Creek-bottom Treasures

by Wendell Schlabach | Apr 12, 2021 | 0 comments

“¿Listo? Let’s go!” we shouted, heading up a sloping Indian pathway, under a cool canopy of Mexican pines. Binoculars, candy bars, and water canteens swung from our packs and filled our pockets. The three of us were ready for a whole afternoon of rugged exploring.

Dobsonfly larva,
Dobsonfly Larva. Photo © Wendell Schlabach.

“Know that creek by the village running back into the mountains?” Nathan had asked the day before. “It’s a great place to go hiking, with all the miniature rock canyons it cuts through.”

A pine-scented breeze rushed in through millions of green needles, creating gushing, background music. Ferns and occasional wildflowers hung over the path, and a few birds twitted and flitted in the treetops. The trail swung around the hillside and descended steeply into a washed-out ravine. Before us lay the stream.

“There sure isn’t a whole lot of water yet,” Matthew said, jumping from rock to rock down the middle. “But that’s what’s going to make it nice for hiking.”

And he was right. We quickly made our trek down the stream bed, heading for the jutting, water-carved canyons.

We spent the next hour descending into the valley. Tall, 20-foot (6-m)crevices and towering rock pillars provided plenty of opportunity to test our agility and muscles. Dark caves, laced with stringing, dripping moss amid thin streams of falling water, invited investigation and thorough search for occupancy.

A huge rock pillar rose to our left, and we left the stream in a steady climb. Grabbing manzanita bushes for handles, we soon reached the point and gazed cautiously the 50 feet (15 m) back down to the stream. “We’ll round this mountain and head down to the stream. Then how about heading back up the creek for the way back?” I said.

Down at the stream, three rocks soon each held a panting, sweaty hiker. A bag of popcorn and a drink (one had plummeted into a pool back up the creek) were passed around. As popcorn dribbled into the stream, the water spiders darted in to capture the oversized prey. We began watching them closer. How amazing it would be to walk on the skin of the water like these critters!

All three of us were soon down on our hands and knees looking for other types of life in the stream. Some water boatmen and whirligig beetles quickly arrested our attention. Then…

“Check out this bug!”

“What in the world is this thing?!”

“Look at these hundreds of worms–”

And there were instantly three, aspiring biologists. Never before had we dug into sand and grit, and overturned rocks with such fascination. What other creatures could this mountain stream sustain?

The water boatman was first. It was a little critter, 1/ 8 inch (3 mm) long, with two super oars propelling it through the murky water. A group of shiny, bronze-armored whirligig beetles was in the middle of a frantic ring-around-the-rosy game of sorts, back under a ledge.

A great big ferocious water bug glided away from the clouds of dirt resulting from a rock excavation. It sized in at 1½ inches (3.8 cm) long, and sported ferocious-looking legs. We contemplated a bit before trusting ourselves to haul out this catch. A bit later we found a male, its back covered with little bumps. “Eggs!” someone shouted. The female ferocious water bug cements her eggs to the male’s wings. After the nymphs hatch, the whole mass comes free, releasing the duty-bound male. Later we found such a mass of eggs, all vacated.

A dobsonfly larva, armies of black fly larvae, a narrow-winged damselfly nymph, and large diving beetles added to our bag list as we photographed them in the shallow pools. Some looked a little creepy. But, regardless, all the little critters held a purpose, and spoke of a marvelous Creator. Who else would create such little marvels and see to it that they’re taken care of?

We tried to keep a steady pace back up the stream, but found it difficult to make headway with all our exploring. Someone said, “Usually we just go stomping down this creak, never paying attention to these little details. But I sure am glad we did this time.”

And I was too. God is shown in the big things like mist-shrouded mountains, pine-scented breezes, and 50-foot (15-m) cliffs. But get down on your knees to focus on some of His mini marvels; they’ll undoubtedly fascinate you like they did us.

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