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Nature Through a 4-year-old’s Eyes Explorer’s Club #3 – Rivers    

Crayfish3It’s hard to keep kids out of rivers. There’s a natural attraction for Homo sapiens to throw stones, build dams, and to get wet. How can you experience a river without getting wet? I hope I never lose this impulse.

I can’t tell you how many times when walking along a river, I turn around and someone in my care has her feet in the water. This must be genetic. My mother always did this as well.

Recently, I and a certain 4-year old were negotiating rules and setting limits for her activity on a sandbar. Somehow, I found myself needing to get in the water as well in order to enforce the rules. This of course led to a lot of splashing and both of us getting drenched.

4-year olds, as you know, are great collectors of things. So when one is standing on a sand bar with thousands of pebbles, cobbles, and rocks, a few get picked up.

“What’s this grandpa?”

As a geologist I feel obliged to try to identify every rock that she brings to me. She now knows the name of some of them as well as I do. And of course, she wants to keep many of them so someone has to put them in his pocket.

But what I like even as much as the stones she finds are the other living critters in the water. Today she is the first to spy and marvel at the water-striders.

water-strider-e1534377996743.jpg“How do they do that?” she asks.

I of course have no idea – unless I resort to my phone, which is safely on the bank. All I know are that arthropods are good indicators of water quality.

“Come on, let’s catch one!” She chases after them trying in vain to grab one to look at. I know better and don’t move. They are much too fast.

I stand motionless and look for fish, wondering if there are any trout, bass, perch, suckers, catfish, or minnows that can be seen or caught. Then I check out signs for otters, muskrats, beavers along the banks. There are often numerous signs that beavers have visited many of the lakes and rivers in this area. I point out anything I find. She is mostly interested in the fast-flowing parts of the river. I keep a watchful eye on where she is at all times.

While she is collecting rocks, I wade along the banks, just watching for anything unusual. I see something, cobble-sized, dart right in front of me. I bend over and deftly grab it with my left hand wondering if I am going to be bitten. I cover it with my right hand and swirl it around in less turbid water. I take a look. I have grabbed what looked to me to be a small lobster – about 5 inches long. It’s a crayfish – often call a crawfish, crawdad, or mudbug. I wonder if it’s going to pinch me.

“Hey take a look at this!”

“What is it? Can I touch it? Will it bite me?”

I hold it by the sides of its abdomen so it won’t pinch me and I let her touch it. She then wants to hold it. Of course, she wanted to save it but I said she needed to put it back. She held it delicately – neither of us got pinched.

“Let’s find some more.”

We tried for a while but without success. We turned our sole victim loose, both realizing that we were lucky to have found the one specimen. Rivers are wonderful places for exploring. You never know what you’re going to find.

Of course, rivers can be dangerous, too, especially after a heavy rain. The first thing we all need to appreciate is the power of water. One should always go with a person who can swim and who can judge where and when to go in. Our rule is that a 4-year old always needs an adult for exploring a river. We have also discussed that water quality may not be good right after a rain, especially if we have any cuts on our bodies. It’s best to stay out for a few days till the water clears up. Surface runoff during storms can carry a lot of bacteria and pollution with it.


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