Stream bows

I came across some unexpected sights on my morning walk in Shakerag Hollow. Water was snaking its way through the tangle of rocks and leaf piles that form the boundaries of the little streams on the mountain slope. As the water flowed, the barriers in its way created little falls which emptied into eddies in pools below. All this tumbling motion stirred up air bubbles that turned in slow circles on surface of the pools.

I watched this gentle gyration for some time before my eye caught what was happening below. The bubbles acted as lenses, refracting the sunlight that was coming in at a low angle through the trees. The streambed was covered in underwater stars, each one gliding behind a bubble.

As the light angled through the bubbles, its constituent wavelengths were teased out. Seen close, the stars were edged with prismatic color. Rain can bow the light, even when the rain is old and earth-bound (or, if we look forward, so young that it has not yet risen to the sky). Bubbles were not the only objects drifting on the water’s surface. Leaves and the shells of hickory nuts floated past.

One such hickory shell had some passengers, a dying caddisfly and a cluster of minute eggs encased within a blob of jelly.

I’m guessing that the eggs were deposited by an aquatic snail. (I’d be happy to be corrected or further enlightened about this guess —  I have found no adult snails in this stream which makes me suspect that I’m mistaken. Addendum: these are caddisfly eggs. Thank you David Johnson and Dave McLain for clarifing.) The caddisfly probably flew here from downstream to lay eggs in the water. The adults of many stream insects have an instinct to move upstream when they are ready to breed, counteracting the inevitable downstream flow of aquatic larvae and nymphs.

I took particular pleasure in seeing these two rafters. This is the stream that a few months ago was choked with silt from erosion on the golf course construction site. I took the eggs and the recolonizing caddisfly as signs that, although the stream is still severely impacted by sediment, some aquatic animals have persisted here and others are returning. Soon, I hope, young caddisflies and snails will join the bubbles and stars swimming and crawling in the stream’s waters.

25 thoughts on “Stream bows

  1. Denise

    What a nice example of how looking closely at nature can be so rewarding. It took me a long time to learn how to do this, but once I did, I found myself amazed as I wander in forests. Simple things revealed complexity, and vice versa. Thanks for this lovely post.

  2. Jim Bonner

    Very glad to know the stream appears to have survived the erosion problem from earlier. Enjoyed meeting you on your trip to Charlotte last week. Please come back another time!

  3. Sherry Reson

    What a lovely post; I’m reminded of Annie Dillard….. I found Ramble through Tom Levenson, who very recently read ‘Forest Unseen’ and asked me to write to you, in hopes you have some time in December. I’ve sent an invitation by email to your university address and hope to hear from you

  4. Frank Carsey

    A very nice post and an excellent example of how nature provides a wonderful surprise or two every time you go out even if you have been out numerous times.

  5. Anonymous

    “For the rainbow experience to happen, we need sunshine, raindrops, and a spectator. It is not that the sun and the raindrops cease to exist if there is no one there to see them… But unless someone is present at a particular point no colored arch can appear. The rainbow is hence a process requiring various elements, one of which happens to be an instrument of sense perception. It doesn’t exist whole and separate in the world, nor does it exist as an acquired image in the head separated from what is perceived; rather, consciousness is spread between sunlight, raindrops, and visual cortex, creating a unique, transitory new whole, the rainbow experience…the viewer doesn’t see the world; he is part of a world process.”

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Interesting. Very Hindu, it seems to me (out of the depths of my ignorance of actual Hindu philosophy). So what happens when a bird, a bee, and a human all gaze at a rainbow simultaneously? Either the set up for a bad joke or Mind Blown.

  6. Maddie Brown

    Hello. I stumbled upon Ramble and your work via a New York Times article by James Gorman while doing a project for school. I admire your work.
    Love this post and how one discovery led to another in the stream. I often find things like that. When I go hiking and I find a stream, you can’t get me away. I just love watching how the the stream is constantly changing and things are always moving with the current.
    Thank you for having this blog. It’s nice to find someone who’s observations and love of nature are akin to my own.

  7. Dave McLain

    Excellent ramble! Those eggs are actually from a caddisfly, probably even the one that succumbed to the process. Inside a snail egg mass, you can see the makings of tiny snails (though bigger than those nuclei in that mass). The caddisfly eggs will start to elongate, like some are starting to show.


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