“I can’t go outside without getting cold, and you are going in water?!?!?. You are insane.” My daughter proclaimed. Yeah, maybe if we define insanity as doing something most people wouldn’t. It has been uncommonly cold here, in the negative teens without wind chill, and our rivers flash froze as the polar vortex descended to the mid latitudes. I don’t get a chance to snorkel with ice, to witness how our rivers and streams look under the frozen cover, and how life responds very often, so I couldn’t wait for an opening in schedule, that coincided with clear water and daylight to get in a creek.
I knew it would hurt when I got in the freezing water and again when I emerged into the freezing air. But I knew in between would be amazing. I knew this would give a different view, few people have ever experienced.
There was a small hole in the ice three body lengths long and one and a half wide, framed by an ice covered pool on the downstream side, shallow riffle upstream, and shore ice on banks. I lay down in the foot deep water and gently floated downstream until my head cracked into the leading edge of the ice. I turned around, swam upstream, and crashed into another sheet of ice that formed around a protruding branch. I crawled as far up the riffle as possible. Cold water hurt my neck as it flowed in a small gap between my hood and neck seal. I floated downstream and hoped for a sculpin.
Sculpin seem to be common in winter. At least that’s when I see most of them. Maybe because there are so many other fish here in spring and summer that I don’t have the focus needed to pick out the camouflaged sculpin from the background. Or maybe they are just more active in winter. I drift downstream on my third or fourth lap over the same small stretch, and pick my head out of the water periodically to avoid the edge of the ice. I stop before my head hits the sheet, but my feet and legs get sucked under. It feel strange to be confined by the ice and I am careful not to let any more of my body slip under since there wasn’t an opening anywhere downstream that I could see. It was easy to pull myself back upstream and as I did, I found a decent sized sculpin sitting among the orange quarts cobbles on the bottom. As most sculpin do, this one sat still for a while, until I wore out its patience with frequent photos. It finally swam in a short hop to a new rock. I followed, and it hopped again until finally it had enough and swam off.
A popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting a different result. I did the same thing but expected the same result. I snorkeled in a creek and knew it would be a grounding experience, that it would make me present in the present. I knew it would provide an opportunity to explore the world from a completely different perspective. It’s one of the sanest things I can do. Ice or not.