Day 103 10/6/13: Certified and Certifiable

David Foster Wallace gave a reading for Booksm...

David Foster Wallace  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“That’s great! That’s just great! You’re certifiable! Do you know that, Quint?” Brody (Roy Scheider) hollers after Quint (Robert Shaw) smashes the boat’s radio (no more calling in for a bigger one) with a baseball bat.

I replayed that “Jaws” scene endlessly in my head on the way back from Catalina as my dive teacher filled out my diver certification card. I am by no means “good” at diving, but I am no longer afraid of bleeding ears or the large sharks attracted by the ribbons of blood pulsing from my exploding lungs.

The ocean is beautiful—heart-rendingly so. But I don’t want to disturb its inhabitants. I don’t want to shine flashlights in crevices to see lobster, or play with sea cucumbers. Even as I thrilled at the glimpse of a retiring purple octopus curled up in a rock hole, I felt a rush of feeling for the little guy. I know that octopus LIKE to be left alone. And lobsters seem to value their privacy as well.

I felt glad that I would be  teaching David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster” in the morning.

The essential question is this:

How do I commune with animals, while not interfering with their nature, their ways of being? 

It’s not that animal rights guilt precludes my enjoyment of the natural world, but thoughts about animal consciousness increasingly shape my experiences.

I grew up riding horses and still love doing it (as a way of seeing the countryside), but even that activity is fraught with complications: bits, and crops and heels into ribs. I recently discovered this observation (given in sign language) from the always candid Koko the Gorilla:

Koko looks at a picture of a horse with a bit in his mouth:

K: horse sad.

CD: Why?


(Check out more of Koko’s insights in this fascinating argument for the personhood of gorillas).

More on this idea of displacement & communion soon. The sea hath ignited in my mind the power and glory of language while it seemed to have sapped the very marrow from my bones.

Day 96: 9/29/13: Between Breaths

Back to the pool today to review some safety procedures after last week’s debacle at sea.

Thoughts I had while trying to achieve neutral buoyancy at the bottom:

1. Tried to remember the name of the guru who said, “My religion is breath.”

2. Yoko and John’s fabled first encounter at the Indica Gallery in 1966: She handed him a card that said “Breathe.”

3. What my brother told me about coming home from a recent road trip to Vermont with a bushel of sweet “wild apples.” The beauty of those two words together healed something in me.

4. How the peace one feels underwater is a kind of addictive silence, like the silence of meditation. So many kinds of silences, far more than there are kinds of apples.

5. What a strange honor it is to be with someone while they take their last breath, their last taste of the world.

6. My father and I used to race our horses through an apple orchard. The horses had white apple foam on their lips. At a certain point, I crossed some invisible, unspoken line and he stopped letting me win each race.

7. The fundamental law of diving and of life: don’t hold your breath.

8. The curved forms of the free divers that swim with sharks. They know how to move so as not to appear threatening. Their bodies are lithe, beautiful. They are seeking, it seems to me, some impossible form of communion.

9. Manannan mac Lir is an Irish sea deity. He is a clown, a beggar, and a psychopomp who guides souls to the underworld.  He’s associated with the Isles of Apple Trees in the next world.  In a painting I saw once Manannan mac Lir took the form of a breaking wave of horses. I remember the fury of the foam.

10.  My dive teacher takes the regulator out of his mouth. He lies on the bottom of the pool and blows these crazy rings of air to the surface–huge and perfect. They shiver and break apart. I immediately think of my father smoking cigars while he watched 60 Minutes–the hazy rings, not weird and futuristic silver water rings, but earthly like the rings of a tree. What good does it do to remember so much? My teacher gives me the signal: Are you ready to ascend? I have almost forgotten where I am. I nod. Yes. I am ready. I look to the surface.  I breathe.

Day 53: 8/17/13: Ruminations on the Dive Manual

The good news is Sharksavers has responded to initial inquiries from concerned activists confirming that they don’t have any plans to collaborate with OCEARCH. I have my letters at the ready just in case.

When I am paranoid about learning something, I tend to over study. I am reading my diving manual like some gripping but arcane novel, whose premise pulls me in but whose language is at times elusive and complex forcing me to backtrack. I tend to remember the morbid facts: that a tight-fitting dive hood can cause a person to faint, or the symptoms that indicate that my lungs have expanded beyond their human capacity.

My lessons start a week from today and my mind is a tumult of childish anxieties: Will I ever look as ecstatic as the toothy, neon-suited dive friends high-fiving each other on the cover of the book? What if my “buddy” hates me?

As I said in a previous post, what I like about diving is the emphasis on breathing–which is what I like about meditation. An activity that keeps me in the moment.  Many people have assured me that the initial anxiety of diving in the ocean for the first time is soon eclipsed by the beauty of the water, the kelp forests.

It’s extraordinary that I am even considering doing this. Kayaking in New Zealand several years ago freaked me out so much that my legs shook and banged inside their plastic prison and I could barely navigate the little lagoon. Everyone laughed at my shark paranoia, but the next morning the cover of the newspaper featured a picture of a giant fin following  a man in a kayak. The picture had been snapped just up the coast from where our group had leisurely paddled.

I loved the ocean as a kid back in the 70s, even in the shadow of “Jaws,” but my paranoia grew as my shark dreams increased. Yet now I see those dreams in a different light–as assertions of kinship, not foreshadowings of my grisly demise.

(BTW: That last sentence would make a bittersweet and ironic addition to my obituary or any news article following my untimely death by shark attack).

Day 13: 7/8/2013: Diving Lessons

English: A great white shark approaches divers...

English: A great white shark approaches divers in a cage off Dyer Island, Western Cape, South Africa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I told Greg at Aqua Adventures that I wanted to learn to dive because of sharks, he popped in a film he’d made on one of his annual great white excursions to Guadalupe Island.

Great whites with names like Lucy and Cal Rip Fin (whose dorsal had been nearly shredded—probably from a boat propeller) darted, swerved and snatched bait. One shark leapt over the cage and actually landed on top of it. A thrilling and rare accident, I assured myself, as was the story of the great white that caught his snout in the opening between the cage bars and thrashed around so much that the front panel of the cage collapsed.

Greg and I talked for two hours mostly about sharks and shark conservation. He told me Cal Rip Fin, once a reliable figure at Guadalupe, hadn’t been seen since 2011. He also told me some crazy shark breaching stories, and all the many beautiful and dangerous places he’d gone diving. People that lead such adventurous lives always floor me. I feel privileged to hear their stories.

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