a light shines through us

12.28.20 ~ Stoddard Hill State Park
Ledyard, Connecticut

We took this walk along the banks of the Thames River a couple of weeks ago. Immediately we were confronted with dead, half-eaten fish littering the path. It was pretty creepy and we wondered what on earth was going on. We had to watch our steps!

probably Atlantic menhaden

Later, after asking around, we learned that this phenomenon has been spotted by others taking walks in other natural areas near the river. We tried to ignore the gruesome scene underfoot and enjoy what else the trail had to offer…

spotted wintergreen

From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(The Selected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson)

fungi? lichen? growing in tree wound cavity
Stoddard Cemetery

We found a cemetery at the foot of a hillside of jumbled glacial erratics. We noticed a couple of stones for local Revolutionary War soldiers.

Stoddard Cemetery
a huge burl on a very thin tree trunk
glacial erratics seeming to tumble down the side of the hill
lichen growing on part of an erratic

In the past month, DEEP Fisheries Division staff have received and investigated numerous calls of reported sightings of dead fish along the Connecticut shoreline, from Darien to New London, and numerous points in between. These incidents, known as fish kills, involve a species of fish called Atlantic Menhaden, also known as “bunker.” Menhaden are the most abundant marine fish species on the east coast, and fish kills involving them are not uncommon. Menhaden fish kills can occur for a variety of reasons, most often due to natural or environmental factors such as school-induced hypoxia (lack of oxygen) or cold water temperature. While DEEP continues to investigate these events, staff believe the cause of the fish kills observed over the past month have been due to more Menhaden overwintering in the Sound this year, possibly due to a missed migration cue, leading them to succumb to the cold water temperatures and a lack of nourishment.
~ The Fisherman website, December 14, 2020

jumble of erratics from another angle
Norwich & Worcester Railroad tracks, Thames River
big scramble of glacial erratics cascading down off Stoddard Hill
looking down over the very steep riverbank
every few steps, another one
???
an open acorn stash

Recently I found a website with pictures of old postcards of huge glacial erratics, many from New England. When the pandemic is over, and if health permits, we might try to visit a few of these! Boulders of the United States

36 thoughts on “a light shines through us”

  1. Great place to visit. Unusual about the fish for sure. The boulders are interesting. At first glance I could see the graveyard was very old. I have visited many old graveyards like this – the headstones sometimes tell us stories about the past.

    1. There is no easy access to that cemetery but someone has been caring for it. We plan to go back and get some more detailed pictures and to climb the hill behind it. We saw a map that indicates there is a trail going up and a “lookout” above those erratics. Stay tuned!

        1. Found it yesterday, sort of, but lost it several times on the way up to the top. Working on a new post about it today…

    1. The appearance and location of the “glacial erratics” in the landscape is so surprising, unpredictable, irregular and uneven. Very erratic! Those leaves do look similar to melissa officinalis (lemon balm). Maybe it is in the mint family… will do some more looking…

  2. The same thing has been happening to the menhaden along the Hudson, although I haven’t seen it. I think it’s a little more south of me. Love the tumble of erratics!

    1. Thank you, Julia! Appreciating erratics is a new interest for me. They’re easier to locate than wildlife this time of year. Interesting that the fish are appearing along the Hudson, too. We’re still wondering what bird or animal brought the fish up the riverbank and then discarded them…

    1. Glad you enjoyed the hike, Donna! I never know what will happen on these walks through the woods, so many unexpected surprises to fascinate me and set me off doing research, learning so much this past year… 🙂

  3. I’ve seen boulders like the ones in your photos but didn’t know they were called erratics. Talk about an apt name. I am always charmed by a stash of acorns. Lovely photo.

    1. Thank you, Ally. The acorn picture seems to be a hit. 🙂 And I almost didn’t bother taking it — seemed so ordinary after the dead fish and the glacial erratic jumble.

  4. I imagine it was disturbing to come across all those dead fish along the trail. In the Pacific Northwest the bears eat all the salmon they can, and frequently carry them into the woods where they abandon them after only a mouthful. The decaying fish are a significant nutrient source, it turns out, for the forest! What a startling thing. The missed migration cue you’re seeing I suppose is because of global warming, and/or pollutants in the water. Sad to see. I remember years ago there were alewives in Lake Michigan, and every spring the Lake wore a necklace of dead fish. They lay in stinky windrows all along the shore. It was pretty gross. They were not native and could not handle the cold of a midwest winter. Haven’t seen that in quite awhile~maybe they all died off.
    I loved your quote. It was a good reminder.

    1. It was pretty creepy and startling, my first thought was it might be a crime scene? But Tim saw an owl fly off from a tree and we guessed it must be the work of a bird or other animal. I think I’ve seen gulls eating that kind of fish… I wondered if the fish was caught and then discarded because it didn’t taste good because it was sick or something. How fascinating that fish can be a nutrient source for the forest! It’s weird how things are changing. Some things are getting better — after years of efforts to clean up Long Island Sound the humpback whales, gone for ages, are now being spotted again. But the temperature fluctuations seem to be taking a toll on other species. Sigh. I’m trying to picture that necklace of stinking dead fish around Lake Michigan. So many invasive species lurking in the Great Lakes… (Love the quote, too, it was a last-minute addition. 🙂 )

  5. How sad about the fish. I’ve never heard of that species — is it a food fish? It also struck me as odd that you casually mentioned Revolutionary War tombstones. Wow, we in Illinois weren’t involved in that conflict, so obviously there are no monuments like that here. Makes me realize how “young” our area is, compared to the East Coast!

    1. I’ve read that menhaden’s are used as a fertilizer for crops. They aren’t used for food at all because they don’t taste very good.

      How interesting that Illinois is so “young” compared to Connecticut. We have the remnants of a Revolutionary War fort preserved as a state park in our town, Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park. (Site of the 1781 massacre led by the traitorous Benedict Arnold!) Maybe I should do a post on it! I have taken its presence for granted…

    1. I think you might be on to something, Val! Look what I found online:
      “Most Connecticut residents rarely have an opportunity to observe river otters in the wild as otters generally avoid contact with humans. However, even though otters may not be seen often, the state’s river otter population is healthy and stable.”
      So sorry about your Koi. 🙁

    1. You’re welcome, Sarah. Not dastardly it seems, simply nature taking its course after all. I’m looking to see how far we can travel while staying safe to see some of these erratics. We might have to wait until the pandemic is over though.

  6. We have seen fish kills like this on the Florida beaches. Seems like it happens… but how challenging/interesting to find yourselves in the midst of it. Echoing the wish that the pandemic may be over (or drastically waning) by summer.

    1. It was definitely a puzzling (and creepy) experience. If the fish had been at the water’s edge it wouldn’t have seemed as strange as having them way up the riverbank well into the woods. But it’s starting to make sense now with all the ideas from my readers, Tim’s ham radio friends, and my online research. In Florida, do they leave the fish there by the water and let nature take care of them or do they take them away for the sake of the beachgoers?

  7. I like the erratics seemingly tumbling down the hill. The dead fish remind me of the shad we have gather along the Creek banks and at small rivers once it gets bitter cold and there is no oxygen under the water like you stated – all the fish end up under the frozen water looking up at you with glazed eyes – ugh. Then the ice melts and the bodies, trapped together, are there along the shoreline. The DNR says you call them if there are 50 or more. It’s not nice to see,

    1. It is a most unpleasant sight, those glazed dead eyes looking up from the ground or from under the ice. Gruesome. I keep hoping they died quickly and didn’t suffer too much. Imagine being a fish and suddenly being pierced by talons or stabbed by a beak and then flying through the air. Hopefully they’re dead before they have a chance to be terrified. Nature and the circle of life seem so brutal at times. Glacial erratics are much more satisfying to contemplate…

      1. I know what you mean Barbara. I see them frozen along the shoreline, then on the Creek banks once it thaws in Spring. I didn’t see any last year, nor not so far this Winter, since we have not had prolonged freezing temperatures. It sure is gruesome. I hope the fish die quickly, though a fellow blogger who takes a lot of shore bird photos, showed a video recently of a Great Blue Heron getting a fish and swallowing it whole and you could see the fish wiggling around as it went down its long neck. That seemed brutal to me as well. I will never get past the circle of life as I’m too much of a bleeding heart to accept it.

    1. It was interesting how well tended the cemetery was, being out there in the middle of nowhere. There were even fresh flags placed on some of the veterans’ graves.

    1. It was very strange, Robin. When we went back a few weeks later there didn’t seem to be any fresh ones and the old ones were picked almost clean to the bone.

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