Mapping the limits of the soul: when I was faster I was always behind
I have been hemorrhaging days without posting; but don’t you fret, I have been busy busy busy!! Samples to collect, samples to process. Sleep not to get.
Our last day on Howland, oh sweet Howland, was yesterday. Then we steamed overnight to here, Baker Island.
The last couple of days on Howland were magical!! Howland really is a wonderland! It is a seamount with walls of coral wonderfulness dropping down hundreds of feet. And those walls are zipping with fish, ambling with turtles, gracefully gliding with manta rays, lurking with sharks.
I saw a school of over 30 reef sharks, just on the edge of vision, drift on by, sharky motion abounding, some flashes of light from grey skins. Being a shark is 90% silhouette. 10% cruising.
The dolphins were out of control. We slammed (I do not like how our assigned boat rides, it is all slapping and brute force; no elegance there) all over the reef in our fast bright red boat. The dolphins loved us!
It turns out that dolphins are all about playing, but they only want to play with you if you are all about speed. But after a few days of getting to know us, even when we stopped for one reason or another they would patiently and expectantly wait with us, kind of like small children fidgettingly hopping-from-leg-to-leg would wait for a too-slow adult to dole out chocolate. Then we were off again, and they were so happy!!
Dolphins live, I think, for one thing: that moment of pure cadence hanging in the air at the top of a jump. They crave it, and when they get a nice leap, some sweet stillness at the peak of the movement, they are visibly happy!! A peace seems to come over them in that moment that is really beautiful to behold. I feel special for being allowed to see that moment so clearly and so often!
On our last dive on Howland, I was laying out the transect tape (essentially a long tape measure that we use to estimate how much of the tape’s length is taken up by each organism or group of organisms), when I went to tie it around a stone fish!! It was perfectly pink, in keeping with its crustose coralline algae neighbors. If it hadn’t flinched slightly at the right time, I think both of us would have had a terrible time!!
Below is a picture I took:
Those last couple of dives had warm, clear water. I had become a fish again, moving with the ultimate economy of fin-strokes, moving my breathing. This is where I feel scuba diving becomes art. I was at ease in my environment. It felt like a womb; so peaceful and so perfectly like I belonged. There was a little current, so moving with it was like relaxing in a submarine lazy river, drifting along checking the sights. I wish I had gills!
Aside from that, we also had another visit from a couple of manta rays!! Mantas are the ultimate family-oriented marine animal. They are always seen in pairs. I got no photos, as I was busy being a model microbial biologist at the time, and didn’t have my camera on me. My dive buddy Cristi got some though, and I shall show them eventually!! I love the way they move; it is such a calming swooping movement. If only I could be more like the manta ray, then I would not know stress!!
I should write about the first day on Baker to get this up to date, but it is late, and bed calls me. Those who know me know that nothing short of a fascinating new friend can allow me to withstand the calls of my bed. As I am on a sex, drug and alcohol free ship, there is really nothing to stand in the way of my bed’s dominion!!
But I will relate this:
Tonight was one of our first clear nights in a while. I went and laid under the stars on the bow. Getting there was a treacherous path full of possible-faling-overboard it was so dark. But the view. Oh me oh my! I saw the Southern Cross for the first time in years. I felt a peace come to me. As I laid there, with the ship rocking under me, the stars swinging through their arcs due to the ship’s movement, it looked like the stars were the surface of the sea seen from below coming up from a dive. The Milky Way was swirly. Fixed things (oh most beguiling fallacy!) gently oscillated, my brain assigned salty meanings, as those are its currency these briny days. To see the sky and stars up above as a sea through which we swim; now that was a wonderful moment.
Here is some cuteness for y’all to end on (although, to me, this ended on that last resonant point):