Down by the Riverside

Posted by on Jul 30, 2013 in environment, summer, Unmowed Blog | 4 comments

The river. Hot and lazy under July sun.

If I happen to feel like a swim, though, it’s a long stumble over sunbaked rocks for a hundred yards to get to the water. I stub my toes a dozen times. A persistent horsefly circles my head, buzzing evilly. When I finally reach the water, it’s brownish, murky, lukewarm.


I wouldn’t trade my river (the Schoharie Creek in upstate New York) for a thousand swimming pools with crystal turquoise water. I’ll take the smell of river mud over chlorine any day. Crayfish nibbling my bare feet? Dragonflies whizzing past? Not a problem.schoharie creek

But wait. What about germs? Pollution? Dirt? Pools are sanitary, filtered, chlorinated. Safe. Mm, maybe, but watching the stew of humanity bubbling in the local pool, I’ll take my muddy river any day.

Mud, yes. Pollution? I pick up a rock, any rock at random, and a little brown insect about half an inch long wriggles across it. It’s a stonefly nymph, an aquatic invertebrate that’s highly susceptible to pollution. Their presence is an indicator of high water quality. I prefer bugs I can see to those I can’t.

And a swimming pool is missing so many things. It isn’t lined with cottonwoods, leaves flashing silver in the breeze. Pools often lack a kingfisher splashing hopefully, searching for a fish dinner. No algae, no tadpoles, no herons. You can’t go bumping and twirling over the rapids in an inner tube—there are no rapids in a pool. That crystal clear water just sort of sits there. You never get to feel that exciting little nibble at your toe that might be a snapping turtle (but is really an inch-long minnow.)

In the last heat wave I spent a lot of time neck-deep in the Schoharie Creek. The current of cool brown water flowed endlessly past, caressing my skin like satin. Damselflies perched on me as I drifted with the stream. Gonna lay down my burdens, down by the riverside.

Come on in, the water’s fine.


  1. As someone who has a pool (!) – I tell everyone that it came with the house – I ALSO agree with you! I am envious of your having water nearby to swim in. All the creeks near us have names like “Little Dry Creek” (true!).

  2. Oh yes! My swimming holes are on the Hudson where it forms the northern boundary of Saratoga County, and they sure beat the most luxurious swimming pools. Love this post. Thanks.

    • The northern Hudson is gorgeous!

  3. Beautiful!

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