Last night, as part of my birthday celebration, Chad planned a surprise for me. When he arrived and I opened the sliding door of his van to set down my ubiquitous black backpack, I noticed that the rear seats were draped with scuba gear. Two sets. Knowing I am always one for a new adventure, Chad had decided it would be fun to take me night snorkeling to see the bioluminescent algae.
First, we had dinner at a local Thai / Malaysian restaurant with the freshest food of its kind around, ending with a complimentary fried ice cream. Afterward, as we began the drive to Manomet, we joked about the cramps we would surely get from swimming too soon after eating, fears instilled by the stern childhood warnings of our mothers.
Chad and I always talk while driving. Actually, scratch that. We talk while doing anything. We just happened to be driving. The important thing is, we were talking as we drove seaward.
Chad described how cold the water would be, assuring me that we’d both have raging headaches afterward. He intimated that he himself was even thinking twice about the dive, because of just how cold it would actually be. After chatting down a handful of topical rabbit trails, he came back to the topic of the impending dive, asking if I was nervous at all about going night swimming so far from shore at night, and in such cold waters, having never done it before. I told him I wasn’t. My secret? Don’t think about it until it’s happening. (This is a great strategy in a wide variety of situations, I’ve found.)
The side streets were quiet and dark as we arrived near our entry point along the ocean. Chad parked the van on a nearby hill. Here, before even entering the water, my adventure began. Not only would night snorkeling be a first for me, but I was also able to experience several other firsts. Not the least of these was wearing a Speedo.
The second was changing into said Speedo outside a van on a public street.
The third was actually getting into the wetsuit – a wetsuit belonging to Chad’s slender younger brother, Ben. At times, I had to grab tightly onto one of Chad’s hands while he used his other to find anyplace he could and pull with all his might in the other direction. I was assured that all of this was quite normal and that, in fact, this suit was “just my size.” I casually joked that this was really no big deal compared to my club outfits.
Locked and loaded as it were, we fastened underwater flashlights to our wrists and waded out into the dark ocean, the chilly water slowly seeping into our suits in all the worst places. Once up to our knees, we fitted our flippers into place and backed out further until we could swim. The water quickly went from chilly to ice cold. Chad was convinced of the inevitability of those headaches we’d have later. Still, I was excited and found the whole thing exhilarating.
A greenish mist hovered above the black surface of the water as we swam on our backs to deeper waters. I confess that, while I know dangerous sharks don’t inhabit our cold New England waters, scenes from “Jaws” did play in my head.
Finally, we reached our first observation spot. Cleaning the condensation quickly from inside our masks, we went full under and lit our lamps. It’s surreal, swimming through frigid and dark waters, able only to see what is directly within the beam of light in your hand.
At night, the ocean’s visible population changes. During our excursion, I saw many creatures I had never before seen in their natural environment. Lobsters – from the tiniest I’d ever seen to one big enough to make a meal of. Crabs. Various sizes of skates, alone or in pairs, and docile enough to let us touch them. Moon jellyfish.
But as novel and fascinating as all of the rest was, it did not compare with the bioluminescent algae. On many prior occasions, I’d run my hands over wet sand and seen its brief sparkle appear. But I had never seen anything like what I was seeing now. We turned off our flashlights. Faces submerged, we waved our hands or kicked our flippers in the water and it came alive. Like shaking a giant snow globe under a black light, blue scintillation filled our wake, bright and dense. We were sorcerers, working our magic for one another.
It was hard to decide to swim back and end our adventure. But, as caution against hypothermia, we decided we should. As we finally reached shallow waters once more, Chad’s hands were frozen so completely that he could not work his fingers to unlatch his flippers. This was cause only for a laugh, not concern. It was part of the night’s fun.
As we walked back to the vehicle, we warmed enough to peel out of our suits, dry off and change into dry clothes. During our drive home, we reflected on a point from our earlier conversation – the realization we’d both been having lately about just how strange our daily world view and many of our normal experiences must seem to others. I’ve even expressed in prior blogs the nagging feeling I get, that many readers must think much of my life seems like an elaborate lie.
And yet, Chad and I could not get around the fact that making little adventures in life is no less accessible to others than it is to us. From our vantage point, it seemed equally strange that so many others don’t meet new people regularly, or make it a point to sample exotic foods, or take night trips to the beach.
For that matter, it seemed odd that more people don’t use their power of telepathy to express love and appreciation for each other more often, or have the kind of interesting, uproarious or meaningful talks that are waiting to be had at any time. This was not a matter of feeling “better than” or even more fortunate, since both of us truly believe that these things are based on choices and not some fate allotted to the rich or the lucky.
It’s at times like last night that I feel my whole being wanting to cry out to the world, “Live! Don’t you see? It’s all right here for you! Go beyond the surface of predictable days and polite relationships. Please – live! ”
It is not an indictment, but rather a passionate invitation.