The Comedic Snorkelers of Kauai

Previously, when we’ve dipped our senses into another world, it was while being firmly rooted in our own. Peeking into the aquariums and viewing areas so painstakingly built for us by the ecologists and marine scientists, I always sent a wave of gratitude to those who enabled these magical moments. 

Snorkeling for the first time in an ocean was mind boggling.

It was with excitement and trepidation that we stood there listening to the instructions from our guide. Contrary to most snorkelers in the region, we were not experienced swimmers. As we slipped our feet into the paddles, a gurgle of hilarity hiccuped its way up and the children & I exchanged glances and started laughing. We did look ridiculous.

Getting a peek into the world of the ocean has always been a dream. Reading essays such as the Enchanted World by Gerald Durrell made the desire stronger.

Any naturalist who is lucky enough to travel, at certain moments has experienced a feeling of overwhelming exultation at the beauty and complexity of life

But there is one experience, perhaps above all others, that a naturalist should try to have before he dies and that is the astonishing and humbling experience of exploring a tropical reef. You become a fish, hear and see and feel as much like one as a human being can; yet at the same time you are like a bird, hovering, swooping and gliding across the marine pastures and forests

Gerald Durrell – Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons

While it had been so easy to slip our flippers on and off on land, the moment we had gentle waves lapping against us, simple tasks became a comedic trial of incompetence. I was glad to see that experienced swimmers struggled just as much as we did with this task. I may have smirked, and if I did, who could blame me.

As we moved on looking into the waters and observing the fish, there were moments when the flippers propelled us forward, and moments when the lungs rebelled with the excessive sea water that we were drinking in with each breath.(It takes some time to find the right degree, adjust the valves etc).

Whether we were watching the fish, or they were watching us was a philosophical question for I felt the fish swim by in delight and make several loops and gags around us. Schools of them – probably curious, and laughing at our inefficiency with the waters.

The fish frolicked, the humans shuddered; the schools of fish glided and gurgled happily while we sputtered and choked; the fish changed direction seamlessly while we struggled. If we entertained our piscine friends, I am happy. 

Several minutes into our dip and frankly embarrassing foray into the ocean, our guide came gliding up like a fish himself and signaled us towards a large turtle (she-turtle he said), and we nodded. “It is illegal to touch a turtle these days, but you can see it from afar.”

We changed course (which is to say we all spat out some sea water, gulped some air and water, sputtered some more and set out in the approximate direction) flipping those comical looking flippers hard. And there, right in front of us was a large turtle with elegant fins swimming graciously in the waters. For those brief moments, we weren’t bumbling sea-water drinking sputterers lost in the ocean, but mesmerized and equally graceful spectators to one of the most elegant creatures on the planet.

This was magic. Days afterward, I can flash back in my mind to that clear image of the turtle with its large fins swimming on by us. A face structure that enables it to look like it is smiling and amused with life, the turtles smooth motion as it cut through the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean was amazing.

How do bone structures, ligaments, tendons, and all the things that hold an organism together evolve by design to function thus? What marvelous creatures sentient beings are? Nerves, neurons, cells, tissue, blood, ligaments, flesh and bone- but all of this coming together to become thinking beings with intent.

I obviously have been looking for pictures of all that satisfies this marine curiosity ever since. My curiosity was rewarded by this book :

The Art of Instruction – Vintage Educational Charts from the 19th and 20th centuries

The pages indicate the anatomy of many marvelous creatures. 

The Anatomy of a Sea Turtle isn’t in this book, but the pictures of jellyfish, cuttlefish, herring fish, starfish, whales and numerous other fascinating creatures makes it a marvelous book to peruse.

Starfish anatomy

For the Sea-turtle anatomy: This is  a useful link

Smithsonian Sea-turtles

What an enormous wonder it is to be a sentient, logical, and functioning being in this complex world? For that one marvelous dip into the world of the sea creatures, I am grateful beyond words can describe.

The Light of an Island

The week at Kauai in Hawaii was beautiful. During the days afterward, the little island images would flit in and out like waves on a beach. Sometimes the imagery so powerful that they would refresh and restore from afar. The turtles would swirl in the ocean waves, the turquoise waters would gently lap the golden sands, or splash against the rocky beaches, the birds would chirp merrily, and every now and then the school of fish or that large turtle- would flash up an image from the reefs below. 

The flowers of the island, Leilani pua would gently sway in the ocean breeze, the sounds of the rains that were difficult to predict and never long to endure would patter into one’s consciousness.

The general light of the island would be suffused into the surroundings. 

As life settles into its usual routines, there is a rose-tinted tinge to the world that is slowly but steadily fading. I now have to recall the turtles, as opposed to them showing up unannounced. I cling on though. 

Looking back at the pictures from the vacation,  I realize that tropical  island vacations have a timbre and light that is wholly separate from the rest of the world. Who was that who said that No man was an island? Imagine a world where each of us is an island. 

It reminds me of the picture in the book, Imagine a Place – By Rob Gonsalves whose paintings in surrealism are nothing short of brilliant. 

Imagine a place…

Where your ship holds

All you once knew

And the horizon offers

All you will ever need

(Words from the book, Imagine A Place – Words By Sarah L Thomson, Images by Rob Gonsalves) 
Imagine a Place – by Rob Gonsalves, words by Sarah Thomson

I stop to admire the roses, and compare and contrast their multi-layered rose-scented beauty with the elegant and highly simple-structured plumerias in the Hawaiian islands. 

How complicated and simple life can be – and how beauty to be found in both aspects of life. 

The island doesn’t leave you, and it seems to remind me of the importance of the solitude and refreshing nature of this little island in oneself, to be pulled up at will when life tugs you in every which way. 

The Height of the Sky & Depth of the Ocean

Sometimes you read a book and wonder what it would be like to live a day just as if we lived in the book. A magical do-nothing day, a day when your dreams come true, a day when you imagine being in a fantastical place, a day you drift into the seas with your paper boat, or just drift into the beautiful worlds of a book.

Then you go on with your life, but with a tinge of that imagination shining a beautiful light on everything around you. 

One day, with a glorious light of shoshin shining in you, there comes a day from a book that you admired. 

The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky – by Kim Jihyun.  

In the book, a child leaves the environs of the city to go and live with his grandparents in the countryside. The lake and forest nearby look inviting and the child starts exploring on his own. 

Usually, when I take a color photograph of a luscious green forest or a beautiful waterbody, I prefer the picture in all its glory. Even if it does seem over-saturated at times. But in this book, the muted colors do nothing to diminish the relaxing feel of the book. 

Image from Height of the sky & Depth of a Lake – Kim Jihyun

The author says that she wrote the book after a week back from a relaxing sojourn with nature and the moment I came back from a vacation in Hawaii I picked up the book. In the book, it is the lake the boy dives into. We dipped into the ocean, and the height of the skies we explored with a helicopter ride. 

In one glorious day we soared to the skies and took in an aerial view of the beautiful island of Kauai – soaring over the cliffs of the Na Pali coast and diving into the rocky coral reefs for an afternoon of snorkeling.

Na Pali Coast – Kauai

Not all of us in our group were good swimmers. So, in order to experience the joys of the oceanic creatures, we learnt swimming everyday in the past month.

Was it worthwhile? Resounding yes! We swam in the sublime beaches of Hanalei Bay and during snorkeling were able to see schools of fish and a large sea turtle swim right by us, along with marvelous creatures such as parrotfish, sea cucumbers etc.

We could not take our phones while snorkeling, so this is a pic of a turtle while I sat on the rocks above.

The height of the sky and the depth of the oceans are both within us. 

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