Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Wretch Like Me (A Short Story)

          By the end of the Eighties, I was a bona fide Deadhead.  I went to forty-three East Coast Grateful Dead concerts by the spring of 1993, and when I moved to Northern California, I saw another forty-five shows on the West Coast. I enjoyed each and every concert and I acquired a large group of laid-back friends.  Every show was a unique musical, and sometimes spiritual, journey for me.  A few memorable expeditions were close to being, what I would consider life-changing events.  Somehow, the music spoke to my friends, and me and we often danced that reckless hippy hop with unbridled abandon, not really caring much about the world beyond the reach of the song.  The safe, accepting atmosphere at a Dead show was unlike anything else I had experienced.  It was like passing through an actual time warp, back to a kinder, gentler time, where just about everyone around you was affable.  Outside each show, the parking lots became Shakedown Streets where vendors and artists bought, sold and traded their wares.  You could buy t-shirts, grilled cheese sandwiches and original artwork.  I always felt safe, surrounded by the welcoming and peaceful community, despite the fact that half of them were tripping or shrooming.  There was always an underlying feeling of pure hedonistic revelry, and it appealed to me, and obviously, many others like me.  I made a connection with the whole scene, but deep down, I was drawn to the music.  Many came for the party, but most came for the music.  Specifically, for me, I came to hear Jerry Garcia.

            Like most bands, there are fans that favor certain musicians over others, while still maintaining a love for the cohesive unit.  Take the Beatles, for example.  It says a lot about a person if they prefer John Lennon over Paul McCartney, or vice versa.  It says something else entirely if they admit to being a Ringo or a George fan.  The Deadheads also predictably broke up into factions, and like Lennon-McCartney, the bulk were divided between Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. Jerry had his songs and Bob had a repertoire of his own. There were always those deadheads that lived to hear the bassist Phil sing the odd song, and others who came for the duel drumming team of Bill and Mickey. Each show every band member would get his moment in the spotlight.  Although I appreciated all of it, I treasured hearing Jerry play his guitar, and singing in his raspy heartfelt vocals.  I was surely not the only one. Most likely, I was with the majority of Deadheads, as Jerry’s army was vast.  There were shows when I felt that Jerry was actually singing directly to me, and to me alone.  Again, I was probably not the only one (shrooming).  Jerry had a vibe that affected you, if you let it, and I couldn’t get enough of it.  When Jerry would go off on an extended guitar solo, you could feel this wave of musical nourishment and contentment sweep through the audience.  Fields of happy consumers danced away their troubles and reveled in the pureness of the moment, deftly aware of Jerry’s magical fingers.
            I was living in Pittsburgh, when I began to go to Grateful Dead shows.  I saw every show that came within striking distance, often traveling to Cleveland, Philly or Maryland for a weekend of revelry.  In 1993, I moved to the Mecca of the Dead, where I took up residence in Mill Valley in Marin County.  Unexpectedly, I ended up teaching in a preschool only blocks away from the homes of both Bob and Jerry.  A few times I even saw Bob in his powder blue BMW, and a couple of times I actually ran into Jerry.  Once, as I was waiting in line at the Paradise Liquor Store in Corte Madera, Jerry got in line behind me with a jar of Jiffy peanut butter and a loaf of Wonder bread.  I smiled at him and gave him a little head nod but didn’t have the courage, or the desire, to pester him.  A year later, on my lunch break from the preschool, as I was driving home on the 101 highway between Mill Valley and Corte Madera, I thought I saw Jerry again.  This time he was standing on the side of the freeway next to a dented BMW, looking confused.  I did a double take as I drove past him.  When I got back to work, I told my co-teacher that I thought I saw Jerry Garcia on the highway and she quickly dismissed it, suggesting that I was merely having a flashback.  The next day I read in the paper that Jerry had indeed driven his loaner BMW (from the BMW dealership where he was getting his BMW fixed) into the guardrail, and had ended up on the roadside, fazed but unhurt.  There were intimations about the dangers of mixing heroin and driving, and it saddened me to hear about it.  We all knew Jerry was in a bit of trouble and that his personal demons were gaining strength.
            Less than a year later, I was driving to work and I noticed, while sitting in slow moving traffic, that the lady in the car next to me was crying.  I didn’t think much of it until I noticed three more cars in the line-up with visibly sobbing drivers.  I stopped, as I usually did each morning, at the 7-11 to get a hot chocolate on my way to work.  The woman at the counter, whom I was friendly with, looked up at me and I could tell that she had been crying as well.  There was no one else in the store, so when I approached the counter I gave her a puzzled look and a shoulder shrug.
            “Didn’t you hear?” she asked.
            “Hear what?” I asked back.
            “Jerry died last night,” she said, looking as if she was going to start weeping again at any moment.
            I felt like someone punched me in the stomach.
            “He was just in here last week and he signed a magazine for me,” she claimed, pointing to the magazine rack, one of which having a smiling Jerry on the cover.
 “I just can’t believe it,” she added with a sob.
            When I got to the preschool, as the parents arrived to drop off their kids, there was a melancholy sadness in the air and we all spoke in quiet tones.  Some of the parents were more affected than others, some clearly shaken.  A few stayed in the playground for a while, comforting and hugging each other.  It was a long day for me, and I remember it sadly.  Soon after, there were vigils held in Golden Gate Park, a memorial service and concert, and a rather publicized funeral in Tiburon, attended by many.  Deadheads mourned the world over, and most considered it the end of the Grateful Dead.

            Time passed, and I went on with my life.
            One particular night, some time later, I had this extraordinary dream.  One of my preschool students had given me a “Dream Pillow” as a gift, and because of it, I had been having the most lucid dreams of my adult life.  Filled with Native American herbs and spices, it smelled a little funky, but I kept it under, or near my pillow as I slept.  This strange dream started as I was cresting a grassy hill, in what seemed like a schoolyard.  I noticed a band playing to a small crowd and I headed toward the music to check it out.
As I got closer, I could hear and see that it was unmistakably the Grateful Dead.  I stood there confused for a bit, listening to the music as I examined the band more closely.  Jerry was playing his signature Rose guitar, yet he seemed somehow different from the rest of the musicians.  There was an aura about him, like he was standing in a colored spotlight.  I noticed a few folks off to my left on the grass, dancing and spinning away in the afternoon sun.  I went over to them and one of the girls stopped dancing to look up at me.
            “Ummm... how is Jerry playing?” I asked softly.  “Isn’t he dead?”
            “Yeah, but it is not really Jerry, it is just a holographic image of him” she answered with a smile.
            She went back to dancing, and I could smell the patchouli cloud she left behind.  I looked around trying to get my bearings, and I felt pretty sure that I was somewhere in San Rafael, from my angled view of Mt. Tamalpias in the background.  There were no more than twenty or thirty people dancing, and just before I decided to join them, the band went gradually quiet into a break between songs.  As they tuned up, I sat down on the warm grass and tried to listen attentively and take it all in.  Occasionally, during Dead shows, from the tuning alone, you could recognize enough to make out the song they were about to play.  I watched as Holo-Jerry began to play, and right away, surprisingly, I made out the song.  It was not, however, a Dead song.  It was a gospel song, and as Jerry started to sing Amazing Grace, I got goose bumps on my arms and I felt an overwhelming sadness begin to build deep inside.  I had always liked the song, but it held no specific religious or spiritual meaning for me.  Yet, as it played, it affected me with startling power, as it had never done before.  Jerry sang with calmness and clarity.  I choked back tears, eventually succumbing to a calm, controlled weeping as I took deep breaths and listened to his voice cut through the air.  I noticed the Deadheads around me also looking mournful and somber, and I realized what a cathartic moment we were experiencing together.  Then, Jerry looked right at me and smiled, causing me to sob harder and inflicting what felt like an actual pain in my chest.  A snot bubble burst from my nose, and as I was clutching my self, gasping for a bigger breath... I heard my phone ring.
            Abruptly, I awoke from the dream.  Tears were rolling down my cheeks, and my nose left a puddle on the pillow.  My stomach felt tight, and I was sweating as I reached for the phone.
            “Hello?” I answered in a cracked voice.
            “Hey, it’s Karen.  Were you sleeping?” asked my friend Karen, who obviously knew I was sleeping.
            Karen was one of my Deadhead friends and I had gone to many shows with her.  As I began to wake up and recall my dream, she said something peculiar to me.  Before I even had a chance to say anything to her at all, she said, “Lee, today is a very sad day.”
            “Sad?” was all that I could muster in response.
            “Didn’t you know?  Today is the one year anniversary of Jerry’s passing,” she said.  “Yes, it is sad,” she added.
            I bolted upright in bed and told her, in explicit detail, about the dream.  I had not talked to her, or anybody, in the days or weeks proceeding, about the anniversary of Jerry’s death.  It was not on my mind, nor had I recently even thought much about it.  We talked about the strangeness in the timing of the dream, and what it could all possibly mean. We talked for an hour and it seemed odd, but it would only get stranger yet.

            Two years later, I went to a Further Festival at Shoreline Amphitheater to see the new incarnation of The Dead (no pun intended).  During intermission, I was sitting on a blanket on the grass talking to my friend Alex as he enjoyed a veggie burrito.  His girlfriend, Mary Jo, was in front of us talking with a girl in a glittery dress.  I overheard a part of Mary Jo’s conversation and I interrupted Alex to listen in.  I heard the words “holographic image” and I perked up and eavesdropped even more.  Mary Jo was describing a dream she had about a band that she thought was the Dead. 
            “Mary Jo!!!  I think I had that dream, too!!” I yelled.  “Were you in a schoolyard?”
            “Yeah, I think so”, she answered.
            “Do you remember anything they played?” I stammered.
            “No, not really... I just remember being surprised that Jerry was a holographic image.  I don’t remember much else.  It was a weird dream”, she said.
            “Maybe you were one of the other people I saw on the hill,” I offered.
            “Wow... that’s creepy”, she said.
            The girl in the dress just looked at me and said "Dude".
            For the rest of that day, we contrasted and compared the memories and recollections of our shared dream.  To my surprise, it would get stranger even yet.

            A couple more years later, I was babysitting for David “Dawg” Grisman, a mandolin player that had often played with Jerry, and had become his close friend.  I had met Grisman’s wife and son in a local toy store in Mill Valley, where I worked part time for one of my student’s moms.  Dawg was friendly with me, and I often bumped into him at his house after school.  Sam, David’s nine year-old son, would take me on a tour of the home studio, which was in their basement.  There was a wall that had been signed by all the visiting musicians who had jammed with Grisman, and I spent a long time, with Sam’s help, trying to decipher the names.  Jerry had signed it a few times and had doodled some pictures here and there.  Framed Jerry drawings hung in Sam’s room above his bed.  One day, Dawg came over to me and handed me a CD.  He asked me what I thought of the cover picture and the insert art.  The CD looked like a pizza box, and when the disc (which itself looked like a veggie pizza) was removed, it showed a greasy cardboard bottom with a few crusts underneath.  The picture on the back of the insert was of David and Jerry with Tony Rice, another incredible musician, between them.  Jerry had a big smile on his red face, and he was wearing his trademark plain black t-shirt.  I asked David more about the music on the CD, which was called the Pizza Tapes.  He told me that he had jammed with Jerry and Tony in his studio a while ago and that they had recorded it.  He told of me of a story that had recently emerged about a pizza delivery boy who had, allegedly, swiped a cassette tape from Jerry’s kitchen counter while waiting to be paid.  The “Pizza Tapes”, as it had become known, was one of the most sought after bootlegs around, so David decided to release it officially with excellent audio quality.  I opened the liner notes and read down the set list.  When I saw the title of song number fourteen, I froze.  It was Amazing Grace
            It mentions in the liner notes that Tony’s wife Pam had asked Jerry if he’d sing Amazing Grace, and that he’d obliged.  It also tells that it was the only time they had ever heard Jerry sing the song.  David let me keep the CD and I when I got in my car to go home, immediately, I forwarded to track fourteen.  I turned out of the driveway as I heard the first few bars, but soon after, I had to pull to the side of the road and listen intently.  Every hair on my body stood upright and I quivered with a downhearted ache.  Jerry’s voice was stark and honest and the effect was numbing, and deeply heartfelt.  
            In that moment, Jerry was singing to me. 
            Only to me.

How sweet the sound. 

Listen in the post below

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gif gifts

 Gifs are fun!!! Enjoy!!!

Jail Break!

Run Forrest Run

Keep your eye on the dog
quit pushing!

What came first?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A book, a movie and a sunset

I just got home from seeing the movie Never Let Me Go.
I read the book a while ago, and I remembered writing a review of it on my visual bookshelf (on Facebook, of course). So, I went to reread my review and I couldn't help but notice that it was written almost two years ago to the day.  It was one of those movies that got you to thinking about your own life... and now I am left thinking about how different my life was only two years ago, and getting all introspective and junk.

My book review:
Never Let Me Go  by Kazuo Ishiguro  

I agree that Ishiguro's writing is a bit like eating a mango. At first, it's tough to get used to the texture and flavor (being a bit exotic)... but by the end, you're licking your lips and looking for more.In other words, the prose grows on you.
Spoiler alert: As for the clones themselves, I was a bit surprised and disappointed that they were all so obedient and docile. I kept expecting one of them to suggest escaping from their doomed life path by finding and killing a "possible". Or just alluding to any kind of rebellion (other than showing creativity to prove true love). The fact that they never even responded harshly to Madame and Miss Emily disappointed me, and it seemed to show that the cruel ladies were right, in a way, that the kids were less than human (or more than human, depending on how you look at it).
All in all, I did enjoy the book, finding it just a bit disturbing... yet I'm not sure that I would recommend it to most readers.
Most readers prefer apples to mangoes.

The movie was compelling, but I wonder how lost I'd been in the theater, if I had not read the book.  Movies made from elaborately detailed, well-crafted stories tend to suffer in editing, when pivotal poignant moments are left out to pare down the movie to a watchable time.   There were a few missing pieces that bothered me... and if you read the book, then saw the movie; I urge you to contact me for some healthy banter. (I'm not holding my breath, since nobody reads my blog anyway, and I'm just writing to myself... and perhaps Julie, who reads Vampire stories, Chris Moore and young adult fiction). Nuff said.

Strangely, this scene from the poster never made it into the film

After the movie ended, I left the theater and got on my scooter to head home.  It was just before sunset, and I was in a pensive mood, so I decided to stop by the park, to watch the sunset over the ocean.  Kamaole Park has a vast grassy area above the beach and I can pull my scooter right up off the road.  I propped up my bike and sat facing the ocean, noticing as usual that the tourist migration thickens right before sunset, as the masses head towards the beach.  There were several clusters of people strewn about the grass, celebrating in their own ways.  Some had bottles of wine, others were playing music and one strange group had a few dozen pinwheels stuck in the grass surrounding them.  The wind was steady and the pinwheels glistened in the setting sun creating a strobe-like effect almost effective enough to send me into a seizure.  I leaned back against my basket, which is behind my seat, covered in bungee cords.  As I got comfortable, I dropped deeper into thought, assessing my life and reflecting upon my current state of affairs.
The movie dealt with death, in a way that made the lead characters feel like they never had enough time to live.  Conversely, I feel like I have ample time, yet I somehow forget to make the effort to live "fully", content to cruise by, floating downstream with the current.

This is what the sunset looks like from the top of the park

From out of the setting sun, across the grass,  four older ladies appeared, all dressed in colorful Hawaiian sarongs.  They walked, two by two, jabbering away, right toward me.  A few feet in front of me, between the gravel of the roadside and the grass of the park, sits a long low wooden fence.  The ladies decided, for some reason, to sit right in front of me, even though the whole fence was open and ran the entire length of the park.  Never once did they even look at me, or notice how comfortable I was watching the sunset, kicked back on my bike.  They sat on the fence and took their slippers off and began to rub their feet with Kleenex, all the while talking about someone's niece. I felt invisible, and I suddenly noticed an overwhelming smell of Vicks Vaporub.
I started my scooter up and drove away, deciding to forgo sharing the sunset with the quintet.  As I made the turn on Keonikai, heading up the hill into my neighborhood, I watched the sun set in my mirror.  By the time I made it to my street, there was already a pink glow in the sky.  I parked the scooter and let myself into my cottage, where the smell of yesterday's microwave popcorn hit me as I walked through the door, reminding me, once again of the movie.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010

One of these things...

... is not like the others.

See if you can spot the different one:

at least he looks happy
This white kid was beaten senseless right after this picture was taken
Young Brett Michaels
What Kanye West felt like...

bad signs

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Scuba Dude

Two dives in two days.
This time... back to Makena Landing.

Before gearing up, we have a lesson on land, learning:
  • how to read the codes on the scuba tanks, and what it means
  • how much weight to put on your belt and the knots to keep them on
  • how to attach the BC to the tank and high pressure test the hoses
  • reading the depth gauges, and pressure indicators
  • how to inflate and deflate your BC to find neutral buoyancy
  • what tests/skills we will be doing on the ocean floor
Walking from the parking lot to our gear (masks, fins, etc..) is a challenge, and soon after we made it, Makena tipped over.  We laughed about it as Steve, her dad, helped her back up.

I've fallen, and I can't get up!

We got our toothpaste in our masks, fins in our hands and headed to the beach.  Luckily for you, Kyle was there to document it all in technicolor (on his phone).

We walked into the ocean, put our fins on and rinsed out our masks.  I was looking around as I did this, scanning the water for the shark I had seen last week, since we were standing in the very spot I had seen it.  I saw some Goatfish and a Humuhumunukunukuapua'a... but no shark.


We floated out to the deep on our backs, conserving our air and enjoying the cool refreshing water.  I kept sneaking peeks into the water, checking out the reef as we passed over a colorful, live stretch.  We dove down to about 30 feet and followed the dive instructor (Dave) as he flanked the reef on his right.  Within minutes, we saw our first turtle, cruising down towards us from the surface.  It came a few feet from us, looked us over and swam away.
Then we came upon a fish that was swimming weirdly, right above the bottom.  As I got closer, I noticed that the fish was hooked in a fishing line and that the line itself was caught in a rock on the bottom.  Dave took a knife out of somewhere and cut the fish loose.  It swam off without even thanking us.  It looked like this (but with a lip piercing):

Butterfly Fish

We saw long Trumpet fish and Needle fish:

Makena found the smallest Sand Dollar I have ever seen.  She handed it to me to put in my pocket and I was amazed how small it was.  It was actually smaller than this one, and it did not have a hole.

We eventually settled into an area of sparse sandy knolls.  Dave gathered us together and I figured it was time for us to do our skills tests.  First we had to remove our regulators from our mouths and put it back in, without drinking a lot of yummy ocean water.  Then, we had to let the regulator fall behind us so we had to reach back and find it, and return it to our mouths.  By puffing quickly into it as you put it in your mouth, you can avoid slurping much water. No problem.
The next test involved flooding your mask and clearing it of water.  With contact lenses, there is an added difficulty of having to close your eyes during the process, but I was able to do it without much drama.  Then we had to completely remove our masks and replace it and clear it, which I was glad to get done.
The last skills involved taking off the weight belt, then the BC, and replacing them.  We also had to do the same tests at the surface on the way back. All were doable.

While we sat on the bottom, stirring up the sand, a turtle came over to us to check us out (much like sitting on the grass in a park when a dog comes by to investigate). It peered at the group of us, seemed unimpressed and moved on towards the surface.
As it swam away, I watched it, and saw something I had never seen before. Again, like a dog in a park, the turtle took a crap... and three dog-like turds floated slowly towards the bottom.  I pointed at it and when the girls and Dave saw it, they laughed.  Dave swam to the turds, and surprisingly caught one in his hand.  Right away, my mind raced with potential hazing scuba initiation rites... I tried to think about what he was possibly going to do with the turtle doo.
Jesse, the other dive instructor, had two ladies (one of which was wearing a thong) that he was doing skills tests with and they were together in a small circle.  Jesse did not see Dave as he slowly swam above him and let the turtle poo go.  It floated like a feather, slowly sinking in front of his face, missing his nose by mere inches.  Jesse lurched and immediately looked for the poopetrator, only to find his buddy Dave, smiling, doubled over in undersea laughter.  He swam over to us demanding high fives, beaming with pride.

We continued following the reef around until we came upon some caves, carved into the bottom, around 35 feet deep.  Dave went first, pointing into a dark corner.  Leslie and Makena were close behind him and soon, they too, were pointing emphatically.  I knew what was there before I saw it, so I wasn't surprised to see the Whitetip shark nestled there.  It was around 4 foot and definitely smaller than the Grey shark I saw last week. It also appeared to be napping.

Sleeping shark
Sleeping sharks

not a shark

We swam along the reef and made the turn back towards the shore, encountering a few more turtles.  Dave showed us how to swim underneath them and blow bubbles so that, timed right, they popped on the turtle's belly. I can imagine the turtle thinking " one of these days dude, I'm gonna poop on your head... just you wait."
If I had an underwater camera, I would have taken this picture:

Our air was running out so we headed to the surface, inflated our BCs, and began a slow float back to shore.  The sun was out, and there was a cool breeze.  As we got to shore, I found myself once again counting my blessings... never taking for granted the bountiful beauty of this place that I find myself living in.  The new perspective of looking at it from underwater only adds to my sense of wonder and awe. I live a pretty charmed life.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Scuba Dooba Do!

I did it!  I went scuba diving for the first time today.
Last night I watched a two-hour instructional scuba video and today we met at the beach.
After a short informational chat with the dive instructor, we suited up, put our tanks on, and walked into the ocean.
We dove at Black Sand Beach in Makena.

Black Sand Beach

 We waded out into the shallow sand so that we could put our fins on and rinse the toothpaste out our masks (it keeps the mask from fogging up).  Once fully adjusted, we floated away from the shore on our backs, so as to save the air for when we needed it.  With my weight belt holding 16 pounds of lead, I began sinking quickly until the instructor showed me how to put air into my BC, keeping me aloft.  I was fairly surprised that he hadn't shown me this on the land.
With the regulator in my mouth, I practiced breathing in long, slow breaths.  The air had no taste to it and I was able to maintain a good normal rhythm with no problem. My mask was snug and not leaky and my fins felt fine.  I was ready to go.

Since the water was warm, I did not need a wetsuit, so I just wore my rash guard and board shorts.

I put my face in the water and practiced breathing through my regulator.  It felt like snorkeling since I was at the surface, and I am used to being able to breath through my snorkel.  The weirdness began when I went below the surface and I could still breath.  My brain was surprised and I had to convince it to be calm and go with the flow.  As I let some air out of my BC (buoyancy compensator), I began to slowly sink towards the bottom.  I looked around and saw Makena going down, leaving a trail of bubbles in her wake.  We followed the instructor around as we got used to the breathing and as I got so close to the bottom I scraped my foot on a coral, scratching it. I figured out that there was an equilibrium (called neutral buoyancy) which allowed you to stay where you wanted, without floating or sinking.  Soon after, I began cruising along the bottom, checking out the reef and generally feeling like Aquaman.

Not me... but you get the idea

We swam around along the bottom, through the reef, taking it all in.  I saw plenty of fish, such as Boxfish, Triggerfish, Manini, Goatfish, Needlefish and Parrotfish.  The reef was bustling with marine life and Makena pointed out a large Moray Eel which we all took a good look at.  It's head was the size of my hand and it's teeth were sharp and plentiful.

Spotted Moray Eel

An eel is my nemesis (only because it is my name spelled backwards).

As we went deeper, past the reef, we entered an area of sparse, grassy sand.  There were few fish here and there, but not much exciting to see.  I equalized my ears and found a new level of comfort, cruising along with the group.  I looked up at the surface, then down at my depth gauge, noticing we were at our deepest yet, at 36 feet.  I panned around at the infinite blueness surrounding us, and even though visibility was very good, I found that you could only see so far. Large shapes, like other divers begin to blur at 30 feet or so.
There were a few times when I looked behind me, thinking and hoping that I would not see this:

I never saw this

The sounds of the breathing and the bubbling was louder than I thought it would be, but when we entered a reef zone with lots of fish, you could plainly here the crunching of the coral by the Parrotfish.  I thought about diving during whale season and hearing the whales squealing away, since I have always been able to while snorkeling.  It must be even louder and clearer so deep.

As we were swimming along, a turtle coasted by in front of us and pretty much everyone in our group pointed at it at the same time.  It seemed a new perspective to me, as I have seen many turtles from the surface.  The way it just glided effortlessly, all but ignoring us, seemed elegant and standoffish.  It was a fairly big Green Sea turtle, around 300 pounds, I'd guess.  It looked a lot like this (but bigger):

Am I not turtlely enough for the turtle club?

At one point, I wished I had a compass, since I had lost my sense of direction and I could not even guess which way was the way back to the shore.  The only way I could think of was to go to the surface and take a look (which was obviously out of the question).  I chose to simply follow the group, trusting that the instructor knew his way.

He did.  Almost an hour had passed (I think) when things began to look familiar, and I knew we were getting closer to shore.  I looked over at Makena, gave her a shaka, and was surprised to see that she looked a lot like a scuba diving cat (since she is small).


As we got out of the water, my weight belt felt heavier, and I tried to stand in the loose sand, balancing the tank on my back.  I trudged up the beach with a shit-eating grin on my face, proud of my accomplishment and looking forward to the next dive (which will be tomorrow).
I'm hoping to see a Whale Shark, sunken treasure and a scuba diving wombat.
If I do, there will be pictures.

I should probably get an underwater camera.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wasn't last week Shark Week?

It was a glorious, sunny afternoon Sunday, and I found myself at Makena Landing, one of my favorite snorkeling spots. My friends were scuba diving and I was hanging behind with their kids, swimming and snorkeling, like usual.  We often find and follow around Sea Turtles, catch Brittle Stars and Pencil Urchins, and generally have fun exploring the marine life we can see and reach.
I got my mask and snorkel with my fins and headed toward the beach with three kids and a boogie board.  Makena, who is ten, is a strong swimmer (and getting scuba certified herself) swims alongside me while I pull Tobin (6) and Tyler (5) behind us, as they hang on the boogie board.  The boys wear goggles and keep their faces in the water long enough to see most of the action.

About 50 or so feet from shore, as it gets a little too deep to stand, I push us off keeping the reef to our right as we begin our turtle search.  Makena was on my left, a bit behind me. I noticed a big, grey shape behind her as I looked over to see if she was ok, thinking right away that it was a scuba diver or another snorkeler. As I focused, I clearly saw it was a shark, about my size cruising slowly past us, turning towards the shallows.  I took another good look just to make sure I wasn't imagining it.  It looked like this:

My brain sent me mixed messages all at once.  I looked again, as the shark was swimming away, trying to figure out what kind of shark it was.  It was not a Blacktip or Whitetip, and definitely not a Tiger.  I decided it was probably a Grey Reef Shark, which some part of my brain informed me it was relatively harmless and nothing to be scared of.  Another part of my brain, which watched a lot of Discovery shows during Shark Week, told me to flee.  I poked my head out of the water right as Tobin did.  I looked at him and asked "Did you just see that?"
"The shark... yeah," he replied nonchalantly.
"It was big," I heard myself say, adding "like my size."
"Yeah," said Tobin.
I started turning around towards shore, thinking about postponing the boogie board turtle tour, causing both Tyler and Makena to ask where we were going.
"I just saw a really big shark" I said.
"So, aren't we gonna find turtles?" asked Tyler.
I couldn't think of anything to say and I didn't want to freak out the kids, who seemed fine, but my body was taking us back to the beach and I couldn't seem to fight it.
"I forgot to ask your mom something," was all that I came up with.
My mind's eye replayed the shark footage, just to make sure I wasn't imagining things.
This time I saw this:

A hungry Grey Reef Shark.

As we approached the shallows, I thought about what I'd do if the shark came back for another appearance. I could throw Tyler or Tobin at least 10 feet, creating a suitable distraction, or at least an appetizer. I trudged up onto the sand as I pulled off my fins and headed over to where my friends were getting all suited up for their Scuba adventure.
I went over and said aloud, so that they could all hear me, "I just saw a really big reef shark... like as big as me."
"Cool," someone replied.
"Was it a Black-tip?" asked the dive instructor.
"No... it was a Grey... but it was big," I said.
"Cool," someone said again.
"I never saw a shark that big in the water before... it kinda freaked me out," I blurted out.
"They are harmless, they won't bother you," said the dive instructor.

I looked over at the kids, who were obviously waiting for me to continue the snorkel tour.
So I did.  But as we were swimming around, I kept looking over my shoulder, scanning the blue depths for the shark.  We never saw it again.
We did however find this fish sitting on the bottom, and we followed him around for fifteen minutes, watching him "fly" around, as he fanned and unfanned his wings.

Flying Gurnard

Later, when I described it to the dive instructor, he told me it was a Flying Gurnard, and that it was rare to see.  When I got home and googled it, I came across this article:

Previous Ocean Watch columnOcean WatchNext Ocean Watch column

Monday, December 11, 2000

Gurnards may not
fly but do walk

Hawaii's flying gurnard is also called a helmet
gurnard because of its armorlike head bones.

FLYING gurnards. I haven't heard about or seen one of these unusual fish in years, but lately they're popping up all over the place.
In the last two months, I've received two emails from mainland readers about flying gurnards. One wanted to know if these fish are poisonous (no); the other spotted one while snorkeling in Kahaluu Bay on the Big Island. Then I saw a tiny one, labeled a jet gurnard, in an aquarium store.
Finally, last week, while walking down the sidewalk in the Ala Wai Boat Harbor, I ran into a fellow boat owner. "Want to see an interesting fish?" she asked.
We rushed to the place she saw it, and surprisingly, the fish was still there, strutting like an aquatic peacock. Yep. It was a flying gurnard.
The first thing people ask about flying gurnards is, Can they fly?
People once thought these fish could leap from the water and glide over the ocean's surface like flying fish. But flying gurnards are heavy bottom fish that can neither leap from the water nor fly over it. Their enormous pectoral fins, however, do look like wings. When the fish spreads these fin-wings fully, they form a near circle around the creature's narrow body.
Such a display has nothing to do with flight. Rather, it's a defensive ploy. The extended fins make the fish look bigger and more formidable to potential predators. That's why, when alarmed, a flying gurnard will display its magnificent wings and walk in circles. If that fails to scare off a predator, this bulky fish will dart away with surprising speed.
When not alarmed, the flying gurnard folds its fins like a fan and tucks them next to its body.
Whether open or closed, the pectoral fins of the gurnard have another function. The leading edge of each fin bears several short spines that are partly free of confining membranes. This allows the spines to move like fingers. If you watch a gurnard carefully, you can see these little fingers scrape and probe the sea floor in search of shellfish, worms, mantis shrimp and fish.
AS if wings with fingers aren't enough weird features for a fish, this one also has legs. The pelvic fins beneath the flying gurnard's body also bear short, movable spines that walk the fish forward or backward.
And there's more. Flying gurnards talk. Well, they make sounds anyway.
The word gurnard (which I spelled wrong in my Nov. 6 column) comes from a French term meaning to grunt. The fish makes grunting sounds, for reasons unknown, by rubbing parts of its jawbones together.
Of the seven species of flying gurnards in the world, Hawaii hosts only one. Look for them, up to 15 inches long, on sandy bottoms in Waikiki waters and around Magic Island. But look hard. These speckled brown, white and sometimes blue fish can blend well with the ocean floor.
If you see one of these rare and beautiful creatures, try sharing the find, like my neighbor did for me. You'll likely make someone's day.

After we snorkeled and swam for hours, we had a bbq dinner as we dried off in the setting sun.
Right before sunset, the kids and I walked up the "steps to nowhere" to see the view from the top.

The Steps to Nowhere

Hailey, the little blond, stayed behind when we went snokeling.

Had she come with us, she would have made fine sharkbait.


Goofball kids above Makena Landing