Going With The Flow

Steve Lekwa

We’re well on the way to the wettest December ever. It’s a mess out there as this is being written, with both of my sump pumps cycling every few minutes and literal rivers flowing around both sides of my house. The storm radio flashed an unwelcomed 2 a.m. flash flood warning for northeast Story County amid rumbles of thunder that sounded more like spring than late fall. Still, I’m thankful that it’s rain and not what December is better known for. Can you imagine the mess we’d be in if all this moisture was falling as snow!

I feel sorry for the deer hunters that have waited all year for their favorite hunting season. The deer herd, at least outside urban areas, is smaller than it was a few years ago. Fewer deer makes hunting even harder, because they are still widely scattered this year and not concentrated in areas of heavy woodland cover as they might be if conditions were more winterlike. Hunters with only the weekend to hunt are probably missing an entire precious day due to today’s heavy rain, unless they are fanatically dedicated to the sport. Deer can handle weather like this quite well because their coarse hair coats shed water. Like most people, though, they tend to hunker down and not move much when it’s nasty.

I took the opportunity last Thursday afternoon to sneak in a hike in part of the Skunk River Greenbelt that I hadn’t visited in a couple of years. It was between early and late shotgun deer seasons, so I wasn’t disturbing any hunters. I hiked in shirt sleeves and carried a water bottle that I used more than the binoculars around my neck. Although birds and wildlife weren’t very active, there was still plenty to see. All of it wasn’t welcome, either. Woodlands, like people, change over time. It was an area where I’d spent countless hours hiking, camping, fishing and hunting as a boy. Individual trees and many river bends once were old friends as familiar as my own face in the mirror. It wasn’t that long ago that I could still find the individual oak with a long horizontal limb where I shot my first squirrel as an eleven-year-old. I found that tree on my hike, but it was a rotting log broken in pieces on the ground and well on the way to recycling back to the soil from which it came. An old cut bank land mark we used to refer to as “the cliff” once seemed so high that I was a bit scared to approach the edge too closely. The river that used to flow by its base has wandered off over the years. I stood on top of my old cliff on a hike several years ago, but didn’t seem tall and fearful anymore. I was much higher above the river during my recent hike on top of a huge new cut bank across the river from my old “cliff,” but it was so small and overgrown that I couldn’t even see it among the leafless trees far back from the current stream. I was still uneasy about going too near the edge of that new cliff, though.

An old crop field in the area was continuing its successional journey back to a more natural condition. Trees and shrubs were colonizing it and native flowering plants waved their dried seed heads in the wind. They included some less common cream gentian flowers, too, that were obviously spreading outward from the old field edge. I don’t remember any aspen trees in that area growing up, but I spotted a particularly beautiful young aspen with bark so white that I first thought it was a white birch. There aren’t many aspens in the valley, but one of their cottony seeds must have floated in on the wind about 15 or 20 years ago.

I knew even as a boy that trees and rivers changed over time, but I was with them almost every day so they always seemed like familiar and unchanging old friends. I don’t see them so often now and their obvious aging is bit unsettling. Trees and rivers flow through time, though, and I, too, am part of that flow. It’s unsettling, but in a way, comforting too.