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Copyright 2001 Bruce Ling
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Crawdads in the river, rivers runnin' dry,
nothin' left but mudflats, crawdads gonna die.
I lived on the Thornapple River for 9 years, in the village of Cascade MI., located on the S.E. side of Grand Rapids. I lived on the backwaters of the Cascade Dam, a very idyllic spot. Shortly after I moved to my small cottage on the river, the folks from the exclusive part of G.R. began an exodus to Cascade and to Ada, a small village downriver. Suddenly waterfront property was at a premium, and I watched as all the small cottages and fishing shacks were torn down and replaced by high end houses.
5 miles downriver in Ada, there is another dam and backwater.
Now the Cascade and Ada dams have a rather nasty habit. Every spring and fall the floodgates would rise and the deep backwaters, and the river for 6 miles upstream, would disappear into mudflats.
There wouldn't be but a trickle between Ada and Cascade either.
You see, the Thornapple isn't all that large of a river; in its natural courses it's only thigh deep. Those dams turn it into large lakes.
Presumably, the reason for all this is to perform maintenance on the dams, but having lived on rivers all my life, I've never heard the like of it. Ironically, the "draw downs" also occur at the optimum times to install your dock for the summer, or remove it for the winter, all with the convenience of performing these chores with out getting your feet wet. Remember, these villages have a very large tax base.
From an environmental point of view, you can imagine the impact this has on the ecosystem. There were once Northern Pike in the Thornapple in this area, but as they spawn in the spring in bayous and the mouths of creeks, there's no water for them. The clams and snails are stranded in the mud to dry and die. And the crawdads-yeah, I was getting to that. That's the tune, right?
So the draw down comes, and I know what to expect. You have to wait about 12 hours before they start to panic, and leave the shelter of their rocks. That's about how long it takes for them to start drying out. At nighttime it's a feast for the raccoons, possums, and skunks. Even the neighborhood strays will get in on it. In the daytime you can see them, hundreds of crawdads crawling towards what's left of the river. Every year there's fewer to be seen. One reason is that the spring draw down coincides with the mom crawdads nurturing their eggs. You see, they carry them on their bellies. They die, and so does the next generation.
When I lived there, it was a time of screaming death for me. For the 3 days that the river was down, I would be trudging through the mudflats with buckets full of crawdads, clams, and snails, bringing them down to the main channel. The tune came to me one day as I was watching a crawdad shuffling backward while I sat on the dock and played my fiddle. You can hear the sound he's making on the second half of the tune. This tune's to heal the Earth. Peace
by Bruce Ling 2-2002