I snorkeled along the boundary of a thin clear ice pane that looked like a sheet of cellophane floating on a cove between rock outcrops. Painful collisions with the edge of the ice reminded me of my boundary. A large hinge of a mussel that was firmly wedged into the substrate glowed white among the brown and orange bottom. I assumed the mussel was ancient based on its girth. Maybe not ancient, but likely older than me. I am still amazed that an animal we often consider ‘lower” can achieve such maturity.
Amber algae covers a large boulder and billows in the current like a wheat field in the wind. Caddisflies nuzzle into the fur and graze. A northern case maker caddisfly case, made with long thin twigs cemented together between mica and quartz grains, laid between cobbles on the bottom. I have seen them in Holtwood, and on the Delaware but I have never seen them here.
I swim upstream to the head of a chute formed by two rock outcrops, turn and flow downstream with the current, back to where I started. I lateral out and watch a hellgrammite crawl along the bottom. These are fierce ancient looking large insects with multiple legs and strong mandibles. This female has smaller pinchers than males, but they are effective and I have had these draw blood before when I handled them. Her head and thorax are a deep reflective chestnut, her abdomen is drab olive and bits of bottom algae are stuck on her exoskeleton. The insect realized I was here and started to back up.
This is a sign of hope. Hellgrammites indicate good water quality. So do caddisflies. And mussel numbers are declining. Finding live ones gives hope. The Susquehanna is far from a pristine river. By the time its waters reach me here near its mouth, it has been used a few times over, and is plagued by problems: sedimentation, over fertilization, pharmaceutical contamination, declining fisheries. But the presence of the caddisflies, hellgrammites and mussels inspire hope that the river is restorable, that we can bring the Susquehanna back to health.