Water mesmerizes me. I have stood too long on bridges, watching the flow below wend its way downstream. I have breathed the mist of a mountain waterfall, inhaling the splendor of the splashing falls that hid a trout. I have lazed along a dawdling deliberate creek and welcomed the spring air that signaled the sucker run. I have sat in quiet haunch, watching a beaver busily browsing a poplar branch. I have sat on boat or dock and squinted at the sunset shimmering off a lake. I have spent a lifetime, lulled by the night sounds of a running river, punctuated by the occasional croak of a frog or two. I picture in my mind the journey that water travels as it moves past my hills, joining flow on flow until it becomes a river seeking the sea.
Waters are eternal. The secret, the formula, for the mixture of hydrogen and oxygen to form droplets of clean, clear moisture was granted to our Earth in the beginning. And, since the beginning, the waters have been nite. Yet they have been infinite. Mired in the mud of floods, we can’t make less water. Scorched by the torch of baking sun in drought, we can’t make more. And all waters are connected. Drops of dampness eagerly seek others...and others...until a flow is formed. A trickle at first, it joins dribble on drip to carve the brooks. Brooks meet and make a stream. Streams unite and rivers are born and sound their rally call to rendezvous in the sea. Oceans touched by tropic fever give up beads of sweat that ascend to heaven. Glistening globules of wet, like family at reunion, connect again and create clouds. A drop, a drizzle, a downpour, and the clouds release the wet once more upon the land. And tiny droplets seek each other once more to renew the cycle and wend their way to the sea.
That’s the way it’s been since creation. The problem is, sometimes the rain falls in the wrong places; sometimes the showers miss the spots where water is needed; sometimes the deluge forms a flood; sometimes the moisture mingles with acidic chemicals and it alters the structure of the soil below. And that’s the way it is in our time.
Farmers have feast or famine depending on the rain, their gift from Heaven. Rainfall dictates the cutting of hay, the feeding of the flock, the supply of vegetables for market. Fishermen bemoan the vicissitudes of the precipitation cycles, too. I’m a fisherman. Brookies are my specialty. Brook trout are analogous to the canary in the coalmine. When they start dying off, our environment is in trouble.
We are about to enter a dry summer of a long, local drought. The brooks have fought valiantly to protect the habitat of trout, to preserve the home of insect larvae. But, in some local waters, a number of once productive brook trout waters are nearly devoid of aquatic life.
I have mourned streams. A favorite “secret spot” is low—too low—and the water is gin clear— too clear. Not long ago, a friend and I had caught four limits of native brook trout over two days without progressing upstream more than 200 yards. Last week, at the same spot, I shed upstream for a mile and had nary a bite. Shunning boots, I walked in sneakers and never got my feet wet. And it broke my heart. There are many streams in such despair.
Too much water can injure the fragile environment of small streams. After the Agnes Flood in 1972, most small brookie streams were scoured. Big rocks were moved. Streambeds changed. Insects, vegetation, small fish, and earthworms were washed roughly downstream creating a sterile stream, devoid of any life. It took years for some of these waters to recoup and return to good fishing. Some have never recovered. I know of one local brook that was stocked privately with thousands of fingerling trout a year after Agnes. And, to this day, there are no fish in that water. Conditions to create a brook trout haven, conditions that took hundreds of years, were washed away one June day in ’72.
Acid rain is another thing. I used to go to the Adirondacks with friends to catch trout. My buddies flailed flies on the famed Ausable River, but I wandered the mountains looking for brookies. On one trip, a boy and I discovered a mile-long beaver pond. We dragged a canoe over sticks and mud to sh for the brook trout it surely held. We could have caught a thousand fish that day. We received bites on every cast. Years later I returned out of pure longing for pure waters and pure brook trout. The stream was dead from acid rain. I drove to the top of Whiteface Mountain to enjoy the green view of an Adirondack summer. What had once been a fir and pine and hemlock forest had turned brown, killed by acid rain. One of my favorite local brooks is absent life of any kind. I can only surmise that acid rain has diminished the stream’s habitability. I’m a good brookie fisherman. I’m a stealthy brookie fisherman. I know brookies. If I can traverse the banks of a beautiful brook for a mile and not get a bite or even spy a small trout skittering for cover, there are no trout there. I’ve found several of my favorite “secret spots” in such a state, no doubt due to acid rain.
American Electric Power Co., accused of spreading smog and acid rain across a dozen states, agreed a year ago to pay at least $4.6 billion to cut chemical emissions in what the government called the nation’s largest environmental settlement ever, ending an eight-year legal battle over reducing acid rain-producing smokestack pollution that drifted across Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, chewing away at mountain ranges, bays, and national landmarks. Involved in the lawsuit were Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Pennsylvania chose not to join in. But there is hope for the future. We continue to clean and balance our energy sources. And the best hope, of course, lies in the fact that Mother Nature is very good at fighting back.