Watches, Environmentalism, and The Ungalmorous SCUBA Dives of Mission Lake George

Mission Lake George was sponsored by Oris.

This essay was read aloud on Episode 43 of Beyond The Dial.

SCUBA diving in freshwater is not terribly glamorous, especially when compared to saltwater diving. Freshwater is often murky, and “poor vis” can render recreational diving pointless. The water is also usually cold, with even the smallest lakes holding temperatures below 50F/10C at diving depths all summer long. Freshwater fish are about as colorful and interesting as rodents. Behold the Large Mouth Bass: brown, drab green, black and not very big. Behold the Rainbow Trout: a weak watercolor wash of pink and yellow under brown freckles that give way to a pale underbelly; the name ‘rainbow’ wholly overstates the case.

Freshwater plants are similarly monochromatic and, thus, create indistinct lawns and brambles. The taller plants are often coated with slime algae, yet they easily tangle themselves around your arms, legs, and neck. ‘Seaweed’ is, alas, perhaps an apt moniker for freshwater plants, especially in Northern climes. Even the literary and cultural mystique of freshwater bodies holds a lowly status compared to saltwater. No one – not even a Great Lakes native – has ever concocted a phrase like “as vast as a lake” or a sentence like “he would have crossed the lake to be with her.” All this to say that SCUBA diving freshwater for recreation is, for an array of reasons, a somewhat dreary proposition.

However, if one supplants the common recreational aims of SCUBA diving with different aims, freshwater presents some intriguing opportunities. As I personally began to lean toward diving with a purpose beyond recreation, freshwater diving didn’t occur to me. Like so many SCUBA divers, I was unthinkingly drawn to warm, salty waters with their technicolor ecosystems and full-blown maritime mystique. It was my friend and colleague, Greg Bredosian, who suggested that I dive Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains in Northern NY State, a proposition that appealed quite strongly as the COVID-19 pandemic and particularly nasty tropical storms this Fall had restricted travel to those warm, salty waters I love so much. I live only a couple hours’ drive from Lake George, and Lake George is widely considered the most beautiful freshwater body in America – at least when seen from above the surface.

Thomas Jefferson summed up Lake George beautifully when writing to his daughter on May 31, 1791. The founding father wrote: “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin…finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves…down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony.” What an eloquent and aesthetically sensitive President he was. I doubt Thomas Jefferson snorkeled, however, and I wonder what he might have thought of the submarine world of Lake George. We can assume that the water quality in 1791 was, by today’s standards, relatively unaltered by human activity, and I’m sure Jefferson’s topside peering was through crystal clear water. But in the subsequent two centuries, human activity has turned Lake George into a seasonally dense tourist destination replete with powerboat traffic jams, beer chugging flotillas, septic runoff, and the bevvy of human behaviors that have come to define a distinctly American sense of entitlement toward our natural resources. Despite all that, Lake George holds a AA rating for water purity, which is the highest level for any freshwater body, but it’s far from its original state of natural cleanliness that Jefferson witnessed.

Image: Greg Bedrosian

The human behavior that has altered the delicate ecological balance of Lake George – as well as countless other freshwater bodies in the United States – can be summed up as recreational behavior. Yes, as part of our national and state park systems, we protect these freshwater bodies from agriculture, industry, and commerce as much as possible, but there’s no stopping the human impact on these ecosystems when countless vacationers descend the various inroads to Lake George, set up camp, and start partying American-style. Diving Lake George revealed one repeated kind of litter: beer cans and those ubiquitous, red plastic cups used at keg parties. There was quite a bit of fishing tackle stuck in the aquatic plants or on rocks, but mostly the litter was beer containers, and lots of them. Indeed, open alcohol containers are not allowed while boating on Lake George, thus this litter is emblematic of human disregard for best practices toward our natural treasures, not to mention boater safety. But, thankfully, these empty beer containers do not possess the destructive powers of other brutes like invasive species which have – also due to both lax attitudes and/or ignorance – found their way into Lake George. A discarded Budweiser bottle can not multiply, nor does it consume sunlight and carbon dioxide, but invasive plants do both, and some invasive species have been starving native species and threatening biodiversity in the lake. Even the slightest change to an ecosystem can throw the whole thing out of whack, and the impact of an invasive plant species is far from slight.

A milfoil sprig among beer containers.

I often make the mistake of believing that it’s relatively obvious at this point in history that ecosystems work on very delicate balances of living species and the resources they need to thrive. Unfortunately, that seemingly obvious ecological fact is constantly eroded in our culture through propaganda that promotes the notion that environmentalists use ecological science to hamper free-enterprise Capitalism, that we Liberals are fronting as lovers of nature to cover our hatred for The American Way. This sense of entitlement toward total Capitalist freedom isn’t new. Our philosophically-minded Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson included – voraciously devoured French Enlightenment philosophy, and they borrowed laissez faire economic ideas and permanently inked them into our founding documents. Ever since, regulating any business enterprise in the United States has been at best difficult and at worst deemed un-American, Communist, Anarchist, or whatever the deregulationists are calling their bad guys these days. What American Capitalists seem to willingly disregard is that our Founding Fathers were doing their philosophizing and policy-setting prior to the Industrial Revolution, prior to the 20th Century’s human population boom, prior to the more recent crescendo of human impacts on our blue-green planet, and prior to the sophisticated environmental scientific methods we have today. For the deregulationists, time seems to have stopped somewhere around 1791.

Perhaps with a degree of irony, one of the most sophisticated freshwater monitoring efforts in the world is named The Jefferson Project, and it has operated in Lake George since 2014. Backed by IBM in conjunction with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Fund for Lake George, The Jefferson Project collects data from the lake using depth sensors that monitor currents, pH, salinity, and other relevant data. This has led to Lake George being called the smartest lake in the world. Lake George is also the cleanest freshwater lake in the United States, which suggests that its ecosystem is in good health, but that’s most certainly not the case. Water temperatures have risen nearly 3-degrees in the past thirty years, and while that may not make any measurable difference when deciding to launch a beer-induced human cannon-ball into the water from one of the lake’s many jumpable cliffs, 3-degrees is enough to drastically reshape such a delicate freshwater ecosystem. Is global warming to blame for the increased water temperatures? I can’t find a solid answer to that question, and would prefer to side-step such vast and vague arguments and instead focus on the fact that, yes, indeed, Lake George is indisputably warmer now that it was just three decades ago. This data is backed by IBM, a company I presume is not in favor of restricting free market Capitalism, so maybe we can remove politics from the equation for just a brief moment and accept that, yes, and in fact, Lake George is experiencing changes on a scale that are drastically changing its ecological balance.

Allen confirms Milfoil ID with Dave Wick (Photo: Greg Bedrosian)

What The Jefferson Project’s probes can’t do, however, is track the growth of invasive plant species in Lake George. That task comes down to human eyes behind diving masks on weekly snorkeling outings hosted by The Lake George Park Commission in conjunction with The Lake George Association. Dave Wick, director of The Lake George Park Commission for the past 8 years, is a career environmentalist who loves being in the water and under the sun. According to one of his employees, Dave holds a photographic memory’s worth of information about the advances that the invasive species Eurasian Milfoil has made into the hundreds of small bays of Lake George, and this human database was in evidence as Dave drove our three-person team the nearly 18 miles North on Lake George to dive Blair’s Bay, where a particularly tenacious outbreak of Eurasian Milfoil had established itself. It seemed that we could have pointed to any of the 178 small islands, the myriad stone outcroppings, or the endless small bays, and Dave would have named it, unfolded its historical significance, and described its environmental status in great detail.

Before anyone on the sidelines turns green with envy over Dave Wick’s outdoorsy job, it may be wise to consider the emotional constitution required to face an endless stream of tourists, many neglectful and ignorant of conservation whatsoever, the ardent objections to conservation efforts from area home and business owners who often perceive changes to environmental policy as a threat to their financial wealth, and the never ending political advocacy required to maintain adequate funding when up against private-interest lobbies the state’s capital in nearby Albany. Obviously the man spends some time behind a desk doing difficult indoorsy things.

Our research vessel on Day 2 of Mission Lake George.

As Dave explained, his email inbox is full of concerns from all sides, much of these concerns based on misinformation about and/or misunderstandings of freshwater ecological dynamics. And it was obvious if not explicitly stated that the new phenomenon of alternative facts has posed tangible threats to The Lake George Park Commission’s environmental conservation efforts. None of this is to suggest that Dave and his team have failed in their mission – to the contrary – but his day out with us on the lake and his weekly snorkeling outings are surely the exception to a job that requires constant muscling through an ever-thickening bureaucratic quagmire and the endless interpersonal snarls of serving his public. I for one lack the emotional armour required to incessantly face resistance to conserving a national treasure like Lake George. Dave’s nonchalance and humor about those who would counter his career objectives in environmentalism are familiar to me, especially among the Native American environmentalists I used to hang with. Levity is sometimes all that can maintain the delicate balance between hope and despair that pervades the psychology of any environmentalist.

Hope and despair have always come tightly bundled together for me when it comes to environmentalism. Hope gains the upper hand when I put my head down and do actual environmental work around a very specific location, and despair mounts when I consider the bigger picture of our fast-changing global environment. The specific, local work I’ve done has ranged from protesting corrupt nuclear waste management companies in Western NY to picking up trash along the Niagara River and, now, SCUBA diving to document the invasive species Eurasian Milfoil on Lake George. Despair gets the upper hand when I look too broadly because I struggle to find pathways for direct action. I’ve scribed letters to politicians, and so on, but at too big of a scale I feel I’m yelling into a void. Thank goodness we have people like Gretta Thunberg to capture a wider audience concerned with wider environmental topics. Alas, for me, it is only when in direct action locally that I’ve felt truly hopeful.

Shelley above a Eurasian Milfoil bed we discovered.

I’ve come to believe that those who – despite scientific evidence of broad-scale human-generated climate impact – deny broader trends like climate change are, somewhat like me, unwilling to relinquish their hope for the future and take on the inherent despair of facing the facts. Maybe it’s just too much bad news to swallow all at once. I get that entirely, and I’ve even seen shades of the same in myself and across the faces of environmentalists on the Left – especially from new parents who seem to require optimism and hope.

What does seem different between the Left and the Right is that, generally speaking, Left-leaners aren’t typically influenced by religious faith. It seems that the Christian climate change deniers in the US are often siding with their faith that God has a plan for planet Earth that humans are powerless to alter. What’s denied is that we humans have the power to make a difference, and that because we lack that power, we didn’t create the problem in the first place. What baffles me is why Christian deniers don’t assign environmental devastation to Satan himself, which makes so much more sense to me than assigning all this bad news to a presumably benevolent God. This notion of blaming Satan holds up Biblically, I’m pretty sure, because wasn’t Satan the one who tempted humans to sin and thus ruin the Garden of Eden? If we’re going to turn to Christianity (as Americans are so wont to do when it comes to understanding the world and forming political policies), then why not blame the soiling of The Garden of Eden as the work of humans under the influence of Satan? 

Shallow. cold, low-vis diving. Shelley hovers above a field of algae-covered Eurasian Milfoil.

I’m afraid the answer to that question may be that powerful business lobbies are constantly issuing deregulationist propaganda via social media: a classic case of big business influencing American voters, now with the laser accuracy of AI algorithms that point big data back at us in attempts to change our behavior. Indeed, blaming Satan would suggest we should stop hurting the planet, that we take responsibility, that we fight our urge to sin against our own planet. Blaming climate change on God’s Great Plan suggests that we just “let go and let God,” and I can’t see the responsibility taken via that position. All this to say that I’ve come to feel compassion for Christian climate change deniers, because my own despair over broad-reaching human-generated environmental disasters requires psychological armor that looks something like denial, too. Said differently, I can only seem to be truly rational and able to feel hope around very specific local environmental concerns. In this way, for better or worse, I’ve come to think of myself as a regionalist of sorts.

Shelley & Allen, before diving.

Perhaps what unites the Right and the Left in the USA around environmental issues is a shared love of the outdoors. More specifically, a shared love of being outdoors and doing outdoorsy stuff. For the Left, it seems to me that being outdoors typically means camping and hiking and paddling around and just taking it all in. For the Right, it seems to me that being outdoors often includes hunting and fishing which, in turn, require camping and hiking and paddling around and taking it all in. I live a few miles from a very tony hunting club, one where Dick Chenny hunts pheasants (but not the place where he accidentally shot his buddy). Trust me when I say that this place does not represent my ilk, nor can I afford the six-figure membership fees, but the dirt road running through their 3000+ acres of gorgeous hills in the Clove Valley where I live is public, so I regularly ride my motorcycle through these beautifully conserved woods and find myself wondering where the Left’s 3000+ acres of conserved land might be. I really appreciate what the Right has done for these very specific woods which would have by now, surely, been converted into another crop of needlessly large and energy-hungry McMansions. I once stopped at the side of Clove Valley Road and plucked the tail feathers out of a pheasant that had been hit by a car. Those tail feathers sit in a vase in my office as a reminder of my silent alliance with the Right, as if the act of plucking these feathers were some rite of passage for this former vegan who still clings to the American Left. But I’m learning that admitting that the other side has gotten some things right can also convert a measure of my despair into hope.

It seems possible to me to bring the Right and Left together around a specific local conservation effort, because those on both sides will agree – for slightly different reasons – that, say, a clean local river full of healthy trout is a good thing. But both sides will have to agree to put aside the broad reaching hot topics that they disagree on – basically the veracity of climate science – because these debates have squelched any hint that these two sides may share regional concerns that might call for identical environmental policies. At least on the local level. This notion of mutual regional concerns points to, and feeds on, my tendency to favor political decentralization – or regionalism – a tendency that has always clashed with the rest of my mostly-Lefty Liberal thinking. It has even prompted Lefty cohorts to call me a Libertarian, the inherent scoff unveiled and pointed as they lump me in with those whacko Libertarians on the Right.

Oris Divers 65s: L: 40mm, R: 36mm

In fact, my regionalism resembles the politics of none other than the Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow, who in the 1970s was the President of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Chairman of his county’s Republican Party, and head of Dick Cheney’s successful campaign for a Senate Seat in 1978. When it came to environmental conservation in Wyoming – about which both Barlow and Cheney were passionate and outspoken – their shared motto was “Wyoming knows what’s best for Wyoming.” While I actually agree that regional knowledge and insight are best when it comes to devising conservation strategies as well as policy, it was really the mutuality these otherwise drastically different dudes were able to find and put into action that blew my mind. I can’t see the downside of promoting such mutuality, other than that it seems to call for the aforementioned settling aside of debates over climate change itself. I used to think setting aside larger topics like that was an intolerable misstep, but that was a younger, more strident me. Now I believe that people can disagree on massive topics and still come together for the common good on a regional level. Maybe it’s the inherent, if slight, boost of hope that comes from direct action that allows people to attenuate the shrillness of their broader despair and/or denial just long enough to find common ground right under their noses. For the record, however, Barlow completely renounced Cheney when the latter became Vice President, largely because Cheney was, under Bush, no longer a force for good in Barlow’s eyes, largely because Cheney’s political reach had grown too huge. But for a moment, two seemingly disparate worlds – that of the hippies and that of the Republican party of the 1970s – were aligned in one sparsely populated ranching state. Their alliance still fascinates me, and points to how aligned regional concerns can dislodge crippling wedges and free people to work together to get shit done.

A Trump boat parade on Lake George.

The number of Trump flags on the docks and boathouses along Lake George was shocking. We probably saw 25, 30, maybe 50 Trump flags over two days, and exactly one relatively small Biden flag. Trump has rolled back environmental conservation efforts on an unimaginable scale, and his supporters most surely believe that Americans are entitled to do whatever the fuck they want, especially when it comes to making money. There’s that old laissez faire Enlightenment thinking again, so easily conjured up out of our founding documents and twisted into justifications for swiftly rolling back hard-won conservation policies. These ideological wedges between people seem so obvious and simple on the surface, but at their root these are deep philosophical disagreements: contending paradigms, if you will. With the anti-intellectualism that’s so in vogue right now, it’s pretty much impossible to get anywhere near the philosophical underpinnings of what divides Americans on environmental conservation. And I’m not convinced that Americans are going to get back to being philosophers anytime soon. We’re going to have to find other ways to dislodge the wedges that divide us and threaten our environment.

Shelley navigating the murky waters with her compass and depth gauge.

While diving for Mission Lake George over two days in late September 2020, we were not only getting a fine-grained look at Eurasian Milfoil as it knitted its way through the diversity of plants in the soft, fertile bottom of Lake George; we were also a presence on the lake. Our flat 26’ boat with its dive flag waving in the crisp autumn breeze, two divers decked out in neoprene, tanks, masks and fins, the Lake George Park Commission logo writ large on the hull – all of this piqued curiosity from weekenders on their decks, on their boats, or camping on a tiny island. Repeatedly asked what we were up to, we told everyone that we were studying Eurasian Milfoil, and everyone knew exactly what it was and why it was important to remove it from Lake George. The more savvy property owners seemed to understand that the quality of the lake’s ecosystem was related to their property values, while others seemed to have simply bought into what is now a common understanding of invasive species. Twenty years ago, I’m pretty sure the idea of an invasive species was relatively foreign to most Americans, but the phrase has become commonplace, and thus a kind of linguistic force for bringing people together. Sure, climate science is hotly debated, but these horrible weeds which have no business on this continent, let alone in Lake George, are universally regarded as bad. Again, it’s the specificity of the location, and it’s also the tangible nature of the threat that unites people. Everyone adores Lake George; they raise their children on Lake George; they build memories and houses there; they get married on Lake George; and gift shops are full of small ways to fetishize Lake George into something one can feel belongs to them. An invasive species hurting this beloved body of water – hell, that sounds like an alien attack straight out of science fiction, and in the more hopeful sci-fi fantasies, alien attacks usually unite Earthlings against a common enemy.

Image: Greg Bedrosian

The reason everyone on the lake seems to know about Eurasian Milfoil is that Dave and his agency have initiated a boat inspection program. Every boat coming into and out of Lake George is inspected by humans for signs of any invasive species getting in or getting out. If your boat is leaving Lake George clean, you’ll get a sticker strategically placed so that if you were to launch your boat elsewhere the sticker would be broken (think of the seal on a jar, for example). If you return with that sticker intact, you can launch with a cursory inspection. If you don’t have a sticker, or that sticker has been broken, then your boat will undergo a thorough inspection. Hundreds of boats go in and out of Lake George through the many launch sites along the 32-mile lake, and at peak season there are easily over 1000 recreational boats coming in and out of the lake each day. The boat inspection program has had the secondary impact of being an incredibly effective consciousness raising program around invasive species. Every boater knows Eurasian Milfoil is a problem, and everyone must comply. Whenever I mentioned what we SUCBA divers were up to inspecting bays for Eurasian Milfoil outbreaks, people nodded in understanding. In two cases people thanked us for helping out, but most people remarked on the autumnal water temperatures and wished us warmth, turning the conversation toward the safe, idle chit-chat of lake people.

Shelley warming up and resting between dives.

I was surprised to find myself drawing on the book The Shipwreck Hunter: A Lifetime of Extraordinary Discoveries on the Ocean Floor by Dave Mearns in our shallow freshwater dive strategies. Mearns, a renown ocean explorer, uses sonar to scan the ocean floor for wrecks at great depths, but it was his method of “mowing the lawn” – scanning back and forth across the floor in adjacent strips – that came up for me in 6’ of murky water in the bays of Lake George. Because visibility was poor, Shelley and I had to stick close together on our dives, or we would lose each other. I lost Shelley a couple of times, and we would surface and descend again together. It was safe to do so because we were not diving all that deep – around 30’ maximum during our bay dives for Eurasian Milfoil – so the bends were not an issue. Shelley was our navigator, using her compass and depth gauge to set and hold our headings, and we eventually started “mowing the lawn.” To document what we found, we would surface and tell the crew on the boat what we were seeing, and they would make notes and take photos of homes and docks along the shore as coordinates for relocating the outbreaks. I was also shooting still images and video underwater, flashing my fingers in front of the lens to indicate the depth at which we found new patches of Eurasian Milfoil.


What surprised us – largely because we were unfamiliar with the way Eurasian Milfoil spreads – was how much of it was woven in between other plants and how that scenario camouflaged this innocent-looking invasive species. At one point we swam for nearly 100 yards at around 8’ of depth and saw small, young milfoil sprigs taking root roughly every 5’ or so. There’s no way a snorkeler would be able to see this, as I needed to have my face just inches from the bottom to really see what was milfoil and what was not. At even 3’ above the bottom, it was easy to miss these aspiring young sprigs, and I soon learned to hold my camera at clam’s-eye-view, scanning the shorter lawns of varied aquatic plants for the invasive sprigs. Sadly, the milfoil had taken root in far larger areas than the snorkelers were able to determine, and we could see how these little ambitious sprigs could soon choke out the plants around them to become monolithic fields devoid of the local species that make up the Lake George’s original ecosystem. It’s much easier to see fully formed monolithic fields of milfoil when snorkeling, even from the deck of a boat, and removal efforts have pulled up over 20 tons of Eruasian Milfoil from Lake George in 2020 alone. Imagine 20 elephants worth of this lacy, nearly weightless plant. Having seen the more sporadic bright green sprigs woven into the native diversity of plants, it wasn’t that hard to imagine how those monolithic fields of Eurasian Milfoil came to be. So, sadly, we kept surfacing with bad news. But this bad news was good information – good enough to have Dave Wick announcing straight away that his agency was going to have to alter removal plans: reallocating budgets, shifting priorities, considering new methods.

Eurasian milfoil among native plans in Lake Geroge.

At this point, removing Eurasian Milfoil in Lake George is all about vacuuming it up onto boat-mounted water tables. Picture draining spaghetti in your colander, and you’ve got the idea of how this method works. There were three of these suction boats at the marina from which we departed each day, and they were about the most utilitarian looking water craft I’ve seen outside of dredging barges. Long black vacuum tubes laid on deck and 7mm wetsuits hung over the rails to dry. On all three boats, large inscriptions reading “Invasive Species Removal” lent their visages to the secondary task of raising consciousness about invasive species on Lake George. Like most reminders of environmental conservation, these boats illicited hope and despair in equal measure as they reminded us both of the sisyphean nature of the task at hand but also of the great human effort going into that task. As I’ve argued from the get-go here, this is not very glamorous diving, but it is substantive in ways that beautiful and warm recreational saltwater diving is not. Greg Bredosian’s brother told Greg: “You know it’s environmentalism when it feels like work,” and I’ve come to see this phrase as a kind of guiding principle. Certainly removing the milfoil with these vacuum boats is work, and so were our cold, low-vis dives to identify the stuff.

Though it was drudgery, that unglamorous work did spark in me a sense of adventure unlike anything I’ve experienced when diving in saltwater, even while diving the Great Blue Hole with abundant sharks, or solo diving my first shipwreck off Bonaire in the West Caribbean, or entering pitch-black tunnels off the East End of Grand Cayman, or even when having my regulator malfunction at 75’ and having to go through the whole “share air” distress signals in Belize so that I could breathe safely without risking the bends. None of those recreational saltwater experiences could match the sense of purpose and – I’m realizing in the aftermath – pride that I felt when diving in 6’ of murky freshwater with my camera looking for what is essentially a nasty weed. I was certainly reminded of my childhood freshwater explorations as a kid on Lake Erie, something I did alone and constantly through the 1970s and early 80s playing Adventure People with my Timex Boy’s Dive Watch, a styrofoam boat, and a crappy snorkeling rig we bought at a hardware store in Ridgeway, Ontario. There’s something about freshwater plants, submerged logs and freshwater fish that feels like home to me, and that feeling seems to ignite my inner child’s imagination. But beyond that, it was the transformation of my gear – my regulator, my buoyancy vest, my mask and flippers and lead weights, my camera rig, and, of course, my watch – into research equipment that really ignited my sense of adventure and purpose. I bought this camera rig in Bonaire so that I could photograph Rolex and Blancpain dive watches for magazines who would turn these stories into eye candy for the watchfam. But turning that camera rig away from glamorous watches in glamorous locations and toward the murky bottom of Lake George transformed not only the use, but also the meaning, of the camera rig and all of my gear. This was especially true of the Oris Divers 65 40mm watch I was wearing.

Legible – like a road sign.

My dive computer is an excellent device, but there are two distinct problems with it: 1) over a 7mm wetsuit which compresses at depth, my dive computer is always moving around to the far side of my wrist so I can hardly read it without dropping the camera and using my other hand to pull it into view, and 2) my computer’s oldschool LCD screen is not all that legible, even with its backlight on. Again and again while diving I’ve found that I can so much more easily refer to whatever mechanical dive watch I’m wearing for a quick peek at my dive time, and then I use my analog depth and air gauges to get a sense of where I’m at in my dive. I won’t pretend to be calculating decompression stops in my head, but when diving as shallowly as we were in Lake George deco-stops are irrelevant anyways. What I did find myself doing is monitoring how long we had been diving so that we didn’t overextend our time in the cold water and so that we didn’t spend too much time in one bay. With that said, our first dive in Blair’s Bay – when we were fresh, ambitious, and excited to be diving – lasted an hour and ten minutes. That’s a long dive in any water, but in cold water without dry suits it’s exceptionally long. However, by following the trail of Milfoil sprigs leading out of the huge dense monolithic field at the center of Blair’s Bay, we ended up finding a massive outbreak of the stuff along the Southern edge of the bay, out near the point extending into the lake proper. It was this outbreak that had Dave Wick saying he would alter his agency’s removal strategies. Again, bad news can be good info, and we were chuffed to be delivering the latter if not the former.

Jerry Garcia with a “terrapin.”

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was an avid SCUBA diver, and he once said that it was the only real exercise he got because he was so distracted by the beauty around him that he didn’t realize he was kicking his ass off the whole time. It’s an apt insight, one that can explain the length of our first dive; we were simply way too engaged in the work to realize that we were getting a hell of a work out. Stepping onto the ladder of the boat and experiencing gravity with all that weight attached for the first time in over an hour was a swift reminder that we were kicking big fins that whole time. It became clear to me that we needed to do shorter dives, and that if the minute hand on that Oris watch even approached making a full trip around the dial, we needed to get out and rest.

There’s something very immediate and palpable about looking at the minute hand on the bezel timer when compared to wrestling my dive computer into view to read digital numbers. With the dive watch you’re seeing a spatial representation of your dive time; on a computer you’re just seeing abstract squiggles called numbers. Maybe it’s just me, the visual learner who grew up in the analog era, who grasps what the analog watch is saying so easily, but I have a suspicion there’s something more elemental going on here in terms of interface design. It’s not like road signs say, “veer to the left.” No, road signs have an arrow pointing left, so that you can just glance for an instant and then get your eyes straight back onto driving. I’d liken the dive watch interface to the arrow, and the dive computer to the explanation. Analog dive watches are faster to read, less taxing on the mind, and ultimately may be safer than dive computers in situations where one’s attention is paramount. Not to mention I’m probably due for a prescription reading lens in my diving mask. The Oris Divers 65s we dove with were perfectly legible in the murkiest of waters, even with my challenged eyesight, and we appreciated the watch’s impressive low profile when bannging around topsides in all that gear. Of course, these watches look the business over dinner as well, which is, in the end, a rather glamorous way to have ended what were exhausting days working the murky bottom of Lake George.

To support Beyond The Dial’s end of the work for Mission Lake George, Oris has donated two watches that we will auction off this fall. Those are the very same exact watches that Shelley and I dove in. I wore the 40mm Green Dial with a date and bronze bezel, while Shelley wore the 36mm Blue Dial with no date in all steel.