It looks nicer than it did a decade ago when Pop was running cattle in the woods and in the stream. Once he quit dwarf larkspur and Jack in the Pulpit appeared on thenorth-facing slopes; Solomon’s Seal that used to grow only five or six inches before being nubbed down by teeth now grew fronds three and four feet tall.
Streams take longer. Banks heal slowly from hoof wounds. Time works sand from between pebbles in fast water, making room for mayflies and stoneflies and the monstrous, demonic-looking larvae of dobsonflies- hellgrammites. Go-devils, stone-devils. Grampus- my favorite- the hill country corruption of a medieval monster which carried away children in the night.
Butterflies are easy to love. Grampus need a little context. Their parents drop them off in cottony white cases on boulders, overhanging branches- bridge abutments and spans if nothing else is available- where they’ll hang out until the summer clouds build, lightning crackles, barometric pressure drops- and they’ll wriggle out, dropping the rising spate. Brilliant.
They drift to the fast water, among cobbles and boulders. The underside of their abdomen is lined with feather gray gills- they need the turbulence of that swift water to survive. They spend years among the stones on the bottom of a stream, hunting other insects, before crawling back to shore where they’ll dig into soft soil along the bank, transforming to the winged adult, repeating a process 250 million years old.
They’re delicate, linking land and water. They need streamside woodlands for their eggs and adults and to provide cool, oxygenated water for their young. They need clean, clear, healthy water, without sediment or insecticides or pollutants- for years, as their young feed and grow.
It’s a good sign. There are other good signs, namely the gaudy darters spawning in shallow, cobble-bottomed section. The stonerollers, done up in bright colors and studded with white bumps like scattered pearls. There’s other things- spiraled shells of ramshorn snails, wax-colored cases of fingernail clams, the chubby fathead minnow and the green sunfish I scare from a half-submerged rootwad, all pointing to the changes farm ponds in the watershed have made on the stream.
It isn’t perfect. By no means pristine. But it’s certainly an improvement.