Mapping the limits of the soul: fields of diamonds in the sky (or sea!!)
Every dive I get the Johnny Cash song (I think it is a cover) Fields of Diamonds in my head. Coz of the fields of little fish dotting the place, of course!!
(An alternative title was going to be ‘Even Boobies Get the Seasick Blues’, why, you will see below. Foreshadowing, my favourite literary device after the most noble of all, metaphor. A perfect metaphor is the sweetest conversational taste I have ever known!!)
Here are a couple of pictures! (but be warned, after seeing SO MUCH colour, you may be reduced to black and white vision for a while due to burning out the colour centres in your eyes!!):
That luscious pink stuff is turf algae or crustose coralline algae. The former is something of a nemesis to the coral (we seem to be finding (but I don’t want to be prejudiced against something so beautiful just yet!!), while the latter is something of an ally to the coral (no ethical-aesthetic conundra there!)
Pretty, pretty, pretty!!
First up today, the eels. Oh how I abhor them. We diligently devised a system that would allow us to sample water from within the crevices of the reef. There is probably really cool stuff happening in there, and stuff that no one has ever found before; think bacteria living on weird chemicals!! But then we encountered the eel menace. What a bust! For the whole time we were diving the apogee of lusciousness that is Howland, the eels were a nuisance. They harshed my mellow big time with their antics.
Imagine; you are at the best party you ever attended. Everybody is so friendly and interesting, you find yourself falling in love with the crowd. You woo pretty girls who appreciate your stories, your jokes. You are sipping on sweet tranquilas. What could be better? But then, as you reach to make another of those fine beverages in the kitchen, approaching the giddying climax of an hilario tale you have been telling a girl who wears glasses with that unobtainable library air, a plain clothes police man, hidden in the cabinet beneath the kitchen sink, starts bashing you in the legs with his billy club and attempting to arrest you for assaulting him. The night is in tatters, but you try again. Speaking with a guy who has just got back from Mongolia for six months, you finally overcome the trauma from the kitchen. The library lady enters the room and looks your way. You might have another bite at the apple! You turn to place your tranquila, liquid soul of lusciousness divinity-transcended, on the coffee table as a prelude to heading over and wooing her once more. As your glass approaches the glass table, it slips from your startled grasp as you leap into the air, grabbing your injured foot. Another police person is under the table, and they tazed your foot! They weren’t there when you turned around!!
That is what eels are like on Howland.
When it came time to use our crevice sampler, having dodged eels for days, and getting threatened every five minutes with eel bites (10-11 stitches required if you get bitten), we looked for crevices that were eel-free. We found one, only to have the tube bitten by an eel, and my dive buddy and I almost die of fright!!
But now we are on Baker Island, and they are not so common any more!!
Baker is awesome!!
It is a small, circular island with raised sand dunes. Unfortunately though, as a small, circular island it offers no lee. The surf wraps all the way around the shore, and the swells roll through more or less uninterrupted, making the Hi’ialakai move about a lot more than she has over the past couple of days.
I keep trying to get ashore, but the island is quarantined. That means that nobody is allowed to go ashore without a permit from FIsh and Wildlife, who administer the island. It is an important refuge for seabirds. To go ashore, permitted people need to freeze their clothes for 48 hours prior to heading in to make sure they are not bringing any invasive/pest organisms with them. I guess that around here, Australian marine biologists are considered exotic pests!! Not the first time!
Today, a booby (a seabird that is quite elegant in flight or on the surface of the sea, but not so good on land) landed on the ship. I heard about this as people were yelling and the booby flapping and squawking. I did not know why everybody was so keen to get the booby off the ship. It turns out that they land on the ship, and when they cannot see the horizon, but are still subject to the motion of the ocean, they get seasick and are loath or soon unable to fly off. A vicious cycle I am most sympathetic to!
On the human front, today these were posted around the ship:
This can only serve to escalate our hazing, as we graduate from being ‘polywogs’ who have not crossed the equator on a ship and been ‘appropriately’ hazed and has risen to become a ‘shellback’. This is looking to be a very interesting experience! There have been a whole range of events suggested as part of my personal hazing, including acting out a whole English movie with me playing every English part. That was before the doctor started her one-woman mutiny against the shellbacks who run the ship!
In good news though, we heard today that we will be simultaneously crossing the date line and the equator, a rare honour, making me a ‘golden’ shellback after I am initiated!! I will be a golden shellback polar bear (polar bear from crossing the Arctic circle on a ship)!! Serious maritime kudos!! After this, I will have only the Antarctic circle and the Greenwich prime meridian to go, and I will have collected all the significant marine crossings!! The pirate’s life for me!!
In bad news though, today we heard also that someone has filed an official complaint about the food (service?) here. The food has been really good so far (once we even had banana custard – called banana pudding in America – like my mother used to make quite a lot in Brunei, man that took me back like a hug from the past), but after the complaint, that will no longer continue. Starting the day after tomorrow, I am afraid that we can expect ‘fuck you’ food from the usually jolly stewards. No more lemon meringue pie for us, oh no. 😦
Tomorrow is our last day here on Baker. After that, we steam for a few days, crossing the date line meridian (not the functional date line though because of weird politics of time that I don’t understand) and the equator (I will be very, very surprised if I do not have to swim through rotten food – not good for all my various coral and razor blade cuts!) and find ourselves in the glorious Southern Hemisphere at Swains, the first inhabited island we have seen since Oahu three weeks ago!