Steve Madewell

Pedestrian Ramblings

anotherriverlunchshot.jpgCaroline Quine was in town this week to visit her family in Akron and she and I thought it would be fun to perform together if we could. We were hoping to do a few of the tunes we used to play in college and some of the songs off of Arrow Creek if she could make it up here to one of my shows. I had a Thursday night date at Basslake Tavern that worked perfectly so she and her immediate family Douglas, Hazel and Pearl came up to spend a few nights here in the valley with Mj and I. It was incredibly supportive of Douglas and their two teenage girls to take a few days of summer vacation in order for mom to sing a couple songs with her old buddy Steve. Consequently I was hoping we could do a few things that would provide a good time. Thursday afternoon we went canoeing/kayaking down the wild and scenic Grand River. My buddy Tom who runs Raccoon Run Canoe rentals estimated our trip to be about two to two and a half hours. We got in the water about 1:15 and it seemed that I should have plenty of time to get back to set up for our performance. A length of a river trip depends on several things; skill level, how hard you paddle and on water levels. This time of year the Grand can drop really fast and when that happens a two-hour trip can become a five-hour trip. And that is what happened. We had two canoes and one kayak for the five of us and as we neared the mid way point I knew I was not going to be able to make my schedule. I decided to take the kayak and sprint down the stream for the next 4 or 5 miles to our take out. So I paddled ahead and left everyone to enjoy themselves at a more leisurely pace. Now I spent most of my time on the river between October and May and I almost never get on the river in the warmer months. And Tom is one of my go to guys for finding out what is happening on the river during the summer. He was telling me that it is not too unusual to see bear along the Grand when the berries are ripe, and we know that there are several eagle nests on the river. I didn’t see the eagles this trip but I could hear the juveniles caring on begging for food at one of the nest sites. I came upon a deer drinking at streamside, I glided under a great blue heron, had an oriole fly by and I noticed an otters den. Small-mouth bass were chasing minnows and a host of other wonderful life and death dramas were going on around me. It was really hot and the sun was bright, and it wasn’t long before I noticed I had missed a strip of skin on my right leg with the sunblock. (It amazes me how that stuff works) I started paying attention to the course I was taking down stream looking to take advantage of the shade and at that time I noticed something that made my heart sink. I realized that there was not a single sycamore tree along the river that was fully leafed out. I have several sycamore trees in my yard and knew that there was an anthracnose affecting them. I have been so busy at work and at home that I hadn’t thought about what effect this was having along the river. Sycamores are those big white trees that grow along waterways through out the Midwest, and I wrote about them briefly in an early essay on the wood that we cut into lumber. They are the largest and dominant plant along our streams and are the anchor of that ecosystem. Among other things they shade the stream and keep the water cool, and there are a host of aquatic creatures that depend on moderate water temperatures. As with all things the connectivity factor is often over looked. If rocks are the bones of the river and the water is the blood, then sycamores must be the heart, pumping moisture back into the atmosphere through transporation. My rivers heart appeared to be broken. These have always been one of my favorite trees for so many reasons and to be paddling by mile after mile of them in decline was just emotionally devastating. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the global ecology is rapidly changing, not only from things like climate change but also in the introduction of regional non native plants and animals, the rebounding populations of certain species and the rapid decline of others. I remember when I was a youngster a line of four large American Elm trees dying in our back yard from Dutch Elm blight, and how upset my father was about this. When I got older I heard about the decline of the American Chestnut. Both situations were regarded as such tragedies. The elms lined the streets in many cities and towns across the Midwest, and when they died these tree-lined streets were forever changed. Chestnut was regarded as a remarkable rot resistant wood that was easy to work with. It was regarded as the red wood of the east. In recent years there has been a great deal of awareness about emerald ash borer and the demise of the American ash trees. I have ash flooring in my house. I can’t help but wonder if in years to come it will be regarded as a rare wood. I had no idea, or should I say I hadn’t thought about the impact of this anthracnose on sycamore. But it was like seeing a part of the river dying. I don’t know what the prognosis is. I don’t know if this means certain fatality for these trees or not. I had an unbelievable feeling of helplessness as I kayaked down the river. It was like the times when I have sat and talked with someone I cared for after a break up or a loss. Where I have been trying to reassure myself as well as my friend that they will live through the crisis while knowing they will never quite be the same. Sycamore Anthracnose is a type of fungus and if you want to know more about it you can visit P6120002.jpg