(Illustration: Eric Nyquist)
My latest, for the op-ed page of today’s New York Times (I had to edit that version down. This is a slightly longer version.):
We would see amazing things if we could learn to be travelers in our own neighborhoods, Henry David Thoreau once suggested. Lately, I have come to think that this is more true than I had imagined.
Most mornings in warm weather, when I am home in coastal Connecticut, I head out before dawn to row on a 260-acre dogleg of a lake, backed up behind a rickety old dam. And I see plenty of wonderful things as I do my laps: An osprey cruising with a freshly-caught fish carried underneath, like a seaplane pontoon. A kingfisher looping along the shoreline. A newly emerged damselfly riding on my deck for a lap-and-a-half till its wings harden enough for flight. And once, at a distance of 50 feet, a bald eagle scavenging the carcass of a cormorant. But I did not realize until recently that a grand evolutionary experiment was taking place beneath my hull.
Along with other members of my rowing club, The Blood Street Sculls, I spent an inordinate amount of time last year moaning about a project to rebuild the dam where Rogers Lake in Old Lyme, Conn., spills down to become Mill Brook, on route to Long Island Sound and the sea. Construction required dropping the lake level by more than two feet, and that increased the risk for rowers of tearing off a skeg, or ripping out the bottom of a boat, or just spilling ignominiously while running across an unexpectedly low patch.
Now, though, the dam is finished, and starting this month, alewives, also known as river herring, are climbing the new fish ladder there and returning to Rogers Lake from their feeding grounds at sea. The work is part of a coast-wide effort to remove dams, build fish ladders, and improve habitat in the hope of returning the river herring to their former glory.
Alewives are anadromous fish: Born in freshwater, they spend their lives in the ocean, returning annually to their birthplaces to spawn. Until colonial era dams cut off the migration, hundreds of thousands of alewives would have come pouring into Rogers Lake every spring—and into other lakes like it along much of the Atlantic seaboard. Farmers used to apply them to their fields as fertilizer, at a rate of up to 1400 fish per acre. In towns all along the coast, river herring festivals celebrated their arrival.
What’s particularly intriguing about Rogers Lake, though, is that Read the rest of this entry »