This site was conceived and developed by Dickson Despommier, who takes sole responsibility for its contents, and expertly designed and constructed by Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a colleague and fellow podcaster.
My passion for nature began when I was a kid, like so many others who also have developed a deep attachment to the natural world. At around the age of seven or eight, I began exploring my surroundings. I would wander through the tall grass fields near my house in northern California, collecting things that nature provided just for me (or so I thought) – bird’s nests, sometimes with the eggs still inside them, spiders of all sizes, tadpoles and frogs, caterpillars, cocoons and butterflies, and a million other creepy crawlies, many of which were strictly prohibited from coming inside the house. Reluctantly, back into the fields they went. When I was 11, my family moved to New Jersey. My father and his two brothers were ardent fishers, casting their lines into the salty and brackish waters around their hometown of New Orleans (where I was born). In New Jersey, my dad joined the Oradell reservoir fishing fraternity. Nearly every Sunday morning in the summer, he enjoyed the solitude of sitting along that lakeshore, firmly ensconced on his folding chair next to several solid fiberglass bait-casting rods propped up by forked sticks that were embedded in the muddy bank. He was a worm dunker most of his life, but made the switch to lures when we bought a summer cottage in upper New York State. Meanwhile, back at the reservoir, he often did not catch anything, but occasionally would come home with a mixed stringer of perch, crappie, sunnies and the occasional largemouth bass. Good eats! I was always impressed with his stick-to-itiveness and dedication to the sport, despite his low frequency of successes. When I became his fishing partner, I learned that it was not only about the catching that mattered. We shared many quiet days and some all-nighters on nearby lakes, again with mixed results. Nonetheless, when it was time to go home, we always expressed to each other how good it was to be off by ourselves surrounded by the beauty of the natural world. Few words were ever spoken, but I could feel that we both deeply appreciated the time we spent together.
In the meantime, my trusty bicycle allowed me the freedom to wander in ever increasingly wider circles away from my apartment complex in Dumont. Eventually, I had my first encounter with a genuine trout stream, the Tenekill Brook in Demarest, New Jersey (see: Waist Deep In Water). It was love at first sight. As I matured, it was inevitable that I would take up some form of recreation that involved being outside for long periods of time. Trout fishing was my first and only choice, and it still is. I went off to college and gravitated towards the natural sciences, becoming a research parasitologist after graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a PhD degree in microbiology. When I finished my post-doctoral years at The Rockefeller University in the late 1960s, I was fortunate to be asked to join the faculty at Columbia University’s medical school. I have been there ever since. The years flew by (where the hell did they go?), and I am now emeritus professor of microbiology and public health.
My interest in stream ecology arose early on during my undergraduate days. I joined Trout Unlimited after returning to the East Coast and became friends with a small group of dedicated fly fishers. Four of us formed an education group and developed a 13-week survey course on stream ecology for adult learners. We called the course “We All Live Downstream”. We offered it in multiple places over a six-year period during the 1970s. I never lost interest in the subject and began to take pictures each time I went out on the stream. Many of them are part of this website. I also began collecting published scientific studies on subjects related to various aspects of trout stream ecology. I have distilled this literature into the summaries for each section, serving as the foundation for The Living River website. An earlier version was posted on the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum. It is my hope that the information contained within the body of The Living River website will inspire others to become involved in the stewardship of their home waters.