“I’m tweeting how crazy you are.” My 15 year old daughter says when I ask who she is texting. I just got out of the Brandywine at the Natural Lands Trust Stroud Preserve after a short, but cold swim. The water was barely above freezing and the air was below. A biting wind blew down the length of the river, and I expected the overcast sky to drop snow or sleet any minute. We have been overdue for this little bit of cold weather.
I was here to scope out this section of Brandywine for a Natural Lands Trust trip we are going to run in August. A half hour ago I pushed out in a large, deep, slow moving pool. The featureless sand bottom extended as far as I could see. I am sure this spot is chock full of fish in summer. This is perfect sunny and bass habitat, and I imagine the bottom is probably crawling with tessellated darter when the water warms up.
I turned and let the gentle current carry me downstream under the small arch bridge. The pace quickens here since the water shallows and the bottom gets more interesting as it becomes rocky with more holes and places for fish to hide. A large chub darts along the bottom of one of the deeper pools with one flick of its tail. A second one follows and I try to chase them to get a decent picture, but they easily out swim me. Beds of submerged vegetation poke from the sandy parts of the bottom like beard stubble. This place in summer will have such a diversity of habitats: sandy bottomed pools, rocky riffles, submerged vegetation beds. I picture an equally diverse collection of fish. This place in summer will have warm water we can swim in for hours without getting cold. But right now, I can’t feel my hands, after just 30 minutes. A belted kingfisher tries to figure me out as I float towards a sand bar where I can walk out of the river back towards my truck, and hope my hands work enough for me to unzip my dry suit.
Screaming barfies is a term used in ice climbing to describe when hands and fingers get so cold they hurt to the point of nausea when they rewarm. I can apply that phrase to here, now. Ice forms on my dry suit while I peel out of it. My hands are warming up, and I feel nauseous.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Large chubs, submerged vegetation below and belted kingfisher above. Snorkeling freshwater systems gives a real sense of exploration. Even though this river has been visited by thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people, I can be fairly certain no one else has snorkeled here. And I’m even more certain no one has snorkeled here in winter. It feels like going where no one else has gone, seeing things most people miss. This is an amazing place in the middle of winter. It will be incredible when we run the Natural Lands Trust trip here in August, without the screaming barfies. You can check out the amazing work Natural Lands Trust is doing to protect land and water by going to www.natlands.org