At Summer’s End

I sat by the river

I Iooked at the sky

And as I looked

A summer went by.

Paraphrasing from A Fly Went By, by Mike McClintock

A Fly Went By was one of my favorite books growing up. And not just for the image forever emblazoned in my mind of the kid in bare feet and rolled up jeans kicking back with arms outstretched in a rowboat tied by the shore of a lake among the cattails, staring up at the sky.

It’s also a relevant book for our times: too often we spend too much time running when the only thing we’re running from is fear itself.

Either that or from a little lamb in distress with its foot caught in an old bucket.

In our world around us and even in American presidential politics, we all seem to be running in fear of each other, but do we ever take a little time to ask why? With just a few simple questions, and a little patience and understanding, a kid in rolled up jeans shows us that the sum of our fears may only be a lamb in distress needing only a little help from a friend.

But I digress.

This column is actually about summer’s end. And as it ends, I find myself taking time to pause, reflect, look back and ask: whaddya mean it’s back to school already? Where the heck did my summer go?

On reflection, it’s been an up and down summer.

The USRC’s summer season began in May with Riverwatch, a program to monitor river health by monitoring the river’s invertebrate species. We began with Crooked Creek, which runs through my own backyard, which tested pretty much in the “pathetic” range yet again.

But the other area tributaries monitored by the USRC, including Buffalo Trace creek, Pancake Creek and Wildcat Slough all tested very well! A great sign for our river’s health!

May’s first float trip found the Sangamon in excellent form, and we even spotted the bald eagle that (we think) we had spotted last year in the same area. Since bald eagles prefer fresh, healthy water, we see this as another very positive omen for the river.

Summer’s “official” opening on Memorial Day found us floating the Sangamon again with one of my old canoeing buddies from Florida along. Steve was here for our younger daughter Abbey’s graduation from Mahomet-Seymour High School (yay!!).

And then came the rains.

Memorial Day weekend had the Sangamon at the Fisher Gage at 6 feet, a level it wouldn’t see again until early August. Just after Memorial Day it rose to 12 feet as it climbed out of its banks.

The river settled back down for a float trip in early June from the Sangamon River Forest Preserve to my place. High water and strong current made for smooth sailing down a very beautiful 7 mile stretch of the Sangamon.  But rain threatened that day and more rains were yet to come.

Another trip over Father’s Day weekend saw the river pushing out of its banks yet again, but we went anyway, just for the adventure of it. The Sangamon flowed fast and strong, something few ever experience.

The river was down to 7 feet by mid-July and the USRC was back out traipsing around in the Sangamon for Riverwatch, monitoring each of our three area Forest Preserves.

On a high note, while at Lake of the Woods, I found my bright red Adirondack chair lost back in June to rising floodwaters. It was entangled in a root mass along the bank nearly three miles downriver from my place – quite a ride for an Adirondack chair!

An evening in early August saw the USRC under the microscope, or at least, behind the microscope, viewing, identifying and counting out barely visible “macroinvertebrates”. Carol and I personally counted out – individually – 543 hydropsychid caddis fly larvae; each only a tiny fraction of an inch long. How’s that for a date night? (For the record, I took her to JT’s for dinner afterward…)

Finally in early August, as the river settled down to the 6 foot range yet again, we had a float trip from the “Sangamon Greenway” at the Division Street bridge down to the Piatt County line. On this trip, while snapping pictures for our Facebook page during a traverse of a shallow log jam area (that could be classified as a Class II rapid), I swamped my kayak in a foot and a half of water. Demonstrating yet again the perils of social media use while kayaking.

And finally, with the river at its lowest ebb all summer this past weekend, a few of us got out there in the river to open up a few of the log jams on the river. We hope this makes experiencing the Sangamon more enjoyable for everyone!

And now, although summer is ending, it still has a few last gasps left!

Next up: “Riverfest”, with the 5th Annual Sangamon River Duck Race at 6 pm on Saturday the 29th.

After that, the USRC hosts a mussel survey (with free cookout for volunteers!) at Lake of the Woods on September 5th, and then we’ll host a river cleanup (with free cookout for volunteers!) on September 19th. Details for these activities and more are at

As the Summer of 2015 flies by, and both of our girls are now off to college in distant lands (Chicago and Kent, Ohio), and Presidential candidates seem to be oozing from the primordial slime, I look back, relax and take a deep breath, stare at the sky, and realize that I spent much of my summer on, in and around our Sangamon River working with and for the USRC.

And I realize that this work and this river infuses me with the spirit of patience and understanding that allows me to always offer a little help to my friends and maybe even helps to conquer a few fears along the way.

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, August 27, 2015, By Scott Hays

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