Thursday, February 13, 2014

Winter Doldrums, Not Dulldrums

I am tired of winter. I’m tired of the snow and ice and cold water. I’m tired of the restrictions placed on my snorkeling by iced over rivers and freezing air temperatures. The larger members of our river ecosystems have settled in for the remainder of the winter, and it’s a rare event to see a fish anymore. This is the normal progression. It’s the calm before the bursting forth of the spring migrants. In a month, our rivers will start to fill with the expectant energy of migrating shad and herring on the move upstream to spawn. Yellow perch have already stated to gather at the mouths of our rivers. But for now there isn’t much larger life on the move and we are in the doldrums, that time of year when there just isn’t much biologically going on. I might be tired of winter, and there might not be much mega fauna inhabiting our streams right now, but that doesn’t mean snorkeling in the doldrums is pointless. Ecology is the interplay between the living and nonliving components of a system. When I snorkel a river at this time of year I get a more complete understanding of those interactions. I gain a more thorough appreciation of what life in our rivers and streams experiences throughout the entire year, not just the warmer biologically active parts. And I get to see some absolutely incredible river and ice scapes. The challenges winter doldrum snorkeling present are part of the attraction. Cold air, water, and ice cover increase safety concerns, and add a few degrees of difficulty. Trips take a little more skill to navigate without getting injured. A stretch of river that is pretty simple and straight forward to snorkel in the summer can become more difficult with a partial ice cover, and trips need to be planned and executed with greater care. All of that is the attraction. Watching a commonplace river from a very different perspective in slightly difficult conditions makes it extraordinary. We might be in the winter doldrums, but they are far from dull.

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