Seated in the boat like passengers in a bus, we peered into the long box on the floor in front of us. The image required tuning, or rather our eyes needed time to tune themselves to the shaded green image. A glass-bottom boat on an algae-free, spring-fed lake is a low-tech simulation of high-def television. Even before we climbed aboard, we observed a spotted gar trolling the lush, swaying greenery at the bottom of Spring Lake, the headwaters of the San Marcos River. In the surrounding oaks we saw Carolina wrens, grackles, Northern mockingbirds and a red-shouldered hawk.
The river, lake and their source, the Edwards aquifer, are home to eight species judged endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department – the Texas blind salamander, fountain darter, Comal Springs riffle beetle, Comal Springs dyropid beetle, Peck’s cave amphipod, San Marcos gambusia, the San Marcos salamander and Texas wild-rice. The last is found only in the upper two miles of the San Marcos River.
Through the glass we saw small- and large-mouth bass, and perch, but not the fresh-water eel we had been hoping for. We saw the white limestone silt on the bottom bubbling like pudding on the stove where the lake is fed by low-pressure springs. We saw the wire grid left by archaeologists who, in the nineteen-seventies, recovered some 10,000 artifacts left by the Clovis people more than one hundred centuries ago. A fat bass flexed his mouth, waggled his gill and appeared to sneeze. All the fish ignored our intrusion. We could peer into their world but not enter it. Perhaps it was my conversation the previous day with Roger Boylan that reminded me of a passage in Transparent Things (1972):
“A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter, and whoever wishes to remain in the now, with the now, on the now, should please not break its tension film. Otherwise the inexperienced miracle worker will find himself no longer walking on water but descending upright among staring fish.”