forcefully pushed down stream. I grapple onto the smoothed bedrock. Air bubbles from falling water make it hard to see. The deep crack that holds huge suckers in the summer is empty and I head back downstream.
I swirl into the pool at the base of the falls, the end of the fall line where mountain meets coastal plane, and see a school of rosy sided dace swirl with me in the gentle eddy. A hog sucker, very much aware and awake, watches me. The fish is so well camouflaged that when I look at something else, it vanishes in an instant and it takes me a while to relocate the fish who didn’t move from its spot. Its stealthy tactic works to avoid detection. Large darters mold around rocks and their personalities show. Some are skitterish and flit away, while others seem as curious about me as I am about them. Their black checkerboard pattern on a green background make them look like Connemara – green Irish marble. A small school of black nosed dace flit downstream.
Cars bang over the route 7 bridge, and I hope no one can see me. I am alone and in my own little aquatic wilderness world, even though I stopped on my way home from work, just off a major north eastern megalopolis traffic artery. I don’t want anyone to see me so that I am not confused with a body, to avoid all the commotion that tends to create.
I love this creek. It always amazes. Even now when we should be in the doldrums, our backyard creeks make enduring the cold worth it.