It’s pretty difficult to translate the experience of being/breathing underwater into words. That fleeting nanosecond of panic when your face drops below the surface and you take your first breath through the regulator before normalcy resumes; the illusion, when looking from below, that the surface slowly bends towards you and appears concave; the moment when “here” and “there” swap meaning as you drop from sea-level and approach the ocean floor. How to describe swimming along the side of a sheer wall that drops beyond sight? A wall covered with coral so intensely colorful and developed that it almost seems as if it had been art-directed? As if it were someone’s fantasy of coral and not something that could really exist in nature? Can language convey the sensation of seeing a huge school of fish—just like in your aquarium when you were a kid, but ten times the size—swim directly towards you and then around you as if you were meaningless in their world? Or a stingray the dimensions of a good-sized area rug passing just below as you maneuver through a cleft in the rock? How can I describe the childlike joy I feel when I allow myself to hover completely upside-down, feet pointing towards the surface, just because it’s fun?
I can’t. I’ve come to the conclusion that these things need to be experienced first-hand.
What I can do is post some photos I took underwater. Even these give only an approximation of what I saw with my eye. Color underwater is problematical. So is getting a fish to stand still for a shot. For that matter, getting oneself to stand still is not much easier: by the time you’ve decided, “this is my shot!” you’ve already floated past the perfect framing.
On one trip with Ellie, my dream instructor, I noticed some tubular sponges surrounded by cloudy water. I pointed at them and shrugged, “what is that?” Ellie took out her slate and wrote, “The sponges are spawning their eggs and their sperm.” I took the pencil from her (a plain old no. 2 pencil, amazingly enough) and added: POETRY!