Reading Water, then and now

I first read Water in seventh grade. It was our primary social studies text, since I went to a science-focused charter school. Even then, I was amazed by the role that biotic elements of the ecosystem played in the water cycle. It’s so easy to think that, since the geologic time scale is so monolithic in comparison to the lifespan of a given species, animals can’t possibly have significant effects on abiotic elements of the world. Yet this is so obviously false. The obvious counterexample, of course, is humans. We have drastically altered the natural functioning of the earth’s cycles in a remarkably short period of time. It shouldn’t be so surprising that beavers, prairie dogs, and buffalo could do the same.

Reading Water again, in a forest on the east coast is very different from reading it in a classroom in California. As I read, I realized that this is quite possibly a location in which beavers used to live. Perhaps beavers used to live in Crum Creek. Perhaps the Crum Woods used to be a giant wetland. Water could have percolated into our local aquifers at rates far faster than those of today, given our current lack of wetland, and excessive paved-over area. The ecosystem here would have been entirely different than it is today. I can imagine fish swimming around the rock on which I’m currently sitting. The place where I am right now has been tangibly altered in a way that no one could have predicted when they started capturing beavers for their fur. What else could we be doing right now that will have some dire and yet still completely unknown impact?

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