Tom Trainer’s Tales from the Woods: Part 2

Tom Trainer’s Tales from the Woods: Part 2

When I left off last month, Mike and I had just arrived at Waterloo Creek.  The day’s task was to first install a stream gage, to measure the creek’s water level, and then go up the creek a bit, to take flow readings across its width, to determine the amount of water passing by.  

We parked and unloaded his car. We had long skinny things in bags, and mysterious plastic boxes and back packs.  Mike loaded me up, and off we went, down along the banks and the edge of the stream, bobbing and ducking around trees, rocks, and miscellaneous vegetation.  

After several miles, or as Mike says, maybe 125 or so meters, we arrived at our first stop.  I unshouldered the bags, boxes and back backs. Mike pulled out a large metal gage, with height markings, and boards and anchors to attach the gage to the rocks and trees at the edge of the stream in such a way that the gage would stay put, both now and during next spring’s torrents.  Mike hammered and drilled, I held things and handed over fasteners.  I stared at rocks in the stream bed. In short order, he had the gage up.

Next, the flow meter. We went off up the creek, with bags, boxes and back backs.  Mike picked his site.  Out came the flow meter.  Big long metal legs that attach to a computerized box that sends out Doppler waves to measure the speed of water flowing downstream.  First, we measured the stream width, staking a tape measure at either side of the bank, and then we needed to break down the stream’s width into separate, uniform segments – 22 as I recall – each of which would have its individual depth and water speed measured.  

Here, I become a vital part of the team. Turns out that Doppler waves need something to bounce off besides mere water. This stretch of the Waterloo, at least for now, is so pure and clear that there’s nothing in the water to reflect.  To fix this, my job was to go upstream about 20 feet, and then stroll back and forth between the banks and loosen enough sediment to give the Doppler waves something to play Ping Pong with, while Mike moved slowly across the stream bed, stopping 22 times to collect data points.  

This meant I had to return to the car to collect the walking sticks I would need to stay upright while crossing and recrossing the stream bed.  Back I trudged, and up to the car, only to come upon an obviously enraged woolly bear caterpillar directly in my path. I could swear it had a red headband slanting over it head, and two samurai swords where its mandibles should be.  What to do, what to do. Stand as tall as possible, raising my arms above my head, or lie down and pretend I was dead?  Again, city boy by birth.

Already being multiple times taller than my opponent, raising my arms wasn’t likely to change anything, and lying down pretending to be a corpse would only result in it gumming me for a while, so I walked around him, got the sticks, and returned up the stream. My first wildlife adventure.

Back with Mike, I followed his choreography, engaging in a water ballet to release not too much, and not too little, bottom muck to keep the Dopplers happy.  Ultimately, we got it.  The data collected, showing the speed of the flow at each point across the stream, would allow the scientists to calculate how much water was passing at a given time, and with the use of an algorithm, at different water levels.  

We repacked and returned to the car. I bravely thrust myself in front of Mike when we neared the caterpillar’s last known haunt, but he had apparently wandered off.  Mike had set up a gage station and collected data to be combined with other readings to show the amounts, condition and health of the streams within the watershed.  I had my first encounter with a BC predator.  Next time, I bring the Wooly Bear spray with me.