Dec 4, 2006

IN THE VALLEY OF DARKNESS
ISLAS ROSARIO, Colombia: Thirty feet down, Fernando signals. His main light is broken. Just popping up to the boat...

I hang, suspended, alone in the shadows. Air chortles through the regulator. I spin around the descent line, furred with algae and strung with glow sticks like a mammoth dreadlock. The dark presses in equally from all sides.

For weeks I've dreaded this, my first night dive. Scuba already steals the words from my lips, silencing the jokes and banter of bravado: the routine of geeking myself up for an adventure. With my sight narrowed to a cyclopic cone, how would I react?

I relax.

Then I switch off the light, just to make sure.

Yes, the calm is there, the platform of nerve, so often forgotten in the greasy stir fry of normal life.

I forget, caught in the daily dramas of bills and boys and cat boxes. Yet when I draw close to my edge, I never want to leave.

Anchored in the moment, I am small in the sea, but large within myself.

Fernando returns, shattering my Henry Milleresque womb-epiphany. I am merely Amanda again, the clown without a dive watch.

No matter. The reef unfolds mysteries far more sublime, like the arms of my first octopus – curling, robin-egg blue ribbons, seemingly as insubstantial as wet Kleenex. A eel gapes, a saw-toothed scream without sound. I rap on my tank, but the moray disappears before my instructor arrives. Instead we watch a great, greedy crab, eating two-fisted.

Finally, the glow sticks reappear. And we minnow upwards, back to the highbeam moon.

"I loved it, loved it," I babble, squirming from my gear at the surface.

Fernando glances over: "I thought you'd be more nervous."

"No," I say, phosphorescence gilding my hair, my eyelids, my wild grin. "There's nowhere I'd rather be."

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