Can you hear spring roaring? |

Can you hear spring roaring?

Alan Braunholtz

Spring nights are delicious to the senses. Warm breezes brush the skin, stars pop up all over the sky and a swirling blend of aromas teases the nose.

I swear I can hear fir trees sprouting soft springy needles. Each day the aspen groves spread their translucent fingers of soft green up into the hills and flowers that have slept patiently all winter release sweet heavy scents to entice the happily buzzing insects that bounce around.

Spring is when the earth comes alive again. Even in the most barren concrete cities, flowers push through unlikely cracks to be visited by butterflies from who knows where. Up here there is no escaping this change of seasons. The feeling of growth and a world reawakened is overpowering.

For me, one of the most exciting senses of spring is sound. Behind all the clicks of humming birds and other assorted tweets and rustles is a soft constant rumble of life giving water dripping, rolling, pouring, streaming, rushing and crashing downhill.

Spring run-off is here. That idyllic little stream you rock hop across is now a foamy silt laden torrent of death. Only the foolhardy and ignorant try to cross now. My dogs refuse to even dip their claws in it.

Moving water is one of the more powerful forces on earth. But because we’re used to water’s more gentle side as is rests silently in ponds, reservoirs and lakes, we forget. A moderate wave of water will knock down a house. Sustain that wave and you’ll destroy a whole town. Few bombs can match a wall of water for destructive power.

I find forces of nature a bigger thrill than anything man-made. Why bother with a V-8 when skiing allows you to plug in to the billions of cubic inches of earth’s gravity. Now that’s a big engine. White water rafting and kayaking lets you do the same with an extra kick. Instead of you moving over the ground, now the very ground is moving with you, under you and over you. It’s a chaotic rush.

Pulling out into a current of several thousand cubic feet per second (imagine basketballs as cubic feet) is an almost indescribable feeling of awe, excitement, fear, commitment and “oh well, what will be will be.” You are alone with the laws of physics, your skill and luck. It’s exhilarating and very humbling. The river kicks everyone’s butt sooner or later.

At the moment our late spring snows and warm nights are combining to produce the “biggest” water we’ve seen since 1996. The Vail Valley is blessed with access to numerous streams and rivers, all of which are thumping right now.

I can’t recommend enough to go out and borrow a thrill from these rivers. The local raft companies are itching to take people down the river.

In fact it is so fun right now, the guides are doing it just for kicks. You know it’s good when a raft full of seen-it-all guides passes by wide-eyed and grins ear to ear, “just training” and building up atrophied arm muscles. Big water requires big arms.

Big water is probably not going to be around for long, either short term or long term. Enjoy this thrill while you can. Short term, it depends on how quickly the snow pack is melting, and long term how many dams and diversions we build.

Pro “growth at all costs” forces regard every drop of water in a stream as wasted and under their “leadership,” we’ll build more and more dams to capture as much snowpack as possible.

While I understand that the thrills of a few water junkies are not that high on society’s list, there are a whole load of other recreational and environmental benefits of having water in streams. Personally, I’d rather we encouraged and regulated efficient water use before building new dams, but that’s not politically acceptable.

It’s a strange paradox with business that when they’re doing well or have what they want, then government should “get out of the way and stop regulating us to death.” When things go bad, or say a lack of foresight creates a situation where say they’ve built tons of houses without a water supply, then government “has to” step in with subsidies, tax breaks and expensive projects to bail them out.

Kudos to Eagle River Water and Sanitation District for their progressive new rate structure that makes extravagant water users pay disproportionately more. They’re the ones who’re going to create the need for new expensive dams and pipelines.

Anyway, for a big water spectacle check out the Teva Mountain Games next weekend. Teams of professional rafters and kayakers will be battling it out head to head down Dowd Chutes in possibly the highest water ever for the competition.

At these flows, this is the real deal, so expect thrills and heart-in-the-mouth carnage, as rescuers can only do so much to help swimmers. There is already one cross silently overlooking the Chute as a sobering reminder of this.At the very least, this race provides ample illustration as to why rafting kits from Wal-Mart or do-it-yourself tubing adventures are not that good an idea at these flows. If you want to play in the water now, find someone you’re sure knows not only what they’re doing but also likes you. Or pay a professional for a kayak lesson or raft trip.

As the ad says, some things can be priceless. Knowledge is one of them, big water another, and they mix really well.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.

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