Poetry in Ocean
“If you could be any animal on earth, what would you be?” My answer usually begets a few laughs, but over the years it’s always been the same - a fish. It seems like sort of a lame choice. They’re floppy and glassy-eyed, and people love to tell me they have a three-second memory span. But I envy them. Effortlessly and playfully, they can explore what remains one of humanity’s greatest mysteries: the ocean. I’d never seen more than what my feeble lung capacity and a pair of goggles would allow.
In Hawaii, we took one step closer to becoming fish - we learned how to scuba dive. After two days, a few sea turtles, and a symphony of whale song later, we were freshly certified and hopelessly addicted. With a whopping four descents under our belt, the reasonable next step was to schedule our inaugural certified dive for the next day - a nighttime dive with manta rays.
We watched a purple Hawaiian sunset and ate pretzels while the dive master briefed us on mantas before the descent. I was under the mistaken impression that we were about to swim amongst the huge aquatic creatures that killed Steve Irwin, and for some reason I was still down for it. (I quickly learned that is in fact the manta's meaner cousin, the stingray.) And while manta rays are harmless, it can understandably still be a little intimidating to have a 2,500 pound animal swimming an inch above your head. We were told to repeat this mantra if we ever got scared: No teeth, no stinger, just big. Truly the teddy bears of the underwater world.
The dive started with a short swim to the “campfire” - a large, flat area where we could congregate around flood lights that attracted and illuminated the mantas. Being the wildly inexperienced diver that I was, it was about as much as I could handle to equalize, remember to breathe, and fiddle with my mask unnecessarily every couple seconds. Add darkness, a flashlight and camera occupying each hand - my mind was an anxious, jumbled mess trying to keep everything straight fifty feet below the ocean surface. I started to wonder if we'd bitten off more than we could chew.
All worries escaped me when I caught sight of those manta rays, though. You sort of leave your head when you first see them, suspended in awe by the sheer size and grace. The dive master physically grabbed me and shoved me into a sitting position, dropping a boulder into my lap to keep me from drifting upwards.
The surge created by the mere proximity of these animals almost knocked me over; I hugged that rock for dear life. Sitting on the ocean floor, looking up to the water’s surface, while these majestic and staggeringly large creatures do acrobatics above your head - you truly feel as though you have escaped to another world.