Last Friday began the first of our official classes, Bucknell literally on (and occasionally in) the Susquehanna River. At Montoursville, Dr. Ben Hayes, director of the University Environmental Center, explains the significance of the region we are about to explore on this day’s kayak trip. As will be seen throughout the semester, there are many facets from different perspectives to consider.
The oldest element is the geologic history of the region, as the Susquehanna here rides the border between two distinct physio-geographic provinces of Pennsylvania. To the south are miles upon miles of ridges and valleys, tortured folds of rock that are evidence of tremendous tectonic collisions occurring over the course of millions of years and today the only remnants of a mountain range larger than the present day Himalayas. But this is where the folds end and the Allegany Plateau rises high above us to the north.
In more recent history, this launch site is very near to a Native American settlement that was once home to hundreds of people and a crossroads of many nations. In the centuries since then, settlers have come and established themselves, loggers have swept the hillsides clear of every standing tree, and even in the present day we can hear the sound of machinery as gravel left behind by glacial forces is still being quarried.
On the river, we learn that the forces governing the
formation of river channels, especially to forces that create the exciting rapids, or “riffles” as they are also known as, are the result of forces not fully understood today. While some pieces of the equation are known, why they consistently act in this manner is a mystery that Albert Einstein reportedly gave up on his study of open channel hydrology to return to the “easier” world of nuclear physics.
After lunch, we spent a good portion of time flipping over rocks and hunting for various forms of aquatic life, learning about the lifecycles of insects and vertebrates. As we round the great bend between Montoursville and Muncy a Bald Eagle swoops past a protesting Hawk, but sadly too quickly for most cameras. Eight miles after putting in the river, we finally pull out, having learned a great deal more about this river that we will be studying the rest of the semester.