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Matthew Dickerson

The Clear Cut, the Cutthroat, and the Cascade Effect

Everything is connected.

Just off the deck of the small cabin where I am writing, a cutthroat trout lives in a shallow pool beneath the shade of an overcut bank and a canopy of red alder. She makes her home just downstream of a shallow riffle that oxygenates her cool clear water and provides a breeding place for the insects that offer her sustenance. She is a beautiful creature. Her sides are a soft light green with hints of yellow. A splotch of thin watercolor pink brightens her belly, but it is not visible from above. Her back is a darker green mottled with black spots, and this is the side of her seen by kingfishers, otters, and stream bank predators. Or, ideally for her, it is the side not seen as it blends with the gravelly stream bed below her. Like her older, larger, and more famous steelheaded cousins, she has a hint of metallic sheen on her jaws and gill plates. What sets her apart from her relatives is the thin but bright ruby necklace that adorns her throat and gives her species its common name. She wears her bling proudly.

Several days ago, when I arrived at the cabin and discovered the fish, I named her Carol. I have come to care about Carol. Though I cannot see her from the deck of the cabin where I write, I could easily toss a small stone into the pool where she usually lies an inch or so above some sand in the cool shade, waiting for food. There is plenty of food for her so I doubt she ever has to wait long. Shotpouch Creek has one of the richest and most diverse arrays of aquatic insects I have seen in a stream this small. Turning over even a small rock in the current I find mayflies, caddis flies, and stoneflies of several varieties. In the late afternoon and evening, the air around the stream thickens with hatches of these aquatic insects. There are small vivid golden stoneflies called "yellow sallies," awkward and almost prehistoric larger stoneflies with dark green bodies, and mayflies that mistake the blue dew-damp roof of the Honda Odyssey minivan for a ...

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