The adventures of Tsolum Sid, a friendly little toad who lives on the Tsolum River on northern Vancouver Island, continue. Last time, Sid and his friends, Olive the Otter, Calvin the Crayfish and Ernie Eagle learned the importance of riparian areas which are vital to the health of rivers and stability of the land. “Riparian” is used to describe the areas bordering rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands.
Today Tsolum Sid is basking in the early spring-like sun dreaming of the lazy days of summer right around the corner. “The weather has been unusually warm this year” Sid thinks to himself as his tiny toady toes dip into the flowing river. He's sitting on the little beach just upstream from the tunnels and caves that sometimes house Beth the Beaver and her clan. This spot is near the now beheaded Old Willow tree. The tunnels have nearly survived the wet winter but the snow melt and spring showers are yet to come. Sometimes the volume of water cascading down from the mountains can raise the river level from 2' to 8' in a flash.
Sid knows all about that! He remembers the spring a couple of years ago when he and Beth were surprised playing near the caves. Beth was in the River splashing Sid silly by kicking her back legs violently sending sloppy waves toward Sid. It didn't matter much because it was pouring with rain, like every other day that week, and Sid loves being wet. In fact if Sid isn't wet then something is wrong – after all he is a toad! “Hey Beth, that feels great!” he shouts above the splashing and rushing sound of nearby rapids which he thinks is growing louder.
Tsolum Sid recalls he was sitting on an old fallen log one end of which was partly jammed in one of the cave entrances. The log was probably deposited in its current position the last time the river raged. It is rotting away silently as brilliant bright green species of cushy moss feed voraciously on the decaying matter and are nourished by the early spring dew. Tiny tree saplings are on this delicate living moss bed bursting open their first set of leaves.
The sun is out and the nearly nightly frost has been absent for days. Sid is eyeing a newly hatched mini-mosquito who lands on a cluster of moss dangling on a limb protruding from the decaying log. Just as Sid is about to lunge at the tasty morsel Beth’s sister, Bunny pops her furry little head out of the water surprising Sid so much that he loses his balance and lets out an anxious squeal. The mosquito flies away oblivious to its close encounter with death. And Sid? Well, he fell into the river with a splash, crackle-like plop!
Beth stops kicking and yells “Water” with urgency in her voice. She clambers onto shore water rolling off her waterproof fur in large droplets. She scrambles to higher ground sensing the rising of the river. It is moving faster and faster by the second. The three friends hear numerous neighbourhood dogs loudly barking above the increasing roar of the rushing water. The rain’s relentlessness is raising the danger level.
Bunny, who is bobbing beside Sid, blurts “I swam down here as fast as I could to warn you that it’s raining real hard in the mountains and the wetlands and streams are all overflowing and….” Her voice trails off as she realizes nature’s noise; pounding rain, rushing water and gusting wind is drowning out hers.
Ernie the Eagle is perched on a nearby tree branch safely surveying the scene from sixty feet up. He notices big logs and other frothy forest debris rounding the upstream bend and barrelling straight toward Bunny and Sid! He lets out his infamous eagle cry hoping to warn the pair in time.
“Watch out!” shrieks Beth from the bank, her wide tail flapping excitedly on the grass. Just at that moment, Sid’s neighbour Marshall Mouse sails by wave-riding regally down the middle of the river on Uncle Toad’s bumpy back shouting “Get out of the river” at the top of his tiny lungs. His valiant cries are barely heard above the river’s roar.
Sid and Bunny’s amused gazes follow Marshall until Beth screams “Jump now!” They turn together their expressions morphing into terror. Their eyes meet and Bunny winks at Sid and he leaps onto her neck and holds on for dear life. Bunny dives deep just as the deathly debris crashes against the cave getting trapped briefly before the force pushes it back on its harrowing journey.
Sid and Betty resurface safely and climb onto shore to join Beth just as some children’s beach buckets, a red one and a blue one, float by. The river is almost level with the bank now and claiming some human’s forgotten summer outdoor gear. It won’t be long before she spills over and floods the riparian zone.
Tsolum Sid feels happy to be safe and thinks about all the essential nutrients, including rotting salmon flesh from last year’s spawn, this flood event will deposit on the stream bank and high into the forests and small streams to feed the trees, plants and creatures keeping them strong and healthy.
Sid feels a splash which startles him from his daydream and he realizes he is still sitting on the beach reminiscing in the warm winter sun of the present. His pals, Olive and Calvin watch him from the clear, calm water and giggle. “Were you asleep?” asks Calvin trying to contain himself. “No” says Sid. He tells them about his thoughts, shares the comical image of Marshall Mouse and reminds them to be very aware and safe playing around the Tsolum, or any other river, during times of hard rain and heavy snow melt.
Laura Ann O'Brien