Friday, February 15, 2013

So, I took a swim

With a child's mask snug on my face and neon fins elongating my own set of flippers, I threw myself over the side of the boat, hoping to God the water was deep enough. I splashed and floundered about until I got my bearings. The sky, a searing azure, melded into the sea at some point on the hazy horizon. I dipped my head under the water for a peek of something I can never have.

The Andaman Sea crackled with possibility. The teal waters surrounding Koh Rok hosted an intricate labyrinth of wild life, so untouched by humanity. Materialism, commercialism, capitalism, communism all gave way to this time and space in which humans can only observe and never be a part. I wished I had gills with which to breathe, but all I had were photographs written in memories and the obnoxious necessity of taking in air.

These corals were not the flashy sort you see lounging around the Great Barrier or the Caribbean. They were a humbler folk, swathed in browns and burnt umber. The tiny holes stretched wide breathing in hydrogen, and I oxygen. These pieces of coral, large blocks of living organisms, sit both adjacent to and tangent from one another.

The fish darted back and forth like lab rats in a test that never ends. The iridescent scales shimmered in the dancing sunlight reflecting in the salt and water. I named them all as Adam did--foolishly claiming them as my own.

The first, Rita. Her scales, a shaded grey-green rainbow. The vibrant colors, masked by a translucent cover, pushed through, determined to show their beauty. Her head was pink on the bottom and a brilliant blue on top. We locked eyes, each regarding the other's form. We swam away, each turning back and stealing glances of the exotic beauty we've left behind.

The second, Marius, an uppity green fellow so bright he could light up the Vegas strip—the yellow dots along his sides complemented his pink underbelly and orange lips. His school danced in the waves, as he desperately tried to conduct a lesson. The yellow stripe on his dorsal twitched in annoyance as I invaded his classroom hoping to learn something, too.

The bright purple cone with green hair sprouting in tufts housed a sea anemone. Marlin and Nemo played tag amongst the swaying fronds. Their orange and white stripes chased each other as clouds chase the sun.  Dory came to play as well, but she was a mammoth compared to the little clowns. Her blue and yellow tail switched back and forth moving her toward more appropriate corals.

Gerald, the cabbie, swished his black and white checkered body in front of my face, urging me to hold on. He took me to where I needed to go, even though I didn’t know it. I followed his orange head as it bobbed in between Marius’ school and Rita’s vanity. He took me to this shallow crag rife with sea spines so close they almost tickled. Their spikes simultaneously foreboding and beautiful. I could just see past them to see a myriad of colors beneath—an orange that defied the setting sun, a Macintosh red, a translucent gel with a hint of blue at its very center. All of them waved to meet me, this gargantuan alien.

The mussels in this crag were a Georgia O'Keefe tribute--opening and closing with each breath. Their hard outer shells hid unique inner linings, each with an identifying stripe, polka dot, or striking color. Little neon trumpets exhaled music and bubbles, but they were so easy to scare. A snap or swift kick of my fin sent them deep in the recesses of their homes. I left them with a flip of my fin and a shake of my head, hoping a dorsal would sprout.

Later, while swimming over a deeper part of the sea, I dove down to the bottom to grasp a piece of garbage half buried in the sand. How could someone so carelessly misplace their wrappers and sully this paradise? My snorkel filled with water and salt, my teeth clenched against its barrage. All of the fish watched me move through the water, and as I surfaced, I swam through their grateful gaze.

In that moment, humanity seemed barbaric. Pillaging one of the few places left untouched by our greedy paws. This life, this sea, this ocean has survived millions of years relying on its own intuition. Entire ecosystems have ignited, evolved, died, and began anew without any help from humans. They are a phoenix rising and leaving us in its fiery wake. It’s baffling when we, as people, think that we know the best way to coexist, when we have had more years of war than years of peace. The Earth is not ours to own and do with as we please. She is a living and breathing goddess on whom we reside.
After four hours of wonder, I peeled off my mask and fins, hoping my memory didn’t go with them. It seems trivial to try to write something to match their vivid colors and intricate way of life. As the boat surged west, I sprawled on the bow, salt crystals forming on my skin, in complete awe of the world I call home.

Monday, February 4, 2013

So, I should probably write a letter

In elementary school, we always wrote letters to our 25 or 30 year old selves, but we never seemed to write the other way.

If I were to write to my 15 year old self, I wouldn't tell her of what is yet to come. I wouldn't tell her that in ten years, she will be living in a foreign country. I wouldn't tell her that on January 18th she would watch the sun peek his nose above the fronds of a palm tree in the middle of a Thai jungle. I wouldn't tell her that she will feel the tide rise and fall over her knees as she watches men scribble fiery epitaphs into the midnight sky. Their dance—her only reality in that moment. I wouldn't let her in on the secret that roosters do not crow to wake us up; they're too proud to let the other one have the last say. It's a communication of dominance--a strut of who is louder, therefore stronger. I wouldn't tell her the one on the left 100 meters down wins. I wouldn't tell her that the rays shifting through the leaves are God's shadow puppets, and we are meant to watch. I wouldn't tell her that she is a geological know-it-all due to her father's careful instruction--she has put those lessons safely away in the corners of her brain.

But, what I would tell her is to love. Love deeply and quickly. And, it is going to hurt. Life will hit her hard in the stomach. It will tear her apart. But, from that she will learn. I would tell her to be careful with her heart, but don't let her brain overtake it. I would tell her to calm the hell down and look at the world around her. The smallest blade of grass, as insignificant as it is to us, is shelter and home to the ant who lives under it. I would tell her to slow down and listen to the music which plays through the trees. I would tell her that Wisconsin trees sound of polka and fish fries. They smell of grandparents and memories. But, every tree sounds different. Some clap like castanets. Some bend and twist to unearthly music (not unlike Enya). I would tell her that the tree I am looking at as the sun rises in her paradise sounds of sweet honey and tastes like laughter.

But the last thing I would tell her is this: remember who you came from, remember what they taught you, and remember, dear Katie, remember to dream. Because in them, you will find peace.