Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Take Me to the River

I started out to go on a hike the other day. Not such an unusual thing really.

I say started to, but I never really made it. I got to the preserve, a place called Ragged Mountain, and noticed what looked like a family getting ready for a hike. There was a set of grandparents, a 10 year old, a dad, maybe another set of grandparents. As I got out of the car one of the grandmothers said, "Are you here for the..." I couldn't hear the rest as a car raced by me. I walked up to the woman and told her I hadn't planned to and asked what was going on. Turns out there was going to be some guy coming by to give a talk on vernal ponds. (Don't worry, we'll get to what vernal ponds are eventually.) I was welcome to come along if I wanted.


A talk on vernal ponds.


"Thanks", I said. "That sounds nice".

I found out they weren't necessarily all grandparents. Two of them were, but that was coincidental. One man .was from the wetlands commission, one had another such title that I just can't remember. The other adults in the group represented the local land trust that takes care of preserves like the one we were about to enter. Stewards of the land preserving the rural character and quality of life in their home town. There was the 10 year old who was indeed spending the morning with his grandparents. And me. All of us making small talk, waiting. Waiting for some guy.

Some guy turned out to be Jonathan Richardson from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Now I do Jonathan a slight disservice here for I don't remember his total history. I do remember that he got a BS in Biology from University of Virginia. I remember that as of his talk he had just about 2 weeks to go before he gave his oral defense for his Masters thesis. I think that last part is correct. I think. If that's what one does to finish a Masters program. I've never done it, so I don't know. What I don't remember is his field work. What I can say is it's a lot. I mean a lot. He has spent so much time in the woods of the Northeast he could probably direct you to all of the vernal ponds in Connecticut from memory.

Yeah, I know, that's all nice and everything, but, what the heck does he do!  I've lifted the next bit directly from his highlight page on the Yale website.

"My research focuses on the influence of landscape structure on population persistence. More specifically, I am looking at the effects of habitat fragmentation in terms of gene flow, population genetic structure, and evolutionary differentiation among amphibian populations in the Northeast."

I'll let you read that over a few times while I get on with it.

As it turned out all of these people were meeting because some developer wanted to build some houses on some land that includes a vernal pond. We were going to take a short walk into the woods and learn the importance of vernal ponds. You know, show the important people from the important commissions and such the importance of preserving our wetlands and open spaces.

Do you live near a place where you can hear the peepers in the spring? You know the frogs calling out hoping for a one night stand. I don't anymore. If I'm lucky and I'm going somewhere at night I can hear them Doppler style as I drive by. I hear them sometimes when I'm out hiking, but it seems if I get too near or make too much noise they don't make a sound.

Some times when you here them they are inhabiting a regular old pond.

Some times you're hearing the cycle of a vernal pond.

See a vernal pond fills with snow run off and the first rains of spring. The dead leaves left over from the previous fall line the bottoms of these depressions in the floor of the woods allowing the water to collect and remain until the surrounding trees suck up all the water to feed their new leaves. Something pretty awesome happens while all that water rests in it's cozy pocket. This little pond starts to teem with life. All kinds of life. Frogs, salamanders, mosquito larvae, snails and fingernail clams, microscopic zooplankton. A ton of stuff. More than I can remember. The thing is it's a whole ecosystem. A food chain that is almost symbiotic. One layer of life somehow helping the another to survive. Sure the larger things feed on the smaller, but the smaller often take advantage of the larger in some way.

A whole world unto itself.

A whole universe that knows nothing of you or me. Nothing of cars or Mars or The Avengers or anything that we might know.

They know nothing of us. Have no capacity to understand the world they live on. All they know is their cycle.

Yet here we are.

 It's kinda like that for us too isn't it?

We swim through our lives barely looking up. There are so many things that we think we know. So many things that we are so sure of. So sure in fact that we'd start wars or argue with friends, hush our children, or look down upon out neighbors.

We're lucky in many ways. From where our planet spins in the solar system to the fact that we're all still holdin' on to what we've got. Just do me a favor and look up some time and wonder over the things that are still a mystery. Let go of what you know and wonder over all the things you don't.

I set off on another hike a few days later. I went to a place called Cotton Hollow Preserve. There's a river that runs through it. It's a popular place because of all the small water falls and rapids along the path.

I always watch the water run 'round the rocks. I watch the stubborn rocks buck and fight the constant flow.

I know it's cliched now, but we always have the choice in life. Be the rock or be the water. Be the rock and stay set in your ways no matter what's happening around you. Be the water and find a way to where you want to go.

As Bruce Lee is quoted as saying (though I'm sure it's much older than that) "Be the Water".

Well, it's that time again. Time where I feel like I'm just talking to talk.

Keep your stick on the ice.


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