As I unpacked from our trip to Bonaire, I thought about what it is that keeps me coming back to the ocean. Sure, it’s beautiful and relaxing, but for me it’s something more. It’s feeling connected to life on earth in a deeper way than I feel connected on land alone. I do feel connected to the earth on land. It’s part of the reason I make a point to try and exercise outside in the morning before work. Whether I see deer or a hawk, or revel in the layers of sound – insects, then birds, then leaves rustling, maybe squirrels or deer crashing through the ravine – I feel spiritually connected to other life. But I feel this in a deeper way, coming full circle, underwater. I know the boys have tired of diving and it has a “been there, done that” feel to it for them. But for me, it never gets old.
I am reading Mary Oliver’s book of essays Upstream. I love her poetry for its attachment to nature and its recognition of solitude, loneliness and our fleeting lives. She begins by writing about a time she wandered away from her family, upstream in the water.
“My heart opened, and opened again. The water pushed against my effort, then its glassy permission to step ahead touched my ankles. The sense of going toward the source. I do not think that I ever, in fact, returned home.”
She went on to write about the connectedness of all things:
” Do you think there is anything not attached by its unbreakable cord to everything else… Understand this from the first certainty. Butterflies don’t write books, neither do lilies or violets. Which doesn’t mean they don’t know, in their own way, what they are. That they don’t know they are alive – that they don’t feel, that action upon which all consciousness sits, lightly or heavily. Humility is the prize of the leaf-world. Vainglory is the bane of us, the humans.”
Being in the ocean, especially diving and snorkeling, make me feel connected to the full circle of life. Huge corals larger than me make up the forest of the ocean. I regularly contemplate the relationship between fish and birds when I watch the different ways fish move underwater. Those grey parrotfish look an awful lot like African grey parrots. Fish have their own personalities. Some are shy and scatter quickly, darting by like blue tang. Other shy ones recede into a closed space and look out at you, like the porcupine fish that hung out under the ledge in front of our condo. Some, like all manner of parrotfish, ignore you completely. My favorites are the Odd Shaped Swimmers from the Reef Fish guide to Florida and the Caribbean. The filefish who are a little shy but will let you regard them from a distance. The honeycomb cowfish with its weeble-wobble body gliding around. The trumpetfish who regard you with curiosity from a safe distance. One followed us off and on for the second half of our dive after I recorded it hunting, suspended vertically in the water like an exclamation point. I love to be in the middle of a school of fish, thinking “Where are we going, friends?”
Our dive gear is still laying out to dry on the basement floor. I should put it away but I don’t want it to be over. I know there will be a next time, but I don’t know where or when. This year I decided that I am not too old to put stickers on my computer like the young folks. I saw one that says “I’m only here for my surface interval,” the period of time a diver has to spend out of the water to rest and let nitrogen escape from their tissues. It gave me a good attitude – when I am not having a good day or feeling discouraged by the state of our school, our city, our country, the world, I remember that I am just on my surface interval and I’ll be back underwater when it’s over.