Being a bit plump has some advantages. I went down to the river last week, goggles and bathing suit at the ready, and took a little dip. Actually, I took a little float. I float so much better than I used to. It’s a density thing. Fat is less dense than muscle. The last big rain had washed a deep hole under the bridge and I wanted to see what was swimming around in it. Last year, my students and I released thirty two brook trout in that very spot and I was hopeful that I might glimpse at least one.
I parked the car just east of the bridge and opened the rusty metal gate next to the barn. The hay was up to my waist after this rainy spring and I pushed it aside before each step and examined the ground for snakes as I walked over to the river bank. The willows that used to line the side of it had been pushed out onto a small island of rock in the middle.
I draped my towel on a big rock and shucked down to my suit. I left my shoes on because mountain river swimming is not a barefoot endeavor. Then I waded in. The hole was in the shade under the bridge and I was thankful to be out of sight. One, because my neighbors would probably think it was nuts for a 50 year old woman to be floating face first in the river wearing old tennis shoes and goggles and two, because, well, I’m not quite as cute in a bathing suit as I was thirty years ago.
I was a bit intimidated to start with. I couldn’t see the bottom and it’s a little disconcerting to wade down into a river hole. Snapping turtles have been known to lurk there. But, once I got over my fear, I pulled the goggles over my eyes and floated face down. At first, the fish avoided the blobby body bobbing around above them, but soon their curiosity got the best of them. The minnows came first, nibbling at my fingers which floated slightly below my face. Then the larger suckers and red eyes swam over to sample my legs. We floated together in the shadow of the bridge for about ten minutes. Every time I lifted my head for a breath, the fish darted away. I found myself longing for a snorkel.
There was a large snag of branches and roots on the sunny side of the pool and the fish swam in and out of the roots. I was sure there must be some more interesting life back in the tangled mess, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull some apart. Some of that interesting life might bite me. The current kept pushing me into the snag so I put my feet down and discovered the pool was about four and a half feet deep. Although I saw many fish, I didn’t see any brook trout. A neighbor six miles downstream told me he caught and released a small brookie a couple of weeks ago. I’d like to think it was one of ours.
After floating for a while, I waded upstream. The amount of damage done to the channel by the storm was significant. In some places, the river bank had eroded down five feet or more. A hundred yards upstream in what used to be a flat river bed, there was a four foot waterfall, and an island of rock that cut the flow of the river in half. I’m afraid in the heat of the summer my pool under the bridge will lose its source. I don’t know where the fish will go then.
When I finally clambered back up to the road I discovered I had brought a little of my childhood with me. My grandmother, Nana, used to take us swimming in the farm pond. Papa would row us out to a spot near the far shore and Nana would jump in with us. The same delicious fear of snapping turtles and unseen things brought it all back to me. I think I’ll jump back in again soon. Maybe I’ll even touch the snag and see what swims out.