I’m a newbie diver still wet behind the ears and not in a good way. As a landlocked Hoosier, it was always on my to-do list to get certified, but actually making it happen kept falling by the wayside as college, tedious desk jobs, mortgages and children with poopy diapers interfered with those grand plans. And it didn’t help that I see more corn than coral on any given day. Plus, as a
Midwestern middle-aged mother, it seemed almost selfish to want to take up a new hobby that would take me hundreds of miles away from my children.
But then they became teenagers and, guess what? I got over it.
It’s not that I was unaware just how thrilling diving could be all those years. My brother Andy was a rescue diver with the Indiana State Police, and he regaled us with amazing tales of floating in near complete darkness at the bottom of a Hoosier reservoir only to have a large catfish run headfirst into his chest, momentarily dislodging his regulator. And my brother-in-law Steve – a highly experienced master diver – had wonderful stories to share about his exploits in the ocean, from hiding behind a large fan coral while watching a huge barracuda at night
to getting seriously crapped on by a whale shark off the coast of Mexico. It was, he said, as if a dump truck had unloaded a giant pile of dirt on him all at once and it became for me a bucket list item.
In short, I knew it was cool.
So in the summer of 2006, fresh off the heels of turning 40, earning an MBA and still reeling from burying my brother Andy after he lost his life in the line of duty some years before, I decided it was time to make the adventure happen. What better way to celebrate his life and my hard work than with an open water diver certification?
Still, getting certified in Indiana is rather lame as adventures go. Diving in Indiana involves check out dives in relatively tame gravel quarries with nary a current or wave to be seen or felt. The greatest challenge is braving the thermacline cold and the greatest danger is that of getting hooked by an overanxious angler who thinks those funny bubbles popping on the surface are from a record breaking snapper turtle.
So when I actually set off on my first ocean dive, I was feeling like a fish out of water. Sure, I knew I was in good hands. And I knew it would be a
challenging, liberating experience that I would remember for the rest of my life. And I was grinning from ear to ear despite the nerves. But, little did I realize just HOW memorable an experience it would turn out to be.
On a dive adventure scale, I was in the kiddie pool. We were in the Florida Keys, diving at Snapper Ledge off Key Largo in relatively shallow waters early one morning. The seas were glassy calm, the ocean pee-water warm, the weather stunning, the visibility something you would write home about, and any current was non-existent. It was, to say the least, perfect.
We had chartered a trip with Blue Water Divers on a boat captained by a man named, I kid you not, Captain Marvel. All told there were only five of us on the boat, leaving no chance for anyone to be left behind in a cattle call
situation. My brother-in-law Steve and our friend, Karen – both experienced divers, were along for the ride. And Captain Marvel had a trusty sidekick named Brent who would lead the way.
As we snapped on to the buoy, I told myself I was ready, even if walking in scuba gear on a gently bobbing dive boat reminded me more of my 21st birthday than I cared to admit. I swayed and swerved and finally made it aft where I took a deep breath, held my mask and regulator as I was taught in class, put one foot in front of the other and, with my heart thumping, jumped in.
You’ve heard it all before, heck, YOU’VE no doubt experienced it – that sense of entering another world, where you’re weightless and all around you is color and light. I was captivated! All hint of nervousness vanished as we sank slowly downward through the brilliant blue water. We explored and swam and
looked. A spotted ray undulated across the sandy floor and massive conchs slowly crept along, headed who knows where. Jaw fish played hide and seek with Steve’s finger and fish in every possible color floated by. I actually found myself looking outward in hopes of spying a dolphin or a turtle or, heck, even a SHARK, for heaven’s sake in the distance.
I pretended I was a mermaid. I forgot about bills and arthritic knees and a living room carpet back home which now looked more like an African leopard skin thanks to all of the spots and stains brought on by pets and children and husbands who don’t wipe their feet. It was the closest I’ve come to feeling like a young child again stepping off the school bus at the beginning of summer and nothing stretches out before you but freedom waiting on the horizon. Actually, it was even better than that, now that I think about it. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
Sighting a huge school of yellow snapper I motioned to Steve that I was going to float into the midst and as he watched, I made my way among the school, slowly, surely, cautiously entering their world. Within moments I was in a bubble of beauties who hovered just at arm’s length away, staring at me with big black eyes. They watched me, I watched them and it was heaven.
Except in heaven water doesn’t suddenly entered your ear – as it did mine which, I will admit, is not an unusual occurrence 25 feet down. But we’ll come back to that….
I thought little of it at the time and continued the dive, working on my buoyancy, avoiding the precious coral and keeping pace with Steve and Karen. The dive ended all too soon and before I knew it, we were back on the boat talking a hundred miles an hour, reliving every minute of it. But the adventure still wasn’t over for as Steve stripped off his dive gear we noticed several tiny little crabs no bigger than my pinky nail on his wetsuit. Astonished, we carefully collected the little creatures, marveled at their size and gently released them back into the ocean.
We returned to our rented condo, ate a quick lunch and relaxed by the pool. As I lay on the deck chair cooking in the sun, I relieved the dive, all the while shaking my head from time to time, trying in vain to get the water to drain from my right ear. I tried lying on my right side, hoping gravity would take over and I plunged my pinky nail in to give my ear a good shake. I tossed my head hard to my right shoulder time and time again, but no luck. I could actually feel the water sloshing in my ear and occasionally a hint of static set my ear drum pounding, but the water persisted so I tried to ignore it and took a nap in the sun.
Five hours after our dive, we showered dressed and headed out to dinner, looking forward to a well-cooked meal at a local Thai restaurant down the
road, ready for a seafood feast. Climbing out of the car, I gave my head one more good toss and finally felt the water move to the edge of my ear. Finally, I thought. Relief was just around the corner.
I raised my pinky nail to my ear, eager to help the water on its way out, only to encounter something hard. Disturbingly hard. Sticking out of my ear. With a start, I reacted, flicked it with my nail and watched as a tiny object fell to the ground, landing near my shoe. Bending over to see what it was, I looked in shock.
For lying dead on the ground, no bigger than my pinky nail was a tiny, little crab glistening in the evening sun and coated with a shiny new layer of ear wax.
The three of us stared in disbelief. I knew when I entered the ocean that I was voluntarily plugging myself back into the food chain, but I hadn’t expected anything to take up lodging too. At this point, I half expected an obnoxious yellow sponge dressed in red shorts to come bounding out of the other ear.
I scooped the little creature up and put it in my eyeglasses case to show the children. I had hoped to cover him in resin and make a necklace out of him, but alas, it was not to be. For while my ear may have been a decent port in a
storm – the storm being a swirling bubble of yellow snapper I realize now – my glasses case proved to be otherwise. He dried up over the next three days, leaving only a miniscule pile of crabby dusty in his wake.
I’ve had other fun dives since and a challenging one too invovling a roiling ocean near Key Largo that included vomiting into my regulator while staring up at the Christ of the Abyss , but nothing else has crawled in and come along for the ride – at least not that I know of. More adventures await and I say, bring ‘em on, even the crabs.
The moral of this story? Even when diving the tamest of locales in the best of conditions surrounded by experienced divers, the act of diving itself will always be a memorable adventure that you just won’t have on land.