Water words and tiger tales

beetle larvaOver 100 years ago, there was no quarry here on these 50 acres. Cranberry Run was a meandering trickle. When the digs and blasts began, this place’s namesake was one of several in these parts. Over time, most closed or consolidated operation. Springs kept the abandoned holes filled. People and animals fished them. Picnics were eaten on the shores.

Before his body failed him, my dad spent a lot of sticky hot summer time rebuilding a stone wall between our quarry and Cranberry Run. This happened nearly 50 years after human hands and earth movers stretched, straightened, and deepened the natural engineering of the stream to push water through various townships to others downstream. The quarry was opened to heavy sediment loads forced through via the Run. Over the course of 50 years, the quarry depth went from 20 feet at its deepest point to no more than four of water and muck.The Quarry

As soil, grasses, and trees further rooted the wall, the quarry began to change again. Aquatic plants, their seeds held for generations in the floodplain, took root beneath the water’s surface. Some are rare, others not so much, but most are native and blooming to attract pollinators and migrating birds to shelter among the green.

unnamed.jpgTwo weeks ago, heavy rain flooded the quarry. Kayakers paddled through the preserve, weaving through trees well above the Run’s banks. The footbridge floated, held fast by heavy chains, thanks to Engineer Dave Seitz’ design. After the flood wave crested and rolled north toward the Blanchard, I kayaked under it and on to Riley Creek, past the 20170513_141555absent M-6 bridge, Putnam Aggregates and the Riley Creek United Methodist Church. The banks were surprisingly clear of debris, with one exception on the east bank in Riley Township. There, an old car follows a wave of cans and other discards toward a detonated washing machine on the bank below.

About a month ago, the water in the quarry was crystal-clear. You could lean out over the bank and watch spring life move in and out of the sprouting aquatic plants, except for those areas that were wriggling black with toadpoles. You could reach in and pick up handfuls of the fry if you wanted to. Steve used a dip net instead, keeping several in a five-gallon bucket to show to visitors at Lima’s Faurot Park Earth Day celebration.

20170502_201309_LLSThe week before that, Steve came back to the house with a bucket of fairy shrimp in quarry water. I love to watch these tool in healthy circles, especially since their presence tells me that the wetlands are doing such fine work sponging sediment and impurities in the floodplain. The pools did such a great job that the bucket also contained a salamander larva with waving spaniel-ear-gills, and a predaceous diving beetle nymph.

My dad would have been so excited to see the contents of this bucket. His artist’s eye would note the analogous brown and gold patterns of the amphibian skins and the scarlet jaws of the young beetle. The latter is nicknamed “water tiger.” You don’t have to spend much time to understand why. Steve said he started up the path between the quarry and home with 10 toadpoles. At the door, there were seven left.

After lots of people oo-ed and ah-ed over the catch, we released them. Though many were surely washed away, we know that quite a few are still there. Grown frogs and toads sing through the nights. Great blue herons, raccoons, and ducks feast in the shallows while perched raptors wait for their one false move.

 

Signs

I woke up this morning with this in my head:

[In Just-]
by e.e. cummings

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and
the

goat-footed

balloonMan whistles
far
and
wee

I have a passion for poetry and cummings is one of my favorite artists. Inevitably, this particular piece of work comes to mind at some point in March. While not the first sign of Spring, it is a significant one for me. Still, you needn’t look to the page, or even delve into the convolutions of my sleep-addled mind to find the artistry of onrushing Spring.

Fox Squirrel Geese CabinOf late I’ve seen the return of turkey vultures and red-winged blackbirds and American robins in arguing masses so large that they’ve painted an acre of the big back field nearly white with their droppings. I’ve heard the buzz of a woodcock and the whickering of its wings as it flew toward the moon to prove its worth to a potential mate. Skunks and ‘coons and squirrels quarrel and fight in the woods and Canada geese and mallard ducks, in flocks and individual pairs, holler from the quarry.

Fairy Shrimp CircleTracksIn the lowest lying areas of The Quarry Farm, back in the woods and well below the quarry itself, on the ground referred to by locals as Coburn’s Bottom, vernal pools have already formed. These temporary ponds serve as habitat for a host of ephemeral animals: fairy shrimp and salamanders and mayfly nymphs and dragonflies. Within a few months, the pools will have evaporated, but their inhabitants remain in burrows underground or as eggs, tiny packets of a potential future.

MossAnd then there’s the greening of the woods, with mosses already climbing up the trees and laying soft blankets on the ground. It’s easy to forget that this whole area was once rainforest. It’s easy to forget, that is, until you take the time to walk into an Ohio woods and take an honest look around. And if it’s not a matter of forgetting – if, in fact, you didn’t know – then the realization of where you are is an epiphany and you’ll never look at a stand of trees in Northwest Ohio in quite the same way again.

(e.e. cumming’s [in Just-] was originally published in The Dial, Volume LXVIII, Number 5: May, 1920)