Tuesday, July 22, 2008

NPR - I hate swimming

We all have our contradictions in ourselves, those issues when brought to the surface look obviously stupid, and perhaps even really dumb. The ones people look at you and go, "What?", meaning you are just what you think. Well, for me it's water and swimming. Ok, that's not so bad, many people don't swim and many people aren't comfortable in and around water, especially large bodies of water, like lakes and oceans.

But I love rivers, both from a hydrologic and Taoist perspective. They're really cool and wonderful. I spent a whole career in basic data, thirteen of those years in field work in Oregon, Arizona and Washington. While the actual work of field work can be repetitive and mundane, the place never, ok rarely, was boring. I often hated the drive but I always loved being there, and the work was the excuse.

And I love working with the data trying to understand what was happening. I was never much more than a basic hydrologist, but that was because I loved the basic data side, collecting, producing and reviewing data, and trying to determine what was going on with that river at that place, based on the data and the place, where science meets reality. I understood the basic theories and concepts about hydrology, but not much more, it was and is always that which interested me.

I'll wander to editorialize that this is the abused and misunderstood aspects by senior managers in the USGS Water Resource Program. I know a few senior program managers and leaders, such as Bob Hirsch, understood and did wonderful jobs conveying the message to the public and the "troops", the hundreds of field office hydrologic technicians and hydrologist. They're terrific people doing a great job.

But very few senior district and regional managers understand. It's a significant part of the Water Resources Program, somewhere between a third and half for Districts, but the least appreciated despite the work and data of the field office effects the lives of millions of people everyday. Without the data, no one knows what the rivers are doing. Think about that and you'll understand how important the field office folks are to this nation.

[Note.--Whenever I got involved in conversations with scientists, especially those, and yes, snobby, investigation and research hydrologists and they touted the importance of their studies and reports on science and the understanding of the environment, I would always pick up an annual data report and tell them that this one volume, especially with the real-time data, is far more important in the lives of everybody because all the major decisions about rivers are made with this data. It effects everyone everyday. Something their science can't do.]

Anyway, all that said, my secret for my entire career was that I had this fear of falling in the river, and while I can swim, I hated the prospect of it. I've measured some big rivers, especially during high flows and floods, and waded many streams and creeks where I could have easily fallen in and be swept downstream. Most of the time it would have been easy to swim to the bank, but some would have been the end of me.

I don't know why and can't explain where it came from in my childhood, but I'm afraid of bodies of water. As I said I can swim, learned when I was 22 (yeah, 22), and have swam in small lakes, and got over this fear. I can swim to save my or someone else's life, I'm just don't feel safe.

While I loved making wading measurements, I always had the fear when it was possible - some creeks and streams are too small to fall in and drown - I would fall in and couldn't get out. It's why I never fell in during the hundreds of wading measurements I made and why I never fell in while wading during fly-fishing on some large(r) rivers. I always erred on the side of caution or ensured I had a good footing on the river bed

Well, most of the the time. There were more than enough times I easily could have been fallen over or in during wading measurements, but this deep seated fear drove me to stay upright in my chest waders. I always came out of the river dry. And sometimes after the work was done and it was the end of the day, I would get the fly rod and go back in since it was fishing season and those were good fishing rivers.

But I always hated the prospect of swimming. It's one of those go figures in a life.

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