If you live in the northeast portion of the U.S., you know how warm and sunny it has been lately. Yeah, not very. Apparently we haven’t had three days in a row with sun and warmth in quite some time. Anyway, this cool rainy weather delineates the greatest difference between myself and my research partner, Alison. I don’t really get cold, and am regularly harassed by family and friends alike for my lack of concern about exposure and hypothermia. What temperature is it? Add 15 degrees Fahrenheit and that’s a good correction factor for me. 60°F water is warm. Of course, when the air temp gets above 85°F, I get uncomfortable. Last summer, when we had multiple days in the high 90s and I was out on the mudflats looking for juvenile horseshoe crabs, I almost passed out a couple times.
I have a theory about my cold tolerance, and perhaps it is completely false and is something I’ve created to explain why I am so anomalous. Regardless, I believe there is a distinct difference between feeling cold and being cold. When you feel cold, you are sensing the cold on your skin, a thin refrigerated layer from immersing in truly frigid water. When you are cold, the cold becomes part of you, and you shiver and clench your jaw. I can feel the cold, but it rarely becomes a part of me.
The cold does become part of Alison. She is waiting for the 80–90°F days. The other day the air was in the upper 50s with a strong wind off the water, which was 62°F and quite choppy and cloudy. I was wearing Teva sandals, a bathing suit, and a T-shirt. Alison was in wetsuit booties, a full wetsuit, and a fleece hat. I think we represented the extremes in dressing inappropriately for the weather.
One of the characteristics of Pleasant Bay that earns it its name, aside from the clarity of the water and abundance of wildlife, is its temperature. The bathymetry of the bay is relatively consistent — wide and shallow. This causes the water to visibly creep across the mudflats as the tide comes in, and when the tide is out the edge of the water in some locations is so distant that it seems to be a mirage. Shallow water also heats faster, so when the water temperatures in Nantucket Sound are in the low 60s, it is possible to have water temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s in the bay if the sun is out. If the wind is blowing, you’ll stay warmer by keeping as much of your body underwater as possible. It’s not really deep enough for proper swimming. I have created a peculiar gait that resembles speed-skating, leaning forward and pushing off the bottom that allows me to stay submerged and out of the wind. Soon, summer will actually arrive, and I’ll still be trying to stay in the water as much as possible, except that I’ll be trying to escape the heat. Everyone else will most likely be basking in it.