Monday, August 6, 2012

Swapping Watersheds, and Looking Back

Last month I swapped watersheds.

For a bit over a year, I'd been living in the Otter Creek watershed, and more specifically in the Middlebury River watershed.  I watched the Middlebury River from the end of one of the snowiest Vermont winters on record, through a very wet spring and summer culminating in Tropical Storm Irene's horrible flooding, and then through fall and into another winter (albeit a somewhat feeble one).  I watched the equally feeble spring snowmelt lead into an early summer of mostly low water, with a notable exception.

Through it all, I was trying very hard to find employment within my field in Addison County.  Ultimately I realized I was going to have to either give up my home by the Middlebury River or my passion for working in the conservation and ecology field.  The latter won out, and along with my girlfriend finding a job in the same area, we relocated to Montpelier, in the Winooski River watershed.

Above: The Winooski River, a ways downstream from Montpelier.

I'd lived near the Winooski before, when I lived in Burlington, and while I technically wasn't living in the watershed, I spent much of my time in the watershed, including my wanders in Centennial Woods and some of my time on the UVM campus (it's hard to say where the watershed line passes through campus, with all the human modifications to the runoff in the area).

Above: A distant severe thunderstorm, and the Winooski River flowing through the town of the same name.

Montpelier is much further upstream than Burlington, and has its own weather and ecology and culture.  It's surrounded by mountains, and picks up different storm tracks.  There seems to be slightly less summer rain and, from what the records indicate, significantly more winter snow.

Transitions can be difficult, especially those we don't really choose.  I'm excited to live in Montpelier, but also was sad to leave Addison County, the Middlebury River, and my friends in the area.  I will still see my Addison County friends often - especially those who are moving to Burlington for the same reason I left - lack of jobs.  But, I won't be watching the changes of the river anymore.

Last weekend I was back in Middlebury to see friends and go to the Midd Summer Festival.  I also got a chance to visit the Middlebury River.  It's been a MUCH drier summer than last year, and the water was very low - much lower than it ever got over the time I lived in East Middlebury.


As always when visiting an old home, most of the residents are still there when you go back . This includes my friends, and also the foxes I've seen many times.  In addition to these fox tracks (They are fox tracks, right? Dogs also frequent this area along with local human residents) I saw a fox, but it was too far away to photograph with an iPhone.  I also saw a large great blue heron, which I kept irritating as I moved downstream.

Note also the saplings.  In the old oxbow cut area, there were hundreds of cottonwood seedlings.  I also found this sycamore seedling.  Life is moving on.


One of the most important and difficult lesson rivers have to teach us is that of the constancy of change, even in my absence.  In the month since I'd last seen the river, water had been steadily flowing downstream the whole time, meandering a slower than usual path due to the dry weather.  Trees were colonizing the areas laid bare by Irene and the recent flash flood, the fox and heron were hunting, other East Middlebury residents were enjoying the swimming and fishing holes, and life generally was moving forward.  This river has existed in one form or another for millions of years, probably even flowing to some extent under the ice during the great ice ages.  No matter what humans do, and how we humans treat each other and the world around us, the river will keep flowing, until it completely erodes away the ancient mountains or until the sun goes nova in billions of years and vaporizes the Earth's water.  We talk about protecting the river, but the river will always be the river.  What we really are protecting is our relationship with it; our ability to enjoy it and use it, not only to provide water, fish, and scenic beauty, but to share its stories and its lessons for anyone who is watching.

I'm excited about my new home, and I've been spending quite a bit of time watching the North Branch of the Winooski River, which flows through the part of Montpelier we now live in.  Still, I'll miss East Middlebury and the Middlebury River.  I'll be back to visit again, but while I'm gone, the river keeps flowing...


  1. Good reflection, Charlie.
    Will you continue blogging?

  2. Thanks! Yeah I hope to keep the blog going though as is already evident I've been posting a bit less frequently since I'm working on other stuff as well. We'll see where it takes me - I've been doing a lot of natural community level ecology lately, which I think is a really fun topic, but doesn't really fit with this blog, and starting a new blog seems silly or too time consuming.