Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Creek Snorkeling Isn’t Braille Diving

I heard a diver describe local diving conditions as braille diving because you dive by feel, the visibility is that poor. I used the same language when I was an avid diver and knew that there wasn’t much to see on the bottom of the deeper holes on the Susquehanna, or in the quarries turned diving destinations. But still, his comment bothered me, even if he did have a point. Maybe it was because that perpetuated the attitude that there isn’t anything of worth or value to see or protect in the rivers and streams in our neighborhoods, which certainly isn’t the case. But I think his comment hit a nerve because I caught the same attitude creeping into my psyche. There is a seasonality to water clarity here, and it seemed that the better summer visibility was really late in arriving. It seemed that in the last week I walked to the waters edge, gear bag in hand, watched clouds of sediments blur the bottom, shook my head, turned around and went home more than I got into the water. Maybe the comment from this diver bothered me because my reality, living in the developed east, is muddy water, compared to other places like Cherokee National Forest.
So when I got to the Octoraro tonight and saw less than clear water, my first inclination was to turn around. But it has been a few days since I was in any water, and it was hot, so I decided to get wet. I crept along in a foot of water with the bottom in clear view. Three feet of visibility might mean you can’t see anything in 60 feet of water, but in a foot of water everything is sharp. A small mouth bass confronted me behind his rock, circled around and confronted me again. Must have been in his territory. Further upstream, the water deepened, and things on the bottom of the four foot hole were hazy, but recognizable. I swam over a two foot long catfish. A small rapid dumps into this deeper pool, and I let the upstream eddy carry me into it.
A few male satinfin shiners were in a dog fight over prime breeding terrain. Their dainty iridescent blue dorsal fins and silver white pectoral and pelvic fins fluttered and flared like butterflies in a stiff breeze. I was able to watch this mid water column display of glowing blue and silver-white for quite some time as the males defended their spot, and enticed females, while creek chubs fed on the bottom. One of the males mistook me for another satinfin shiner and flared right in front of my mask. Maybe he saw his reflection in the lens. Either way it was an incredible display. The water was murky, and I couldn’t make out more than the outline of a large bedrock slab four feet away. But that didn’t matter. I had plenty of visibility to witness the beauty and drama of the Octoraro this evening. Creek snorkeling isn’t braille diving.

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