I crane to look above me, slowly turning and searching for the source of the wrinkled, falling shadows. Through the motes of early morning light descending down the canyon walls l find them, in some primal pattern divinely etched into the minds of beasts, half bird, half fish, the silent, patterned flock of eagle rays. Their viscous flight redefines our gravity, and time. My pulse slows. The ruddy light pauses upon my dancing arm hairs, before descending yet farther. At a morning angle it drapes the stone walls, painting morays agape in trance, down past the colored murals of tangs flaking and turning in composite mind, and down yet deeper through the sky of this clear sea to the darker depths of the the larger Levites, the grouper and the shark.
The day began with the omnipresent breeze ebbing as it does, the rising sun shifting the trade-winds, slightly. The evening boat taut on the anchor chain wanders to a morning rest and then a flicker of light and warmth enters our room and our cabin is painted in soft hues. We rouse and peer out the portlights to peach-blush anvilheads which had provided us an evening rain, trundling now over the western horizon. Slowly migrating, Helen and I emerge into the cockpit coffee in hand, to watch the colors mature and fade and then as usual, a pamplemousse on the stern. We chat and toss the citrus peals, to the distain of the remora slithering from our hull shadows. A grapefruit summit. Around us, the ragged, volcanic mountains drop down to form our western bay and on warming thermals black frigates soar, occasionally pealing and diving down to investigate. In the building breeze now one can hear, better than see, the goats bleating in the dry grasses like forlorn children lost from their mothers.
This morning, coffee still tall, just pealing a fruit, Michael, the Danish dive-boat captain from the catamaran which shares this bay burbled over in his dinghy to pick me up for our dive. This place is so remote his dive liveaboard makes only multi-months long sojourns into this wilderness. I don my gear and climb in to head out to the point, where the mountains slip into the Pacific. There is little conversation between us six Hajis to the deep as there is much to think about. And I don’t speak Danish.
We reach the secret spot, triangulated between the spires on land and the feel and color of the sea before we fall backwards, mask pressed to face to watch the shimmering mirror of the otherworld glimmer away. I feel the pressure and clicks in my sinuses as we descend, clearing them constantly with a long, exhaling yawn. Now I’ve turned to face the deep, in free fall, the water so shockingly clear I can easily see our target 100 feet below. After a quick breath, another expiration, a grin, I fall faster yet, my own stunted frigate wings wide, I fly through the columns of mirrored mushrooms rising below me. And then we arrive, a little gas in my buoyancy compensator stops my descent. The six of us upon the rocky shelf to begin our trace of the point here where the volcanic shoulder pauses slightly before continuing its raked angle to the seafloor ten thousand feet below. There is a sense of exposure here and the windy current forces us to search for grip in the slipstream. Hand signals communicate the route and we let go, flying off into the blast. Shortly, the wall approaches on the right. In the Marquesan waters of the decaying Humbolt current there is less coral and more rock, but the usual cold brings plankton and krill which supports this teeming effluence of life. The wall is covered in the colors and patterns of fish; in the many depressions they find refuge from the stream. There are hundreds of thousands. Millions? We are weightless and effortlessly flying. I pass a marbled grouper larger than my leg eyeing me, motionless from his grotto despite my space invasion and then I see the shadows.
At first there was a sense of increasing darkness and then that of shade, but not the random, organic shade of a tree or of the jungle, but rather patterned and organized, wholly inhuman, cellular and migratory. Intelligent.
For many, including myself, the world had become an abridged and indexed version of reality, rarely judged anew on fresh merits, and in our complicated lives we might even pardon ourselves for it. I did. Occurrences, situations and observations fail to be re-evaluated for their subtleties and nuances, but are rather assigned to their ordered location of likenesses in our minds. Cluttered, and harried we shelve these new volumes without even dusting the covers. Whole lives of cerebellar responses can be lived like this until jarred awake by something that grossly doesn’t fit. I tuck into an eddy behind a rocky post and share it with a nurse shark while waiting for the others. Then off again.
In our ordered universe it is often hard to see the unique patterns. I can’t find a right angle in the heavens, and now I am searching southern skies. Patterns mean life, divinity perhaps for some, they tug at the paleo brain for our understanding and for the purpose within their design. And so within these occasions I am again awakened, prodded to consider the intersections of these living matrices with yet deeper ones. In moment upon moment, the overwhelming cleverness of design taunts my cosmology. The tail scythes of surgeon fish cuneiform in their deployment, the segmented armor of the antediluvian chitons. The pulsatile, diaphanous autonomy of jellyfish legions. The enormous, all knowing eye of the Napoleon wrasse. I am lost in time soaring along these walls.
And now revealed within the projected pattern of our eagle ray squadron above me: the flapping and flying sun-laden positives of their forms mimicking their very existence. I chuckle into my regulator in sheer wonderment, and then a profound sense of despair and sadness. I know, I’ve seen the indelibly deep footprint of Man. This mosaic of life falls apart when one of its constituents fails to keep up with the rapidly accelerating changes of our environment. The symbiosis fails, the algae cook, the corals die, the parrot fish withers and the wrasse is judging me. This magnificence is only ephemeral. Helen and I talk about it, feel it, daily. The girls are humbled by their experiences, we are humiliated by our own choices. We’ve been to too many atolls with fields of heat-bleached coral tombstones, broken and scattered as far as the eye can see. It’s a beachhead graveyard. To any rational being it’s undeniable, it’s genocide.
And so it is on a Tuesday morning that I pierce back through that mirrored ceiling. Bobbing in the cold and effervescent sea at the base of cliffs the tender motors to collect me. I grab an outstretched hand and clamber into the dinghy, carrying the weight of my gear and now also the next layer of hauntingly irreconcilable complexities dumped on my own cerebral floor. More unshelvable volumes from the deep. I shiver. I’m sure Helen has made fresh coffee for us. I can’t wait to talk to her.