Who could have predicted that there would be so much rain this spring? Here in southwest Wisconsin, nine to ten inches of rain has fallen in the past month, and it's still coming.
All the extra water makes for lots of abrupt changes in the natural world. The most obvious changes are the places where the runoff reaches the ditches, gullies, creeks and finally the Kickapoo River. All are bursting at the seams with fast-moving water. A torrent of rushing water may cut deep into an otherwise dry gully and push tons of earth, rocks and debris swiftly towards the already-swollen river.
Roadside banks may give way to mudslides that dump huge piles of mud, rocks, and sod into the roads. The banks of the river may change completely in places, and the river itself may be forced to change its course, giving way to the powerful rush of the water.
A flood like the one we had here last week brought about many changes as the rushing water moved anything in its path. What didn't get moved got covered with murky brown water.
After these downpours, much of the river valley remains underwater. Fields already planted in corn have turned into lakes. Cattle must be moved to higher ground. Marshes, where there are nesting ducks, geese and cranes laying their eggs, are now underwater, forcing adult birds to leave their nests. Some will start over again, but many won't.
Imagine you are some animal that was starting a new family in a wetland when the floods came. Within minutes your home is gone and there is only enough time to save yourself. That is the life and death challenge faced by many animals, birds and insects who make their lives in the floodplains of the river. It is the way that nature intended, but in the modern world, we must consider the effect of the human factor. Today, the intensity of the flooding is compounded by the unnatural acts of those who try to tame the river. One factor is the overzealous use of rip-rap - the dumping of tons of large limestone on the banks of a river to prevent its natural tendency to change course. Riprapping can cause the water to move dangerously fast, because it cannot spill its banks. The speed of the water causes the riverbed to be scoured away and pushed downstream.
Whenever I see a trout stream that has been rip-rapped, I think of the beautiful Blandings turtle, a threatened species, who lives in these clear streams. I wonder whether the female turtle will be able to climb over these large piles of rocks when she needs to leave the stream to lay her eggs. If she's lucky enough to emerge safely from the stream, and to find a good place to bury her eggs, will she be able to make it back to the safety of the water? Whe the eggs hatch and the newborn turtles emerge from the earth, will they be able to reach the stream, or will they fall between the rip-rap and perish?
We as a species need to examine why we feel we must change the course of the rivers and streams. We need to consider the problems we make for other life forms who use these sensitive waterways.
Flooding in the valley has changed my course along the river road; now I have to drive over the ridge road to get home. Near sunset this evening, I took the opportunity to pull over and watch the sun go down. Being a valley person keeps me from seeing this daily event unless I go up on the ridge.
Standing in the tall grass of an unused pasture, I hear the raspy call of a male bobolink: tee-yah, tee-yair! It's a treat to observe these once abundant grassland birds in their favorite natural setting. Shrinking habitat has caused their numbers to decline alarmingly in recent years.
I watched the western skies turn to pastel pinks, yellows, and purples, as the sun disappeared for another day. Accompanied by the song of the bobolink, it was quite a show.
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