With winter now fully upon us, I think about places like this lake. This particular one sits just below 11,000ft in an oft-overlooked little side canyon of a high mountain drainage. You hike in over 11K and then drop back down the trail, before finally leaving the path altogether and making your way up the basin.
When I visited, it was early summer and the snow had just melted a few weeks prior. It was full of life—full of new wildflowers, grasses, and the brightest shades of green imaginable. I wonder what it looks like now? I’ve never been there in the winter, but I have been to enough high country lakes in the winter to know it’s quite white, covered in several feet of snow, and quiet.
What do the fish do all winter? The ice starts to form in October, and by late November it’s all frozen over. Yet underneath that thickening layer of solid ice is a whole world of aquatic life. They’re still down there, but just cut off from the rest of the world. What’s brewing down there? How do they spend their days?
Here’s the thing—they survive down there all winter. When the spring comes and the ice melts, they’re eager for new food and oxygen, but they usually survive. Unless of course, they don’t. If they’re kept under the ice for too long, they can run out of vital life ingredients (again, food and O2) and they can die. I’ve visited several lakes in the late spring after ice off, only to find the shore or lake bottom to be littered with decaying fish corpses.
I think about that lake, about everything there that’s below the surface. I think about how far away it can seem, yet how it can only be a few inches away. I think about how I can remember to see beyond the surface, to recognize that there’s a lot going on under the surface, and I think about the fish, their survival, and how to survive, they’re going to need air, and just when they do, the sun takes care of that problem.