Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Freedom of Flight

Creek snorkeling can be a lot of things; contemplative, adventurous, grounding, explorative. Most trips have all of these elements which is the attraction for me. But on this particular trip to a river I know well, it was more of the adventurous journey that kept my attention. When I snorkel I usually take my time, start downstream and work my way up while I look for life and admire the complex ecology of the river. I am preparing to take some longer downstream journeys and so have been practicing snorkeling through rapids. I still get to admire life on these trips, but most of my concentration is focused on fending off oncoming rocks. The view is incredible and conditions rapidly change from sand bar bottoms that skirt deep holes to snaggle toothed rocky rapids just a foot or two deep. The biology changes as well. I crawled upstream against forceful water. Deer Creek was up, but clear. I grabbed the edge of a rock with one hand and let my body trail behind in the strong current. I noticed cadddisfly larvae doing the same thing. Only they were using all 6 of their appendages, were snuggled into the lee of a rock and were generally better designed for this environment than me. I reached the head of a class 2 rapid and swam a few yards further upstream into the middle of a large deeper pool. Bedrock juts from the bottom and forces the water up towards the surface. Part of the pool has an extensive sandy bottom. A diversity of fish congregate here in the spring summer and fall and shad, eels, bass, carp, quillback, catfish, and sunnies are all very common. But there isn’t any obvious fish life here today. The only noticeable life is the rock moss that covers the bedrock outcrop. I stop swimming against the current point my head downstream and let the current do the rest. While the force of the water is strong, the river moves slowly through the second half of this large pool. It picks up pace as the head of the rapid approaches, and it gets loud. The churn of water fills the underwater river. I see the surface of the water bend around and over rocks and when the drop is big enough, the smooth surface breaks. Bubbles fill the water and disorient so that It’s hard for me to tell if my head is still pointed downstream, and more dangerously, it makes it hard to see rocks until I am on top of them. It makes selecting a route impossible and the river becomes completely in charge of which route I take. I have little say in the matter and can only fend off approaching obstacles. It’s like riding a fluid roller coaster, flowing over around and between rocks. I am ultimately tossed through the rapid like a leaf, but am able to avoid collisions with rocks. I quickly recognize that I am not in control, that I am at the mercy of the river. I relax and stop struggling against it but rather go with the flow and let it help guide me around boulders. The rapid becomes less violent and I glide through the remaining rocks. If I lean right I turn right, lean left, turn left and soon I am effortlessly flying through the river unencumbered by motors, paddles or the hull of a boat separating me from the water. I circle out into an eddy behind a large rock tired but thrilled. There is nothing more freeing than flying through a river.

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