As much as I love the water and swimming, I have always held reserve about being completely submerged for any period of time.
However, on our three day stop on Lady Elliot Island, a teeny reef island at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, all the activities involve the water. The Intro to SCUBA trip was running the next day. Charlotte, our instructor, warned that “Diving can be addicting!” Her nautilus and shell tattoos were testament to this.
What exactly were my fears? That I would run out of air? That the equipment would malfunction? That I would be compressed by the pressure of the water? It definitely had nothing to do with the marine life.
That afternoon as we started our descent, I couldn’t get my mask clear. Charlotte saw me struggling and brought me to the surface. “Make sure you’re not breathing through your nose.” I nodded.
I continued to have challenges with my mask. She brought me to the surface again. The third time when we were underwater she took out a board and wrote “stop breathing through your nose.” Oh my god. I am an underwater dolt. Was my 2 1/2 years of yoga for naught? I felt like a 3 year old.(One that reads) but decided to hold my nose to eliminate the issue.
Charlotte had said that any problems that arise under water can be solved underwater. She moved slowly and deliberately, and I admired her calm, which did not match my growing frustration. Breathing evenly and steadily we continued to descend into the technicolor world below. She indicated for me to put my head down to help propel my body in that direction, and then pulled out her board again. What NOW?
“I’m going to hold onto you,” she wrote. Oh my god. I am a wayward puppy on a human leash. I was mortified and embarrassed, feeling humiliated and incapable. She pointed downward again. What was it THIS time?
It was a turtle as big across as my entire body, resting on the bottom, not ten feet away. I was completely mesmerized but just to the left of us were two Eagle and a Black Ray, including a baby, flying together. Their grace and beauty were riveting, their motions so fluid and smooth. (unlike my own!) Captivated, as my eyes followed them a shark swam into view. Whaaat?
I was spellbound. Moments later we spotted a moray eel with its mouth open. A small blue fish was darting in and out, as the eel was clearly at a cleaning station, with the fish at work.
It wasn’t until later that I realized that the one emotion that had not come up was fear. I had a steady source of oxygen and my embarrassment was overtaken by the wonder that bubbled up. Now that I had the salty taste, I could understand the addiction. Every dive would be different. The enormous Manta Rays are present in the winter months, whales at other times.
I do wonder whether a slight tightening of my mask would have eliminated the breathing issue altogether. I was deferring to the expert over self knowledge. It’s always tricky, particularly when immersed in a completely new situation.
I am grateful for Charlotte’s steady, professional presence, and for this firsthand glimpse into a parallel universe. I’m humbled by what we saw, and the knowledge that it’s just the tip of the reef that we experienced. Those images are burned into my memory, and perhaps I will be lucky enough someday to explore this outrageous, dynamic, fabulous world again.