The Ripple: Celebrate the Shortnose Sturgeon!

Our Friend, the Shortnose Sturgeon

Short-nosed sturgeon

Since the Atlantic Salmon was declared extinct in the Connecticut River two years ago, I have wandered the river banks with students, wondering what a healthy living river is like. That the Shortnose has survived under such duress, with such poor assistance provided by humans, made us love it—because it expresses the brisk vitality that remains in that 400 mile waterbody. The Shortnose does not give up, and neither should we. Before we lose this last clan entirely, let us try to assist it, and raise the Shortnose’s image and story to the forefront of our biocultural awareness. Let this environmental-adapter epitomize us and our still beautiful Nonotuck biome, at this moment of epochal transition.


Spring equinox has passed and the great thaw is underway, turning greys into green and silence to chansons. Have you enjoyed the cold (as much as the otters, who fished the icy pools)? The ice it brought let us walk rivers and tributaries as if they were sidewalks, and grand boulevards. What a wonderful feeling!

The perspective gained by walking above the river was as rare as the record-breaking weather that enabled it. Seeing the way trees lower, extend and up-curl their limbs over the water, to catch the sun on each yearning pinkytip; and noticing deep punctures of buck hoof puzzled over by bobcat pads as wide, soft and light as hamburger buns—such perceptions awaken dormant parts of human being, sparking awareness of how lucky we are when we find time to unplug. Despite the best attempts of technologists to rewire us, we’re wild; and, when we step into places without signs or brands or passwords, a brisk vivacity and slight confusion welcomes us, and matches our character, as Shakespeare made plain in this description of some dukes chillin’ in the forest of Arden:

Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say,
“This is no flattery. These are counselors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.” [1]

“Brisk vivacity” describes the part of us that strives, struggles, grasps and clambers and, no matter how bad the day goes, ends up fed and snoring in a warm bed every night. Comfort is not entirely to be avoided, but too much brings dis-ease; discomfort makes the pearl, the liberation, the getting into shape, and the evolution of species via the process of natural selection.

Short-nosed sturgeons, those bony-plated swimming dinosaurs whose ancestry begins 175 million years ago, aren’t noted for their brisk vivacity, especially when compared to the agile shad or muscular striped bass. Yet, they have in 150-200 years accomplished something miraculous in the 36.9 miles of Connecticut River between the terminal Holyoke and Turner’s Falls’ dams.

Somehow a small population has adapted to the confines of the dams, and live and breed without going to and returning from the ocean as their ancestors did. They are a close-knit clan of 300, who breed in “a 200-foot- long stretch of water in Montague, Mass” [2] According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [3], the “two main shortnose sturgeon spawning sites in the Connecticut River are both located approximately 2.5 miles downstream of the Turners Falls Dam” near the Cabot Hydroelectric Station tailrace and the Rock Dam. The survival of these elegant and patient beings, who live up 75 years [4], is a miracle we ought to celebrate—and do, up in Greenfield where the People’s Pint is serving Shortnose Stout, “with the hope that the new Irish-style beer will help fight the extinction of the prehistoric fish that calls the Connecticut River home. [5]”

Since the Atlantic Salmon was declared extinct in the Connecticut River two years ago, I have wandered the river banks with students, wondering what a healthy living river is like. That the Shortnose has survived under such duress, with such poor assistance provided by humans, made us love it—because it expresses the brisk vitality that remains in that 400 mile waterbody. The Shortnose does not give up, and neither should we. Before we lose this last clan entirely, let us try to assist it, and raise the Shortnose’s image and story to the forefront of our biocultural awareness. Let this environmental-adapter epitomize us and our still beautiful Nonotuck biome, at this moment of epochal transition.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kurt Heidinger, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Biocitizen, non-profit school of field environmental philosophy, based in the Western MA Hilltown of Westhampton, MA where he lives with his family.  Biocitizen gives participants an opportunity to “think outside” and cultivate a joyous and empowering biocultural awareness of where we live and who we are. Check out Kurt’s monthly column, The Ripple, here on Hilltown Families on the 4th Monday of every month to hear his stories about rivers in our region. Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!

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