Monday, July 7, 2008

The Sunken Forest

While Blackwater Lake was still, Gee Creek water is active, and the flow increases where the creek narrows. Yesterday I lashed into a line and swam out to the middle where I hooked the line over a branch to avoid being swept downstream. Todd held the other end of the line and when it was time for me to dive, he paid it out. Deep breath and then face down, suddenly I can't see anything, not even my hand a foot in front of my mask; only a uniform, toffee-colored silty riverstream flowing against my body. To go down I have to hand-over-hand down a branch, and at the bottom I grope blindly, branches grabbing at me, threatening to hook my lifeline. When I wrap an arm deep in the muck and under a log the log slowly rises and starts to tilt back at me with the current. Water is 800 times denser than air, and even a three-mile an-hour current easily swings waterlogged logs like toys. The log tilts back, I can feel the mass of it coming up like heavy post and now it sways at me and I roll to the side and let it pass. I can't see it but I can sense its mass drifting past me to settle with a soft, scary thud a few feet downstream. Still nothing to see, just the opaque tan haze against my maskplate, just an inch from my eyes. Used to SCUBA diving, I feel strange unable to take a breath here underwater. The branch I'm holding vibrates slightly, humming in the current. Now a hard, slick branch or log bumps my side then slides downstream, it's time to go up; I don't like moving objects coming at me out of nowhere. At the surface I resist the temptation to go ashore. I keep diving until I feel comfortable--or at least not completely uncomfortable--skin-diving among the timbers and snags of this little Sunken Forest.

Above, a sketch of something you can't actually see. This is grease pencil and graphite on paper, scanned and then the lower half inverted. I'm experimenting with this medium because next month Dad will be teaching me lithography. Below I hang onto the line, about to dip down.

Todd Olson is maintaining a website of our search for underwater artifacts on the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (yes, we have permits :)).

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