The Ripple: Synchronization of the Watershed Flora & Fauna

A River Is Always In Synch

Like tiny submariners bursting up and out of the bottom of the brook, breaking into wings and soaring for a short time above the world they once knew, the stoneflies are here, molting from crab-shells they lived in. On the back of my neck, computer keyboard, every boulder around me: they multiply, skitter all directions, avoiding the rushing water they recently called home. The frenzy begins. 

Migratory birds time their arrival here, somewhere in the Westfield River Watershed, to dine on these fluttering ecstatic millions. No birds here now: climate warming has rejiggered the synch of the birds and these bugs.

Too warm: sugaring ended early. It’s possible our fruit trees did not harden enough to produce food this year, for hardening happens when the temperature is consistently below freezing for months. Pollinators such as non-native honeybees, and the native wild bee that just landed on me, are fully awake and hungry with no flowers around. What will they eat? Whatever is going to happen is already happening. We’ll see.

The coincidence of river-bug hatches and migratory birds is supposed to happen as an annual event, repeating each year. This coincidence has happened, where I’m sitting, for approximately 12000 years, when the glaciers were a thousand years melted, gone from here, retreating north to become the presently-melting Arctic.

Survivors from that glacial era, our native trout, are feasting, earlier than usual perhaps, but feasting the same. Their synch is being rejiggered, but they are better prepared than the migratory birds to capture the ephemeral harvest. Rising temperatures force them into the colder upper branches of our rivers; they don’t like water warmer than 60 degrees. The higher they get the smaller the habitat, and over generations they shrink in size to suit their environment.

Following a migratory pattern just like the birds, shad and salmon, and even herring, made it up to the East Branch of the Westfield River until dams obstructed their passage from the briny Atlantic. There is enough food—these teeming hordes of river bugs—in the three branches of the Westfield River to sustain these species when we re-establish their passages.

And when we re-establish the ways for ocean fish to return to the Westfield river, they will become food for birds, reptiles and mammals. The overall population of wild animals will increase, enhancing the vitality and beauty of our Berkshire biome. More importantly, the 10,000+ year pattern of flowing bios will be put back in synch—a rare and positive occurrence at this moment in human history.

A river is always in synch.  Those who pay attention to it share in its synchronization. Shad and trout fishermen are in synch, for example, or they catch nothing. By knowing the patterns of time, temperature and geomorphy they gain entrance into the pattern itself, where, like a grizzly bear scooping salmon out of an Alaskan river, they get to the source of biotic abundance and assume it for themselves. Critters that aren’t in synch starve.

I am not much of a fisher, but I love knowing the river’s patterns—mainly because the river is connected to everything: like the blood in own bodies, both source and embodiment of life.

Please take time to notice the patterns the river expresses. We are living at a time of planetary transformation where the industrial activities of our ancestors, and ourselves, have disrupted the patterns that constitute the bios, the living reality that is the subject of biology. Whatever is going to happen to us, will lead us back to our rivers, because alongside them our ancestors first settled and created civilizations. As we deconstruct the massive and toxic machinery that have un-synched the bios, our rivers will teach us the patterns we can again accord our lives with.

Look at how the river organizes the sticks, for example, that are left high and dry after the flood. You’ll see that not only are the flotsam piles organized perfectly by size and weight, but they are also beautiful. Look at the stones in the riverbed, and you’ll see a similar organization. And look at the sand, and where it collects just outside of the fast flow; it’s in places like that civilization began.

And will return.

[Photo credit: (cc) Dave Huth]


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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