Ten inches of rain haven’t fallen this year and it shows in the creeks, barely flowing between shallow pools. I notice the walnuts, the buckeyes, the persimmons prematurely dropping fruit before the drooping soybeans and burnt-up corn destined for silage in some feedlot somewhere.
It’s an education in place. This part of the world has always vascillated between feast and famine, out on the edge where eastern forests meet the great western prairie. Untended coneflowers and tufts of showy goldenrod persist on roadsides and field edges while unwatered zinnias droop and crape myrtles burn up in the sun. Out of the breaks away from the river vestigal prairie parallels two-lane highways: rosinweed, cup plant, compass plant, sunflowers, bluestem, drawing water from root tips ten feet below ground. Yards away, across the barbed wire, lanky Herefords nub brown brittle grass in overgrazed fields among tufts of thistle and poke. Had grandfathers thought hard about seeding everything in fescue and orchard grass, grandsons might have pasture. Hay for the winter.
The dog and I cool off in a small shallow pool between two bony riffles, watching bass and minnows, darters, crayfish. Tiny little sunfish, longears probably, mill around cobble with flag-finned baby smallmouth. Adults move up in spring, spawn, leave their babies in shallow headwaters to avoid the temptation of eating their own. Prairies and forests donate their own aquatic organisms, making the stream more diverse than either of its parents. Some of the species from the prairie have already blinked out further west, from Kansas and Oklahoma, Nebraska and eastern Colorado, as water is pumped for corn and for cows. They’ll be alright here, in this stream, for now.