I have been grieving the loss of a teenage patient for the last few days, since he died on New Years. I was the paramedic on a bad call where a young man died in spite of our best efforts, and I have spent at least part of each day since trying to figure out why. It never makes sense to me when someone young dies. But I didn’t come to Big Branch to sort out life’s mysteries. My motives were much more simplistic. I came here because it’s been a few weeks since I snorkeled one of my favorite creeks. We perceive that life ends when winter starts, but that’s far from true. Life is abundant, just a little less noticeable in winter, and the same holds true for the wintertime life in our rivers and streams.
I knew getting into the freezing water was going to be painful, and it was, but the stinging subsided and I relaxed. The water was cold but bearable. Life immediately became apparent. A sculpin darted toward the shoreline, and before I could get my camera into position, it disappeared into the surroundings. This fish is so well camouflaged the only way I would see it again is if it moved, and it didn’t. A school of some kind of minnow swam out from under the beginnings of an ice sheet.
Two large fall fish came in for a closer look at me. I love these fish. They’re big year round chubs, always here in every season, just in different spots. They aren’t too skitterish, and seem as curious about me as I am about them so we usually end up floating together as we watch each other for a while.
I didn’t last too long. The cold forced me to get out just as I lost feeling in my hands. But I was in the water long enough to know that life here was abundant and thriving. Maybe not as much as in summer, but I certainly didn’t have to search to find it. The perceived end that winter brings is just that, a perceived end, not a real one.
The trip to Big Branch didn’t give me any great perspective on this death. It didn’t answer any great universal mystery. But for 30 minutes I didn’t think about it, and I got out of the water with the reassurance that life finds a way, that we are part of a much larger whole, and that it would be ok. There is a reassuring permanence in our streams. Maybe death is like winter, a perceived end, not a real one. I knew getting into paramedicine would be painful at times, just like I knew getting into this winter stream would hurt. I’m glad I did both.