5 am: Magic on the River

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - 4:14pm


Arielle Sperling

If, one month ago, someone had told me that I would soon be excited to wake up at 5 am, it is highly likely that I would have been quite skeptical. But the thing is… they would have been right. There is something truly wondrous about waking up before the sun rises and hopping into a canoe for a full day of field research. With freezing cold fingers and two layers of pants under my Simms waders, we launch into the river from the log jam or from the bank of the river by Millionaires, searching out the next point on our map of spots that we must cover to complete habitat surveys. It’s best to be on the water as early as possible. This way we can avoid disturbing fishermen during peak fishing hours, and the wind is far weaker in the morning – making for easier rowing. For the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of spending several days on the water with Zach Kuzniar (a grad student at Grand Valley State University in Michigan) who is conducting research on adult rainbow trout habitat use in the ranch portion of the Henry’s Fork. Part of this research involves a series of in-depth habitat surveys: at 200 points on the river we measure water velocity, temperature, dissolved oxygen levels, water level, substrate, and a whole slew of other variables. And it is always an adventure.

A green drake that landed on our boat during habitat surveys - fishermen's dream!

I had the special opportunity to help conduct surveys on the water before the ranch portion was open to fishing, when herds of elk and other animals that are native to that area had not yet been permanently frightened into the woods by the presence of too many people. On my first day on the water, Zach, Chris and I watched an enormous herd of elk running across the river. It was absolutely gorgeous, and I was completely entranced by the natural wonder before me. I felt like I was in an incredible National Geographic TV special. Now that the ranch is open, I have seen far fewer animals, and none in herds. This is a pity, because it is a truly awesome experience to be that close to something that seemed so primal, but which is simply a part of everyday life in the wilderness. It was torrentially down-pouring that entire day, but it was one of my favorite days of the summer because I spent it on the water, in good company, in the name of science. I really don’t know what more I could ask for (perhaps a touch of sunlight, but then again… the rain added to the experience. Plus I get to brag about how hard-core my field research experience is to all of my friends back home!)
Measuring water velocity
(p.s. Check out my Simms waders! They make me feel like a true outdoors woman)

Habitat surveys themselves can get a bit monotonous, but all I ever have to do is look up and take in the breathtaking sight of the Henry’s Fork and I am reminded of why I love being here in Idaho. After a month, the beauty of this place is still remarkable to me. I have never been anywhere so open in my life. I can see for miles, all the way to the crest of the caldera and far beyond it. How many people can say that they can see the Tetons all day while they work? The air here is fresh and my lungs are definitely grateful. After having spent the last five months of my life in London (a wonderful city… but a city with tons of gas-guzzling cars and pollution), the purity of this landscape is such a constant joy to me. Right now I am gazing into our backyard, where a beautiful black horse is grazing in the thick grass…which stretches for miles and miles… until the green blends into the bright blue of the sky, which is endless here. I can't dream of a better place to spend my summer.

:D Arielle