Saturday, July 21, 2012

By the Creekside

Today, my eleven other family members discussed whether to go to a pool or to a local creek with a small waterfall. The waterfallers won, which made me grateful, though I love swimming at the pool too. This pool had a water slide and a couple of nice diving boards.

All that would have made me happy.

You have to know, though, that I was still thinking about Richard Louv's ideas from 'Last Child in the Woods.' I wanted Nick to be in the woods today instead of spending his afternoon on concrete filled with clear water.

First off, it was free. Then, we encountered some pleasant people and their dogs. And last and most importantly, it was an amazing biology lesson.

The first lesson for Nick was in identifying poison ivy. He was the only one of us who never needed to know before now, since he's a native of the Pacific Northwest and not the Midwest like me.

Oh that sounds so boring. As we were looking at the brush, we found at least five pupal casings for cicadas. Nick didn't want to touch them, but he wanted me to arrange them as if they were talking. The things looked primordial.

There was a long set of steps down a steep hill, and all the while we lumbered down them, my brother-in-law kept asking me if I heard this or that bird. I did not. I listened to too much loud music when I was a teenager. Now all I heard was the rise and fall of the cicada song. Isn't that sad?

When we got down the steps, the creek bed was low, easy to walk upstream. The first creature we found was a blue tailed skink. I tried to get a picture, but this was one of those times I really missed having a telephoto lens. The skink kept running away, but turning around just under a leaf or in the space along the edge of a rock to look back at me. Was he teasing me?

Then the ones ahead yell because they'd spotted a snake. I finally got a good look at him. He had horizontal black and white bands around his body. He's only about nine inches long and, though we were practically chasing him, he never left the water. Finally, I realized I'd never walk into the water to get a shot of him and he had no intention of leaving the water. I leaned out as far as I could to study his lines. He paused for a moment as if catching his breath. You don't think of a snake as getting out of breath, do you? I talked to him. I told him I just wanted a picture, that was all. We stayed still for a bit, assessing each other. I didn't move except to click my phone's camera button. Then, he turned his back and swam away. Later, my brother told me he was a banded water snake, known to be aggressive. Wow! I had stared across a seven feet span at an aggressive nine inch snake!

Then, there was the carcass of an opossum. It was gross, mostly bones, teeth, and a little bit of skin. It seemed to be lying there in the perfect position to become a fossil. All it needed was some sediments and ten or twelve thousand years. Not everyone was as fascinated by the poor dead opossum as I was.

After that, I found myself among the children, including enthusiastic teenagers, looking at crawfish in the creek. That is extremely rare-the enthusiastic teenagers, not the crawfish. Some people were brave enough to catch them behind their pincers, but not me. I did, however, appreciate one particularly feisty one with blue and orange claws that was doing his best to fight back against the big guy who had hold of him. I'd been pinched on the feet by enough of those guys as a kid, thank you.

We waded in the shallow pools and generally laughed at the kids who made a muddy little pool into a glorious place with their laughter. While the kids played, my brother looked for chert to make into arrow heads. He gave me a piece to use as a flint.

The limestone around us was filled with horn corral fossils and chert nodules. Did I ever tell you I love looking for fossils? There were even a few crinoid stems. These were all black though. Someone told me it had to do with the type of sediment, whether the fossils were made out of quartz or chert. I don't know why, but I like the quartz better. I did put a couple of little chert nodules in my pocket though.

We made it all the way to the falls where some of us let the cool water pound the aches out of our shoulders. In the meantime, another clutch of my relatives looked at tiny catfish. I passed by on my way to get a towel and noticed that the catfish were much more shy than the crawfish, preferring to tuck deeper under the river rocks. They were thinking of fish sticks, no doubt.

My feet hurt, I was cold, and I was hungry. We all seemed ready to go back at the same time. Still, I was glad we chose to be outside. It may have been good for the children, but I know it was good for me too.

Thank you for listening, jb

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