Sunday, January 18, 2015

Raging Ice Water

It didn’t rain, and the last snow was five days ago. It hasn’t warmed enough to melt. But it feels like it poured last night. The river is raging, and the only explanation is that the ice shelves growing into the stream force the water into a concentrated flow. It is hard to grip onto the bottom and I pull ten pound boulders over as I scramble for a hold. There is a small patch of fast moving water that is open, but just downstream a solid ice sheet covers the whole creek. I’m able to slow, but not stop my progression towards the ice. The bottom passes by as I scratch at boulders that turn over, or slabs of bedrock slick with algae and no features to grab onto. I don’t want to get swept under the ice, and just for a minute fear floods my mind. Finally I am able to get into an eddy, drop my feet and hands and start the slow crawl upstream. Ice chunks clink off my mask as they hurtle downstream. My snorkel hums in the force of the water, and I watch fist sized rocks tumble downstream, dislodged by the force of the water deflected off me onto the bottom. I notice a lot of fish out as I make my way back upstream, which is odd for this time of year. Normally they are settled into the bottom for the winter. Two tessellated darters vertically swirl in the current with their heads pointed to the bottom. They make feeble attempts to swim until they hit a micro eddy, drop to the bottom and assume their normal hoppy posture. A beautiful sculpin flops its body around a rock the way they do, like a fishy rag doll in the current. A large sucker wedges between two larger rocks. I enjoy the company of these fish, and enjoy watching how they respond to me, the current and each other. But then I realize that I uprooted these wintering fish. Snorkeling should be a low impact way of connecting with our streams and all the life that lives in them, and I feel bad for the disturbance I caused. I end the trip early and get out of the raging ice water.

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