Visiting A Country Creek For A Spring Reality Check

This Just In. . .

April 21, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

I VISITED the old creek again - the one we call George - to see how it's doing, to see how the winter might have changed it, to see which of its seasonal visitors might have returned. I slipped out to northern Baltimore County for a couple of hours the other day and felt very fortunate to be there - bright sun on the fresh undergrowth of wild lilies and ferns, mild breezes and not another human being within earshot or eyesight.

It's still possible to get that, and just 40 minutes from Baltimore.

(Pardon, friends, this break from the usual urban-suburban offerings you find here. As we all race toward tomorrow and the next day and the next, I find it useful to compare my measure of things - my sense of place, time, progress - with what's showing on the earth's natural gauges. If you spend too much time indoors, connected to the cyber world but detached from the natural one, you can loose your feel for life and your sense of balance.)

So I went out to check my favorite organic barometer, the creek called George.

It looked pretty good, though not perfect and far from pristine. (It never looks perfect, and it hasn't been pristine since the natives, perhaps the Susquehannocks, harvested brook trout here.) There are no waterfalls, no whitewater plunges. George is not a dramatic creek, by those measures. George is slower, wider and muddier than the Big Gunpowder Falls, its cousin a few miles away. And fisher-slobs come through now and then and leave their trash behind. (One of them even left an old kitchen chair behind.) That's always depressing. I don't know how anyone who visits George regularly could leave their beer cans and fast-food cups. But it happens. In fact, it happens so much I'm tempted to suggest that we just build a big fence around the place and make it off limits.

Of course, I never get very far with that thinking because I enjoy my visits to George too much. And now my son believes he's discovered a cave in the woods through which the creek cuts; I wouldn't want to deprive him of return trips to his "secret hideaway."

But as I was saying, before human depravity slammed into our [See Rodricks, 2b] reality check in the country, I had George all to myself for a couple of hours the other day.

And yet I wasn't alone.

Canada geese were patrolling the perimeters of their nesting sites, though not quite in the numbers I saw in the same place last year. Kingfishers darted from the branches of fallen oaks. Woodpeckers hammered away at the high masts of dead or dying trees. Turkey vultures circled overhead, casting shadows on the water as they passed in front of the sun.

There was plenty of evidence of recent beaver activity - narrow paths through the greening understory along the banks of the creek, fresh shavings from the trunk of a tree. I heard squirrels racing about, cracking twigs and rustling dead leaves.

Along the banks, toads sang their spring love songs and left long strands of eggs.

Out in the creek, in narrow stretches where the water flow is concentrated enough to flush mud and keep the rocky bottom clear, I spotted some bass and suckers, some minnows, even a rainbow trout that had been stocked a while back by the state. Last year, after our big winter of 1995-1996, George's water level was much higher and, by May, you could actually see throngs of frantic fish in some of the pools - largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, trout and big carp - that had come in from the reservoir George feeds.

Not so this year, at least so far.

There just isn't the volume of water coming out of the little brooks and springs that supply George. In fact, one of them looked stone-dry.

That explains why the creek looks today pretty much as it looked late last fall. There are no striking changes in its course, no new stacks of tree limbs that might have washed downstream. George hasn't had any major erosion episodes, from what I can see; the stream bank looks strong and thick with vegetation. George isn't quite as muddy as other years.

The winter, being so mild around these parts, didn't mess with George.

The winter didn't mess with any of us, really.

We had it easy, and the drift to spring has been cool and slow. I guess I knew all that, sensed all that. I just wanted to check with George to make sure I had it right.

Pub Date: 4/21/97

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