Monday, March 20, 2017

Neascus trematode: It's a Dam Shame

Who doesn't love catching a big beautiful trout. Their large and small spots make for unique artwork on the canvas of life. Unfortunately, these are not the only spots that can decorate a trout's side. During one of my busier semesters this past year I had been spending my scant fishing time on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River, and what I encountered had me somewhat concerned.

Diversion dams litter the landscape here in Idaho. It's how we water all those potatoes. It's not altogether a bad thing. It often presents excellent fishing opportunities, but the fact is, they are not natural, and often prevent nature from taking care of business. The situation it creates is similar to the plaque that builds up in a human artery. Poor circulation ruins health and prevents cleansing.

The main culprit fueling my concern is a parasite called Neascus trematode. And, while fishermen often like worms, these little guys are a pain in the side, or neck, or whatever other fleshy surface they can sink themselves into. The process can ugly up a trout in a hurry.

Neascus trematode is a type of flatworm, called a fluke. These parasites burrow into the flesh of a vertebrate (trout in this case), after which the host encapsulates the parasite in melanin, creating a little black cyst. The fluke lays dormant inside of the cyst, waiting for its host to be consumed by some type of fish-eating bird. Once the fish has been consumed by a bird, the parasite matures and lays eggs inside the bird's digestive tract. The eggs are then scattered in the birds droppings. Once in the water, the eggs hatch, and the babies look for a host to mature within. In this stage they only have a short while (roughly 24 hours) to find their next victim, which, in this ecosystem is a snail. Once in the snail, the parasite matures. Then they leave the snail, looking for a fish to burrow into, and the cycle begins all over again.

Now, I'm no official biologist (though I do aspire to teach biology), but the proliferation of the parasites seems to be dependent upon how many hosts are available, for any of the given stages. In many river systems snails are a normal part of the ecosystem, but the quantity is kept in check by a lack in standing, silty water. Here is where the dams become a problem, especially on beautiful freestone rivers like the Henry's Fork. When the parasite is present, and silt and still water allow for snails to reproduce in copious amounts, the result is a spurt in parasite population. This is exactly what I have observed on the lower Henry's Fork in places that have not previously been affected by the parasite. To see it down lower, where the water meanders through silty farm fields is to be expected, since the Teton river is rampant with the parasite, but up further, on some of the water that is classified as world-class fishing, it is a frustrating find. 

In 2008 the Fall River Electric Cooperative was given the green light to install a rubber bladder system on top of the already constructed Chester Diversion Dam. The bladders added height to the dam, to further divert water into their little power-plant by increasing the water depth. This created even more of a lake than there already had been. Now, I'm not sure that the bladders made things worse or not, or if the increase in parasite population has been a direct result of warmer temperatures, but I had not noticed any fish infections before their installation. I feel they have slowed the flows enough to cause greater silt collection (more breeding ground for snails), and warmer water. The combo is hard on the fish. Warm water, and parasites! This past summer the vegetation in the water was incredible, which is definitely a correlation to warmer water. Now, I'm not sure how big of a role the dam changes play in this little equation, but it seems to be the straw that broke the camels back. It has the potential to be a tragedy for those who love the big feisty beautiful trout of the lower Henry's Fork. 

Neascus trematode Teton River victim
Another Neascus trematode Teton River victim

I wouldn't be too concerned if I had only noticed it on one or two fish, but I noticed it on every brown brought to hand, and I have seen just how bad it can become. Also, by way of note, this is not likely to become a concern much higher in the system, as the water maintains a decent flow. It is just frustrating to see it taking such a hold in the lower stretches. 

For those concerned about human health: The black spots (cysts) that result from the infestation have not been found to be fatally harmful to the fish, or even to anyone consuming the fish, though it is recommended that those who choose to eat the fish will do so after thoroughly cooking the meat.

I wish I had some kind of solution for this problem, but when money is involved, I worry that much can be done. Is it a large enough cause to rally behind? Is it even a real issue, or maybe a spike in the natural ecology? Is fish and game aware? Do they even care, or do they have bigger fish to fry? (Pun extremely intended).

At this point, I feel the best thing we can do is to keep an eye on it. With this winters snow pack, it bodes well for the coming year bringing a good flush. Who knows, if we have multiple winters like this one, maybe it will succeed in cleaning the system up as well as providing plenty of cool water for the fish throughout the warmer months. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

This One's Personal: Looking Forward

I was getting tired of opening the blog and seeing the eulogy to my father. Not that I don't miss him, because I do, very much so. It is more that I have trouble seeing the same thing over and over again, and life does not stop, so neither should we. There are some exceptions in needing to see different things though, like my wonderful wife; I'll never get enough of that. And, my rambunctious children, who drive me quite crazy at times, but who I would give heaven and earth to remain with. Their love and companionship is not something I'm in any hurry to change. That being said, variety in most things in life is desirable and often healthy. Here's to moving on and looking forward!

I was once told that our greatest joys are found in our greatest suffering. I thought it an odd idea at the time. In the midst of trials, it is remarkably difficult to see any joy, as most people who have experienced this little hoohaw we call life can attest to. Much like the traveler who stands at the foot of a lofty mountain, sometimes imagining the view to come is not an easy task, especially when the wanderer has not climbed that particular mountain before. Often the only thing that keeps us going is knowing that we still can, or knowing that we have climbed other difficult mountains in the past with success. I think the latter tends to be more motivating, but sometimes the former is all we have.

I am better coming to understand the concept today. The joy usually comes after the suffering, though sometimes the two can be experienced simultaneously. It is quite possible to be happy for someone else while being sad for ourselves, and vice versa. Like a bittersweet treat, opposing elements throw one another into sharp relief, and the contrast helps us better appreciate the differences.

If there are constants in life, change and trials would probably top the list. It's amazing how things can all fall apart in one moment, only to fall into place the very next. Money troubles, disease, loss, broken relationships, job problems, and even unwanted consequences from our poor decisions plague us day to day. But among all the messes are the little nuggets of bliss and joy, which can put our whole existence into perspective and give the suffering meaning.

The past 8 years have not been easy, and for more than the obvious reasons. Watching friends and acquaintances, many younger than I, buying homes and settling into the patterns of life traditionally expected at my stage of life. In some ways I still envy those who enter college knowing what they want of life and occupations. I have spent the whole past decade trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my occupational life. I had graduated college, intending on furthering my education, with the final destination to teach at a university. Shortly after graduating though, I became uncertain, and started to think that income needed to be more of a priority. After some initial plans fell through, I set my sights on becoming a physician assistant. Having a BA degree in history was far from the required prerequisites needed to enter any medical profession, so I went back to school.

It was a tough transition, going from the philosophical views historians work with, to the cut-and-dry, matter-of-fact approach that the sciences utilize. It was eye opening, and stretched me far more than I had ever been stretched, academically speaking. I needed some type of medical experience. Eventually I was offered a position as a psychiatric technician at a local behavioral health center. I worked there while still working as a satellite technician. The stretching continued. It was an eye-opening experience. A revelation really, in the messiness and difficulty of life. It was an education in love and trauma, and helped me to see the good in even the seemingly worst of people. I learned to judge people's actions through their circumstances, rather than who they are themselves. I learned the value of true teamwork, and depending on others. I learned how to better communicate, and how important it is to show love in the process. It was an education I never thought I needed, nor wanted, but now consider invaluable. It changed me.

The application for PA school (CASPA) is beastly. I applied two years in a row. The first attempt resulted in an "interview waitlist" response from one school, and a bunch of "we're sorry to inform you" letters from all the others. The second application cycle produced two interviews. I accepted the invitations to attend both, and felt each went quite well. I was hopeful, though things did not feel quite right. Eventually the "we're sorry" letters arrived, along with feelings of frustration and confusion. I was at a point where I had to decide whether to redouble my efforts and keep pushing for something that made sense in my head, but did not feel good in my heart. As a side note, I had prayed routinely that God would not let things fall into place if it was not meant to be. This left me in a slightly confusing situation. Be careful what you pray for, and how you ask for it! After some serious soul-searching, and trying to grasp the message I was being sent, I came to the realization that becoming a physician assistant was not my mission in life. It was a hard realization, and hard to let go of the benefits I saw accompanying the occupation.

The thought of income can be both motivating and terrifying, all at the same time. Some may say that it matters, and maybe it should to those people, but I came to realize that for me and my family, it was not the priority. Money is only a means. So I let go of the means, and embraced the goal, which was to provide for my family, and place myself in a good environment that would push me to be a better me through helping others. I let go of my aspirations to become a PA, and oddly enough, turned back to my original plan, to become a teacher. And you know what, it felt right.

I searched for a certification program that would best fit my needs. Eventually I entered an accelerated program through ISU. I am currently student teaching and loving it. It is hard, but overcoming the difficulties, and knowing that I am helping others make it all worth it.

I am confident that our trials work to our betterment, and that God is mindful of our difficulties, dreams, and hopes. Sometimes things end messy in this life, and I still feel that things will work out when all is said and done. Sometimes though, we get to see things work out in this life. I know divine providence has played a large role in where I am today. Let me explain why.

I would not change my focus in college for anything. Learning about history, peoples, and cultures was enlightening. The world became so much bigger, and I grew to see people and their differences as amazing and wonderful. I also learned that certain things are better for the health of societies, and we can learn from others' actions. The history degree did not prepare me for a vocation. It prepared me for life. It prepared me to be a better human being, and gave me a desire to contribute.

The money and years I spent learning about sciences, the body, and general biology after college were not wasted either. I became fascinated with the natural world, both the living and non-living things. I consider both history and biology fascinating because they teach us about what it is to be human, on multiple levels, and isn't that what we all want to know? What makes you, you, and what makes me, me are questions we spend our whole lives trying to answer.

I had only intended on certifying in world and US history when I entered the secondary education certification process, but when time came for me to declare what my focus was, I counted up all my credits and realized I gained enough biology to certify in that as well. Thinking that I would be far more marketable as a teacher, I requested to include it and was given a green light. I then prepared for, and passed both Praxis tests for both areas. At this point I was still thinking I would be teaching history. As part of an observational (pre-student teaching) course, we were placed in a situation that was the opposite of our main focus. For me, this meant that I was placed in a middle school (7th grade) biology class. To my surprise, I found that I really enjoyed teaching biology, perhaps even more than history.

When the time came to request a school for student teaching placement, I had intended on a school further north. Surprisingly, things didn't feel right about requesting my originally intended school. I couldn't make sense of the feeling, but decided to follow it. I asked for the only other thing I could see mattering; proximity to my home. When the announcements of our placements came, I was placed in the school I had requested. We weren't supposed to contact our cooperating teachers just yet, but I looked her up to see what I could learn. I was surprised to find that she only taught science/biology. I contacted my supervisor via e-mail, and she said that she would let me know what to do after contacting the principle. I was supposed to have been placed with a history teacher, since that was my emphasis. To my further surprise, I received a phone call from my supervisor. She had spoken with the principle, and had been urged to place me in the class anyway, as long as I would agree to it. This was to be the cooperating teacher's last year, since she was retiring. My supervisor asked if I would be interested in doing my student teaching in biology instead. I jumped at the opportunity, and here I am.

There is no guarantee of a position with the school, though, if I am honest, I do feel I am in a good position. I am loving the environment, and am excited for what the future holds. I may have chosen to be a poor teacher, but things feel right, and I know the Lord takes care of those who listen and try to follow. It gives me so much confidence in my decisions, looking back and seeing how much has fallen into place. Each step along the way has given me different tools, even when things did not seem like they were working out. I still feel things are unfolding, and my experiences have helped me to see that I have no idea what the Lord has in store for me and my family.

Through all the suffering and trials, I am seeing joy. I have climbed a mountain that did not seem climbable at times, and know I now I can. The view up here is hopeful. I know I can't stay at the top, but that is okay. I know the next mountain has a view worth the climb. Life is not meant to be only mountain tops or valleys. Like an EKG shows, life is all about the ups and downs. It would not be living without the contrast. The rests in music. The white-space in a painting. The black that surrounds the stars. The trials of life. All give definition and place things in some type of gratifying relief.

Change truly is constant, and is the irony of life. One of those changes that I hope happens before too long though, is that I get to go fishing! Student teaching has me crazy busy. Here's to looking forward.