Under the Sea
Silver flecks clung to the fronds of kelp as Jon and I dove through the forest off Catalina Island. Orange fish (garibaldi) raced between the grassy tentacles, their iridescent spots reflecting in the light. I clung to Jon’s hand, focused on the air chugging in and out of my regulator, praying that we wouldn’t see one of the five-foot giant sea bass that makes its home in this underwater park.
What was I doing forty feet under the water? Swimming with fish??
While Jon’s parents were visiting, they graciously sent Jon and I away on a weekend getaway to the beautiful island of Catalina while they played with the kids. When we stepped off the boat in Avalon, we felt a hundred miles away from the craziness of L.A. Candy-colored houses were perched on the cliffs overlooking the deep blue sea. People lounged with drinks by the ocean side. Not a cell phone in sight.
We took a breath of the smog-free air and trekked up a steep road to our inn. As we looked down from our room at the bay filled with swimmers and sailboats, Jon said, “Let’s go scuba diving.” And I, feeling a little daring without kids in tow, agreed. I wasn’t in my right mind.
Jon went scuba diving a few years ago when my parents treated us to an amazing Hawaiian vacation. He spent an hour in a pool practicing (a great idea!) before they took him out to a clear, rocky reef. He loved it!
The outfit on Catalina was a little different. Our instructor, Todd, took us right to the dive site—no pool time practice in California. We breathed through the regulator a few times as Todd skimmed the safety info and outfitted us in tight wetsuits, masks, and boots. Then he loaded our backs with tanks and a weight belt, and I struggled to haul my equipment toward the water.
As Todd started to help me down the slippery stairs that lead to the ocean, a wave cascaded toward shore, knocking us both down. I took a deep breath. So it was a little choppy today. No big deal. Thousands of people do this every day. How hard could it be?
Into the water we went, and with the waves surging up and down around us, Todd said he wanted me to go first. Figures… I put the regulator in my mouth, grabbed hold of the rope, and feeling quite brave, slid a few feet underwater. I looked below us—tall stalks of kelp crept up out of the darkness. Where was the clear water and coral? For those of you who’ve read Together for Good, you know that bad things sometimes happen in kelp forests. At least in my very active imagination.
Todd pointed out a school of fish in the murky water, and then he had me practice emptying my mask and blowing out the valve on the regulator and breathe. Breathe?? I wasn’t getting enough air! I pointed up, but he shook his head and pointed down. I shook my head and pointed up again. He pointed down. I shot back up to the surface, spit out my regulator, and heaved in gulps of fresh air.
Todd stuck his head out of the water. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t breathe!”
“Yes, you can.”
“No. I can’t!”
He patiently calmed me down, but I had a few questions. Like what if I couldn’t breathe when we were forty feet under? It’s not like I could buzz up to the surface…not if I wanted to keep my lungs intact. And I happen to like my lungs.
But who knows when (and at this point, IF) I’ll be able to try scuba diving again? So after a few more minutes of reassurance from Todd, who was now moonlighting as a therapist, I followed he and Jon down through the forest. Todd never left our side during the dive, adjusting our air pressure, watching our gauges. When my leg got tangled in a frond, Todd unwrapped it. He said I used up half of my air in the first six minutes underwater.
When my racing heart finally calmed down, I enjoyed the last twenty minutes or so of the dive. The view of God’s creation was spectacular. Magenta fish swam past us followed by a rainbowed array of others—blue, silver, and white fish. Gray rocks swathed in lavender and dark green covered the sandy floor beneath us. And the towering stalks of kelp looked like they’d been sprinkled with silver pixie dust. Kicking our fins, we glided through the forest, not knowing what creatures lurked behind the yellowed fronds. I was praying there weren’t any sharks, eel, or giant bass.
Slowly, we ascended back to the surface, and when we climbed back up the mossy staircase, I spit out my regulator and guzzled oxygen like it was fresh water.
It’s been three weeks since we dove in the Pacific, and it’s taken me this long to put my experience on paper. I’m still waking up from my part nightmare, part enchanted dream.
I’m hoping that in a few years, when the girls are old enough to dive, I’ll be ready to try scuba again. In the meantime, I’ll be above the water, savoring one of God’s greatest gifts—AIR.