It was the first time I had scuba dived in a 5 mil wetsuit. I’m used to diving in a 1.5 mil Sharkskin top.
I almost had a safety incident at the end of the first dive.
I experienced some serious issues with buoyancy. And – maybe I was breathing too hard – I used up my air quick.
You know I have to constantly fight against my fear of all the technical equipment of scuba diving.
My air went low, and the combination of my nearly empty tank, the thick wet suit, unknown residual trapped air in my BCD that I could not release though I tried, and the expanding remaining molecules of air as I ascended caused me to suddenly be propelled against my will toward the surface faster than I wanted, or what was ideally safe.
Certainly my own lack of experience in scuba diving played a part – I’m much more at home freediving where you don’t need any equipment just your athletic body.
But before all that:
We saw a giant goliath grouper at the stern of the Ana Cecilia, easily near 400 pounds and 7 feet long. Beautiful bad fish like a hippo chilling on the sand. He or she reminded me of Hemingway’s short story After the Storm, which I’d just read, about a dude rowing out to wrecks after a hurricane hit Cuba and seeing the big groupers already taking up residence around a sunken ocean liner with dead people in it.
The 170′ long freighter rests at 85 feet depth on the sand bottom, and was caught with 400 kilos of blow trying to go up the Miami River. That was it for this boat, which had once sailed the open seas.
I’m thankful my lungs did not over-expand on coming up. Dodged a bullet.
I am going to practice as much as I can so I can be better at scuba diving.
I am so not a mathematician, so anything dealing with the functioning of technology or equipment is a struggle.
On my nearly out-of-control ascent, as I fought to stay below the surface at 15 feel for a 3-minute safety stop to offgas any excess nitrogen absorbed at depth, a remora found me and circled, checking me out.
You know remoras; they have a suction cup under their mouths so they can attach themselves for free travel onto a shark. I tried to get a pic of him but the GoPro cut his head out of the frame.
The remora came close, and did I tell you I’m a shark?
Wait till I get into my next rounds of freediving next year.
The 2nd dive to Spearman’s Barge went cool. Not much down there. Just a barge on the sand bottom. It was not very tall – I realized how low a barge deck is to the water when a barge does its work on the surface.
And up at top this school of mangrove babies drifting upright like 7-inch green brown vanilla beans ready to give new life and having no idea that the United States even exists.
I’ve never felt safe; I’ve always been on guard for danger. But I will never be anybody’s victim, so my main concerns are not about myself. My job is to fight for fairness and justice, and the health and safety of all people and our planet.
Usually when diving you don’t think about anything. You’re just present. That is the great elixir of being in the water. But this time Trump faces kept coming into my eyes. Even that crazy Melania. And no I am not slut-shaming. Halp. I tried to shake it all out of my head repeatedly.
In all seriousness: working at coping against waves of ‘sick to my stomach’. Moments of almost-panic that threaten to retch out of my gut like bad seasick.
It’s very easy for societies to break down into ethno-scapegoating for perceived grievances that are then exacerbated by those in power to reap more power.
Stop it at the last second. Override it.
The corals below me know something has been wrong for a while because many show signs of disease or paling and bleaching.
Note to Trump supporters: Just remember that your bodies, lives, children, families, economic stability, and general well-being are also in danger from climate collapse. Socially conscious people will not be the only ones affected. You and the entire world will be affected, and your plans set us on a runaway road to several billion people being killed over the next 100 years or so. There is nothing you can do to escape this fact. Your human bodies and lives depend on the same planet we do.
A fellow commenter said if I don’t like it I should move to Mars.
Ask yourself: what does it mean to die and die and die yet somehow still stay alive?
Few people in America are as invisible as the quietly shattered.
Recently I saw Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, and adapted from Tarell Alvin McCray’s original play In Moonlight, Black Boys Look Blue.
It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen.
Moonlight trusts its audience. “Trust your reader”, the publisher of my first book Ghetto Plainsman once told me.
You create, and they experience with you.
That’s one of the most important things any real artist can do.
In Hollywood, it’s so rare for a movie to “trust the audience” and practice restraint – including telling its story without gimmicks, contrivances, manipulations and beating its points over our heads with a baseball bat – that a movie like Moonlight leaves us flayed open … body, senses and emotions raw, unable to stop thinking about it for days. That is the mark of a great film.
Moonlight unfolds in three acts, following the life of young Chiron growing up in the rough Liberty City neighborhood of northeast Miami.
Played by three different actors, first we see Chiron as “Little” (Alex Hibbert), then as teenage “Chiron” (Ashton Sanders) and finally as “Black” (Trevante Rhodes), a grown mid-20s man.
As a boy under attack from all sides, devastated, and questioning his own identity, he can hardly speak.
No safe place. It’s like the dangers from the world produce so much roaring noise around him he is canceled out into utter silence.
It’s in these spaces between words where all three actors playing the three stages of Chiron’s life blow us away.
Brief moments of refuge become the outsized impacts on his life, within this perpetual storm.
Juan (Mahershala Ali) is a 40-something drug dealer who becomes a father figure, taking little Chiron to the beach, while Juan’s girlfriend Theresa (Janelle Monae) occasionally mothers him in ways his screaming, crack-addicted Ma (Naomie Harris) can never.
Equally out of place at school, skinny, sullen, in perpetual grave danger from other dudes who want to beat him up, Little/Chiron finds a few private moments of comfort in a friend, Kevin (Jaden Piner/Jharrel Jerome). (Andre Holland plays adult Kevin later.)
But even that falls into threat and loaded danger.
None of this collapses into stereotypes or cliches. The intensity of the first two acts is so tight and seamless that when Act 3 drops we’ve forgotten we’re even in a movie theater.
When we see Chiron in Act 3 as a grown man, he’s metamorphosed into a super-fit, hard man running his own drug game up in ATL.
Over at CypherAvenue.com, maybe the country’s most popular cultural site for masculine same gender loving men of color, some site visitors offensively commented that it wasn’t possible for a dude who was softer and weaker (devastated) as a kid to change that much into a new man.
They clearly have no idea. I know a person who at age 7 was so shattered he wanted to cut his wrist off with a steak knife or jump from a roof and then hated himself even more because he was too punk to go through with it. When that person finally “died” as a teenager, it was total and irrevocable, and he built an entirely new life that’s tough, confident, effective and extremely fit.
Life hardens you.
Which does not mean rare residual breaths, or lack thereof, might surface beneath that hard exterior.
And that’s what this shimmering movie is.
A gasp… a breath. A window into bottomless pain that touches us so deeply … decades of unrelenting pressure … that any amount of comfort, any proximity to a moment of love or safety, vibrate and hum through our soul.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In many ways Miami is its own tropical country hiding out from the rest of America.
Cinematically speaking, Moonlight’s visuals are so live and interwoven with the story that landscape becomes a living, breathing character itself. That’s what a great film or book should do.
Moonlight gives us a Miami that most people have no idea about, a Miami of inland hoods with accidental banana trees and broken slabbed concrete, rich multicultural blackness, and humid saturated blue and yellow sky with green fields where black boys play soccer instead of American football.
Shared American experiences have their own twist, like when Juan, speaking in his regular American East Coast blaccent, tells young Little about his grandma who was from Cuba, and suddenly switches his voice to perfectly nail her black Cuban grandma accent.
Or when Little, as a boy, steps into the ocean and lifts his hands under the water’s surface and we realize he’s never seen the ocean before.
(Being an activist, I felt a flare of anger in that powerful scene. All of this will be underwater in the coming decades as sea levels rise from climate change. How fucking dare us ruin the planet when even now, in these last few decades, so many kids have never even been to the beach, or other places in the natural world.)
Don’t pigeonhole this beautiful, transformative film. Moonlight is a human story where ultimately, like Chiron, we can hardly talk or breathe.
It might just change your life in some small, private, quiet way.
Me, after coming home from the theater, I couldn’t sleep.
So I listened to the nearly 2-hour Cypher Avenue podcast about it.
Still couldn’t sleep.
I tried taking a whole dropper of homeopathic Rescue Remedy under my tongue.
I tried listening to the Liquid Mind station on Pandora.
I played Brandy, whose ethereal voice can usually make anything feel better.
Then finally at 4 a.m. I went out for a 4-mile beach run where the hard winds that haven’t left since Hurricanes Matthew and Nicole blew sideways misting rain off the ocean into my face.
“Barry (Jenkins, the director of Moonlight), created something that feels even more real than what I’d written down. It’s so beautiful, and yet it’s full of all the questions and the doubt and the guilt and the longing and the loneliness that was the impetus for the original piece.” – Tarell Alvin McCraney, writer of the original play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.
Moonlight director Barry Jenkins; Photo by George Martinez / Location provided by Real Living Residences at Cynergi Condosfrom Miami New Times story.
For more info on Fear & Loving: Where Sea Level Meets the Deep, or Jarid Manos’ first book Ghetto Plainsman, which is currently being made into a Hollywood movie, or his upcoming novel Her Blue Watered Streets, please visit JaridManos.com.
Like Jarid Manos’ professional page on Facebook here.
In 2016, AD Burks sings one of the best renditions we’ve heard of “Old Folks at Home/Swanee River” and keeps it real. (Original uncensored 1851 dialect.)
What is that song?
In the back of your mind … a memory … a tendril of chorded melody from long ago that maybe you heard on an old black-and-white movie on TV or some old folks humming – a few bars – but didn’t pay much attention…
A very famous song from 1851, in a dialect “historically spoken” by enslaved African people, written by a very famous white American songwriter from the North, Stephen Foster, “the father of American music”.
A song that sounds racist today but describes a slave’s lamentation after he is sold to another plantation and sent away from his family, at a time when Africans in America were rarely allowed to speak for themselves.
Foster wrote “Old Folks at Home”, otherwise known as “Swannee River” (sp), in this dialect when American black folks were not even allowed to read or write but expected to speak English.
Man how people loved their families, so much that the trauma of being sold away from family was used by abolitionists as one of the main arguments against slavery, even beyond the physical brutality and bondage.
Maybe in such a rough world, love was all people had.
What’s it like to canoe 10 miles down the infamous Suwannee River in north Florida, south of the Georgia border, step over the underwater wood ribs of a sunk Confederate ass steamboat, and dive 60 feet into springs where fresh water is just shooting out of the belly of the Earth?
The green plastic canoe paddle dipped into the 2016 river water that had live oak trees lining its banks like 1851. Tannins from decaying palmetto roots, oak leaves and other plant matter give the water its dark tea color. I kept looking for a Gulf sturgeon.
These big old armored fish have been around since the dinosaurs and swim up from the Gulf of Mexico into the Suwannee to live and give birth during the spring, summer and fall. Sometimes they jump and accidentally kill somebody.
For long stretches there were no human industrial sounds at all, no machines, no distant background engine noise, just the river, the canoe paddles, and occasionally our voices.
DIVERSe Orlando dive crew canoeing down the wilderness water trail of the Suwannee River in north Florida.
The Suwannee is one of the wildest rivers in the United States, definitely showing us what we’ve lost and forgotten everywhere else.
Every once in a while an engine roar would rise and soon a speed boat rammed past, not slowing down.
At its widest the Suwannee River is only 250 feet.
The side waves from the boat’s wake walloped into our canoes and kayaks, gladly offering to swamp us.
“Redneck highway,” I grumbled as the waves rolled themselves out against the shore and the river reclaimed its composure.
Quiet enough again that a few others from the dive club heard me across the water. One laughed, then shut himself up.
I tried to imagine what was beyond the trees on either side of the river.
You know as an artist I think sugarcoating takes away the real. Whatever it is, art defines itself and its time period.
Drowsiness from the quiet. Warm October sun. Water dripping from canoe paddles.
But I had my wires up, tense.
Kind of like sleeping on the NYC subway at night. Back in the day. Where you sleep on the inside of yourself, but keep your “Watchman” alert on the outside.
Occasional signs of human habitation on the banks. A few people might emerge, very white-skinned, faces pink-blushed, in that Old South way that’s been original since Old South days. Sometimes shirtless, cut-off jean shorts. Bare feet. Reddish-brown raggy beards. Stared.
You never know what to think; what could happen.
200 years ago their ancestors were rowing down this same river gripping weapons against Seminoles emerging onto its banks from the live oaks, palmettos, and cypress trees….
….Seminole people originally known as Creeks who themselves rowed down on timber-beamed rafts to fill the gap of the ancient Timucuan people – a nation once 200,000 strong – who had been wiped to extinction from disease and slaughter.
Some old Seminole raft beams are still at the bottom of the river.
Erik and Aubra Denson of DIVERSe Orlando. Photo credit: by DIVERSe Orlando
I’m always struck by how warm and loving they are to everybody.
At the Suwannee River on our Saturday, October 1st trip, Aubra made a point to remember “Jim’s” name – young, white, skinny, in blue t-shirt and shorts – who drove us and the canoes 10 miles upriver to the launch site.
Heavily Southern dialected, in a regional, teeth-closed manner of speaking, he said he’d lived in this area his whole life.
And likely his parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, and so on, back to the antebellum pre-Civil War era.
We drove past Trump yard signs as the van headed out of the town of Branford, FL.
Aubra told me later:
Last year, Erik was invited to speak at the 2nd annual “Slave Dwellings” conference in Charleston, SC.
It was my first time in Charleston and they try to play up the slave market as this wonderful place to be. Oh, it’s full of shops and vendors, but history is literally in your face. To intensify matters, an arbitrary group of (black) people were on the pier dressed like slaves and singing old Negro hymns.
I am literally fighting tears while holding back bile remembering walking along the path I know the slaves walked … being chained and dragged from the nightmarish sea journey to the nightmarish existence as a slave.
The plantation house looked over gardens that were breathtakingly beautiful and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that horrific things had happened on those grounds to my ancestors.
I decided to stop worrying, and relaxed one level down on my tension alert.
The sun nearing 11 a.m. glowed in the clumps of pale-green Spanish moss hanging from live oaks. Gnarled branches. Sandy banks. Cypress trees too.
I feel things too much sometimes.
No big beautiful Gulf sturgeon. They can grow to 8 feet long and 200+ pounds. They like to jump.
Only once did I hear a fat splash. Missed seeing him. Ancient fish.
And then we were at Troy Spring. We got our scuba gear ready, suited up, pulled on our dive boots, and slogged through the tannic water toward the spring, carrying our fins.
It was hard to believe that just up ahead was a deep hole into the Earth you could dive into.
But it had a wide mouth and you could feel the force of the outward-expanding water even at this distance and see how it was pushing away the tannins. Lots of sand particles and bits of debris, streaming, in the bluing water.
In chest-high water my foot stepped on something hard and square a wooden beam and I really did not want this to happen, not least because I don’t want to impact anything – conscientious divers try not to touch anything – and also because I am kind of animistic.
Dave scuba diving in the depths of Troy Spring, Suwannee River, October 2016. DIVERSe Orlando trip.
At the bottom, I realized we were nowhere near its real bottom.
A smaller opening led into the upwelling torrent. I watched Dave and Rudy swim to its edge, peering in with their lights; astronauts. Their lights made this uprushing throat of the Earth a breathing tendril of fire.
“Their lights made this uprushing throat of the Earth a breathing tendril of fire.” Troy Spring, Suwannee River, October 2016.
My new ass stayed back, holding on to a rock. Cave diving is some specialized training and highly dangerous.
The entire cylindrical spring, our submersion, a melted yellow-green candle with the ball of Sun a white flame up there in the distant sky the universe leading the way home. Breathe underwater.
My body began to get the shake-shivers I have no fat but the Sun was not too far away. Within reach.
Water dissipates your body heat 20x faster than air.
“I sat on that porch, I walked through the FRONT door and I touched everything in that plantation house because I knew Blacks weren’t allowed to do it before. I was hateful… and I had no control over myself.”
“Emotions that were stirred up in me were unrecognizable to me and to Erik. He was so sorry he had talked me into going and I tried to stop acting out, but I couldn’t.”
We canoed a few more miles down the river. A sense of gradually emerging out of wilderness into civilization grew as occasional houses appeared, built on bluffs above the river, and then we were at Little River Spring, a locally popular swimming hole. Afternoon sunlight.
Aubra and Rudy preparing to dive down into the Little River Spring cavern. Photo source: DIVERSe Orlando
Here unlike Troy Spring the water was crystal clear.
Aubra and Rudy beginning ascent down the slope. Photo source: DIVERSe Orlando
Erik and Jarid before the Little River Spring dive. Water magnifies. Do fish see this same magnification? Or do fish say air distorts? Whose reality is right?? Photo source: Dave McCleod
Diving down into it was liquid silver suspended animation and suddenly I was cavern diving.
It was an open trajectory sloping down and I stayed in the center and it was fine.
The fresh water rushed up at us cold.
Water pooled against the amber cavern ceilings. It grew dim. Far up you could see the distant sky opening in aqua blue, crossed by a fallen-in tree that wanted to be Halloween.
“Underwater mirrors” on the cavern ceilings of Littler River Spring, Suwannee River, October 2016.
Dave shined his light.
Sunfish who lost his color in the spring depths. Photo source: Dave McCleod
A large freshwater sunfish who appeared to have lost all his color in the dimness perpetually swam face forward against the thrust of spring water. His territory and home. Maybe he would do this the rest of his life without even knowing there was anything different.
The author down in Little River Spring. Photo source: Dave McCleod
Back up top. The skin-expanding October Florida sun.
My very first cavern dive.
Aubra laughed as she sat pleasantly on a rock half submerged as I shook off a second set of shake-shivers. That spring water was cold.
Aubra chilling after diving down into Little River Spring. Photo credit: Dave McCleod
I could tell the year was getting thinner for sure. Even in Florida.
A leak had appeared in one of Erik’s valves so Aubra had gone first, and now he was down in the spring, using her tank.
One group of local white boys maybe in their early 20s dragged a purposely-limp girl by her arms and legs and threw her in. She had her hair dyed burnt violet, and a tattoo on the back of her neck.
They jumped in after her. Splashed around.
The hole into this spring was not that wide and both Aubra and I worried that they would hit their heads on the rocks.
But they and the other locals were all right, and having fun. They said nothing and seemingly paid us no mind.
I know people will smile in your face and think something different behind their breaths so I can be bitter.
In a followup email, Aubra wrote:
“The first time I went out there, I wasn’t a certified diver. Now that I’m an advanced diver on my way to master diver, I love it even more. The Suwannee River is synonymous with peacefulness. Dozens of turtles dot the fallen branches and the occasional sturgeon will gracefully breach the tannic waters, guarding their territory. The trees are bent over or slipping into the banks, greeting you as you drift by. They are gnarly, a little ominous but beautiful. This was my first time diving there. It was magical. It is a natural swimming pool in somewhat of a circle with crystal clear spring water forcing back the tannins. Going into the cavern was such a treat. It’s so much fun! I wish I could share it with everyone. It is important for me that everyone feels welcome when they are with us.”
“Most people just want to be included and that’s what I’m about: inclusion.”
By early evening we made it back to the return location near Branford, Fl.
Jim met us to get the canoes. Dave and his wife Algeria had brought their own kayak.
Aubra and Erik tipped Jim significantly.
Everybody was nice.
I stayed back. Sometimes I just don’t engage if I don’t have to.
I retreated to the pavilion and changed out of soaking wet clothes into dry boxer briefs and basketball shorts, the new clothes becoming skin-damp themselves. No towel.
Braced myself for the 6-hour return drive back to Miami. Hate to sit.
But Miami-Fort Lauderdale is its own tropical country hiding out from the rest of America.
The Spanish moss hung in curls and weaves from the live oak trees, backlit by the western sun, glistening gold almost white.
The antebellum era of Gone with the Wind and all that is so romanticized.
I suddenly had a crazy, very un-pc thought:
You know I’m not only a writer but also work in social change and social justice.
Many black American and American Indian people suffer “generational trauma” or “historical trauma”.
My mind’s eye contrasted antebellum images of genteel Southern life with who and what is often experienced in the Deep South today, i.e. Confederate flags, pickup trucks, guns, bad health, anger and danger.
Bing Crosby and unnamed singers sing “Swannee River”, 1935. (Check out 0.30 -0:44.)
Could it be possible that descendant-survivors of those who lost the Civil War have generational trauma too, because they lost?
A local white family not embodying any of those images just a young mother and father and their two kids ran into the shallows and started skipping rocks. The kids squealed, whirled around, splashed.
Local family skipping rocks on a Suwannee River evening, October 2016.
On the web I researched the Suwannee River and the song, and the music of the past. I read about Stephen Foster’s popularization of minstrel acts.
On YouTube I watched a later Al Jolson, a white Jewish musician from Chicago, sing “Swannee River” in greasy painted black face, surrounded by a whole grip of white folks with jet black paint faces, lips grossly exaggerated white, red or pink white, performing highly-talented shows with all kinds of singing and tap dancing going on.
Oh! Susanna and Camptown Races Medley – Al Jolson and the “Ethiopian Serenaders”, 1940. Music composed by Stephen Foster in 1848 and 1850.
On the web I just stared at performances by the “Ethiopian Serenaders” … and the songs “Oh! Susanna”… Camptown Races”… and “Swanee River”. All minstrel.
Melodious music and creeping horror… working its way into our senses, peeling back the American story.
Music so admittedly good and catchy it stays in the music reel of your mind for a few days and you find yourself trying to stop yourself from kicking your heels and tapping your feet as you walk or shower.
Or, as in “Swanee River”, moved and softened even if you don’t want to be.
Old Folks at Home /Swanee River – Al Jolson, 1940. (Originally composed in 1851 by Stephen Foster.)
I felt like I was standing on the cliff of insanity… like my stomach was twisting up into my head and my eyes rolling out of my head.
The American story is particularly the story of people on the land, and those stories become part of the landscape like layers of sandstone in the soil and the plants growing around our feet.
For some reason I am repeatedly witness to the American story, as exotic and mixed and unbelonging as I am.
And honestly, looking back at so much of the past 500 years, I continually find myself reduced to asking: what could they have possibly been thinking??
Divers look to the water for a new relationship, new stories. For some, it helps put the “nightmarish” part of the “sea journey” into the past.
Me, I’m just a plainsman, a nomad from the ancestral deserts of Africa, a traveler through life. And now a sea man. A diver.
As the seas get hotter and stay warmer longer, that means bigger storms.
Record Longest-Lived Category 4-5 in Eastern Caribbean
Record Longest-Lived Category 4-5 in October in the Atlantic Basin
Southernmost Category 5 in Atlantic Basin
Rare Category 4 Haiti Landfall
Longest-Lived Major Hurricane Forming After September 25
Well we dodged a bullet this time in South Florida.
A direct hit from Huracan Matthew to Miami-Fort Lauderdale would have been a massive strike. The whole region prepared and bunkered down (or left), the storm built up and approached, then stayed farther offshore and headed north. We just got hit with some side winds and rain, but nowhere near what other regions got.
Let’s not forget the catastrophe caused to Haiti during this storm. Over 1,000 people have lost their lives.
(Side note: I for one would sure like to see the Clinton Foundation put some of its immense resources toward truly building a sustainable Haiti for all the people down there. They’ve suffered so much.)
The storm made landfall in the Carolinas, causing widespread storm surge and flooding.
I’ll continue to do my part for climate justice and fighting against climate change, including raising awareness as an artist and activist to make protecting the Earth a central matter of our flesh and blood, culture and soul.
We’re at the end of the high-alert coral bleaching season, and it looks like we’re dodging a bullet this year, at least as far as an expected severe bleaching of corals followed by mass die-off, as happened recently on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
The first dive was on Wednesday evening near shark o’clock so I did not go out that far — around 11-14 feet. It was kind of murky, and my wires were up.
According to NOAA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Coral Reef Conservation Program:
“Corals start to become stressed when sea surface temperature is 1 degrees Celsius greater than the highest monthly average. Coral bleaching risk increases if the temperature stays elevated for an extended period of time.”
As of the end of September, the 2016 bleach watch threat has been downgraded to LOW.
But there is almost no way we can avoid rising sea temperatures in the coming years.
It’s like we’re holding our breath for the whole world.
I hate to piss in the ocean.
Waterlogged, dripping, I caught sight of myself in front of the bathroom mirror and stopped, face forward, shoulders square. wet-heavy clothes draining down my legs.
I just stared, listened.
The last of the summer heat baked outside, insects buzzing in all that peak green vegetation.
My dive boots were caked in damp sand. A puddle began forming on the concrete floor. The concrete was rough.
These white-painted wooden buildings up on stilts in natural parks from Florida to Texas always make me think of the Old South for some reason. On the outside anyway. But hey I don’t know shit about architecture.
Baby sea turtle mayhem, flapping around in circles on the boardwalk at midnight, drawn by the streetlights into certain death. I felt like that crazy lady in Poltergeist who was yelling at her daughter “Don’t go into the light!!!”
Screengrab from Poltergeist
I picked them up and hurried their flipper-flapping little bodies down to the water’s edge and placed them on the wet sand where the slosh of waves would for sure re-orient them but no…. they scrambled mad back up onto shore toward the lights instead of out into the ocean and life.
Rescued several baby sea turtles who were going around in mayhem on the boardwalk .. poor lil mf’s got all disoriented after hatching and went to the lights on the boardwalk instead of the sea. They were fighting me too but I got them all in. Only kept my flashlight on for a second to film. They finally figured shit out in the dark like it’s supposed to be — after the waves hit them several times. I hope the lil mfs live a hundred years. They would’ve died def. The streets are for me not them.
The appearance of the conjure woman, Ma Tante, in Cynthia Bond’s intense novel Ruby, charges up a book that holds you in its rough hands.
With leeriness we feel Ma Tante as she tries to slap the haints out of little Ruby, while outside in an on-off Texas rain the jealous lesbian girl Maggie beats the shit out of little boy Ephraim, a couple hours after the two girls had come upon him while he’s fishing at Marion Lake.
Hidden in the woods. With his rusty Radio Flyer wagon carrying his lunch. Pole and bent nail and “bit of fatback from (his sister) Celia’s slop jar” that everybody called feeding, not fishing.
Maggie took his pole. She made a hook out of Ruby’s bobby pin, dug up an earthworm, caught the first ever catfish “and popped his head on a smooth stone”, then “flicked out her jackknife and split him down the center and ripped out his insides.”
Cooked him in a fire right there by the lake.
Crows don’t have yellow eyes they are usually ink black at least in the adults. But their cousin grackles do. And I guess I do.
* * *
I missed the boat. I get how this saying can have double meanings. Was pretty disappointed. This morning I was supposed to go out on a dive boat with my dive group DIVERSe Orlando to see the big goliath groupers who migrate up through Jupiter, Florida this time of year.
Yep another year winding down… Fall is coming.
Last week at the North Miami gym I ran into my past “situation”. We hadn’t seen each other or spoken since May. I almost left before he could notice me. I joked, “I took the wedding cake back.” He smiled wide before he could help himself. I got out of there quick.
By the time I called to register for the Goliath Grouper dive, the boat was full no exceptions. Damn.
I accepted the lesson.
But still pouted a little.
Never seen one of those goliath groupers. They’re pretty rare, and I imagine the biggest ones can open their mouths and swallow you whole.
But they’re like big friendly dogs. Kind of. So I hear.
Instead I took myself up to freedive the Blue Heron Bridge again in Riviera Beach.
I have a vivid imagination and as I hung on suspended horizontally I felt like one of those old black-and-white cartoon characters holding onto the edge of a building, feet and legs out sideways in mid-air as a tornado blows, or somebody is yelling their lungs out at you.
Still I squeezed out 12 freedives.
A couple times I did something I was admonished never to do without specialized training.
Don’t go into any structure.
I tucked my head and torso partway into a gap between two pillars – just to look closer at the schools of fish.
A young mullet was quivering on his side on the tawny-green bottom, flashing silver and white and really standing out, a hook through his back attached to a steel leader and line. He had a few open lacerations maybe bites or something from a passing cuda or some other fish who said, um nah.
Why not just die out in the ocean? Why come onto land?
And that far out in the ocean, how do they know which way is land, or how do they choose which land to go to when they’ve never been to land, and at what point do they make that clear determination of suicide and lock in their navigation coordinates with a laser-sharp sense of purpose?
It’s known that whales beach themselves when they get sick, or are injured by the noise of oil drilling seismic testing or navy sonar booms.
But again, why land?
Why swim all those miles, maybe hundreds of miles, to get onto land?
Only to expire in a matter of minutes on land. They breathe air. Is it because, a long, long time ago, eons ago, they used to live on land, and had hands and feet?
As they arrive into the shallows, what are those last few moments?
Are they scared? Or nervous?
Do they have second thoughts – is that last moment like jumping off a bridge for one of us?
Or are they single-mindedly overcome with adrenaline and determination.
It takes some turbo to power their bodies onto shore.
My first whale sighting is one of the rarest whales, and he was dead.
He had cross-hatch markings and keloid scars on his lower flank as if from an industrial fishing net.
At the Bridge during late afternoon high tide I dived and dived, working on my lungs, my lungs burning, determined to get back up to breaking a minute in my dynamic apnea – holding my breath while actively diving.
Ultimately I want to be able to hold my breath for at least 3 and a half or even 4 minutes diving diving in the ocean.
When I got my Freediver Level I Certification I could do 3 minutes static in the pool and 1:10 dynamic in the open ocean.
Today I finally hit 1:05… burning. Getting better.
It’s hard to describe this panic-inducing burn inside your chest that you work to control.
Imagine being down 100 feet and losing the ability to hold your breath any longer as you kick back up. And you give in, give up, and flood.
A fishing pier parallels the Blue Heron Bridge for a few hundred yards and dead ends in the water before the boat channel.
Between the bridge and the pier I hung out in the no current slack, catching my breath, looking forward to more dives, even as my GoPro camera battery died out.
Late afternoon shadows were growing longer.
A persistent fish crow was cawing. Fish crows don’t “caw caw,” or are as loud and high-pitched as American crows, the kind most people know. Single calls of aaww, or nuuuuh. More low-grade agitated constant. Nasal.
Their voices do not feel bad. They kind of fill your skin and body’s background after a while. Until they get up close and go too long and you pay attention.
I think they love to hear themselves squawk.
“How a Fish Crow sounds up in the palm fronds on a hot South Florida morning.”
This crow up on the bridge kept making noise.
At the end of the pier, years of snarled up fishing line and hooks and lures caught in the concrete forces. Will be there for a long time.
Before Texas, when I was little living in the rural Midwest and didn’t know better I set a leghold trap on top a wooden fence post, I guess thinking I’d catch a raccoon or possum. Even when your ass ethnic trash and don’t fit anywhere or talk to nobody you do some things that are custom and culture “out in the country”.
The next afternoon I came back to find a crow hanging upside down, his foot almost severed from the steel jaws.
He’d probably been hanging upside down all night long and all day. He kept his head upright and looked at me.
I did not know what to do.
I shot him in the head with a pellet gun and his brains oozed out like hamburger meat.
From above a white plastic bag blew into the water.
I swam over and grabbed it.
I looked up. Fishing rods were sticking over the railing but no faces.
Monofilament lines streamed into the water around me.
A face appeared and looked down. Black dude, late 20s, big black t-shirt with big white letters like we used to wear in 90s NYC. Shit goes out and comes back.
What’s it like to have a human face emerge in the water down there where you are fishing, where you see nothing but water, and look up at you and talk to you?
Really running his mouth, low grade, agitated, repetitive, persistent. I looked up.
Looking up at Fish Crow.
I went to take a piss in the modular bathroom at the north end of the park.
A white guy was taking cell phone pics of many live large lobsters he had caught while diving.
He had them lined up on the sidewalk. Their legs and antennaes waved.
They didn’t want to stay in line. Spiny lobsters, you know, the kind you see in Florida and the Caribbean. They don’t have claws.
Then grabbing each one, for some reason he snapped off their arms at the first joint I could hear them crack then ripped their bodies in half, twisting them into two pieces alive where our waists would be and threw their top halves into the water.
He kept the tails. What was that moment exactly like, that pressured squeeze and twist then ripped in half alive at the waist, your head and chest and last conscious thoughts spiraling out into the water and sinking down to the bottom and oblivion?
A thick black woman old school for sure sitting in a nice car was fussing at her husband or boyfriend and his friend. Her car stereo was blasting an old school song and artist who I had to look up later. Betty Wright sang it.
When you’re scuba diving, smoking puts you at much higher risks of decompression, lung injury, toxicity, and more. And when freediving, all you have is your lungs’ ability to hold oxygen in order to stay alive! We need our lungs!
As I kicked out from shore on today’s Sunday freedive I thought again how our world is divided into takers vs givers.
Man, throughout my daily actions I try to consider my impact on others and the Earth, and adjust to lessen that.
But takers go through life like one of those giant forest shredding monsters in a Japanese anime flick, chewing up and destroying anybody and everything in their path and spitting out the remains. And if the zombies are called on it, they become even more dangerous and unhinged. Call it Trumpism.
I get tired of fighting and really just want to be left alone.
Stepping into the water and pulling my fins on I left the sunbathers and Sunday beach folks and kicked out about half a mile.
The sea was calm but viz was only about 18 feet.
In Hollywood, Florida the first reef line is not much of a reef anymore, mostly sponges, sea fans and gorgonians, with only a few stony corals here and there.
I have no idea what it used to be like.
We get used to little.
A brown flask bottle glinted on the surface like a spill of Pepsi.
I swam over to it then ducked under and came up beneath it. It seemed like an old bottle, had floated forever.
You don’t really see brown glass bottles in that flask shape, right?
Hell what do I know – I stopped dranking back in the mid 90s. I loved my half-pints, but I don’t ever remember a brown flask bottle.
Since I was just starting my dives I had to leave the bottle floating.
Somebody ‘s trash from somewhere and some time.
I may have mentioned to you that when I was a little muthafucka I dreamed craved wanted needed anywhere but where I was (so stuck) and sometimes in the afternoons I’d sit holed up and draw blue ink pictures of a dude on a tiny deserted island way out in the middle of the ocean, his head and back leaning against a lone coconut tree and the sun setting off in the distance.
As water lapped around the small island, a capped (corked?) bottle floated in the waves nearby. You could never tell whether the dude sitting there on that island even saw it.
His eyes were always heavy-lidded, half closed. Maybe he was chilling, or sleeping, or both. The sunset and the quiet tap of the waves was the thing.
I drew that a lot. I was not a very good drawer but hey.
I did 19 freedives, my new Mares dive watch (they call it a dive computer but it looks like a watch to me) in freediver mode somehow watched me and kept track of my depth, duration below, time of each surface interval, and number of dives, applying some kind of technology inconceivable when I was a kid and something I still don’t understand now.
Thankfully they were not bleaching, though one, who I’m told is called a Smooth Star Coral, was showing signs of paling, which is a precursor to bleaching, with old mortality death on the outskirts and a ring of algae. Not a good sign.
Past the first reef line the sand plain opened up again and while I love open country it did feel pretty barren after a while.
If I had kept going farther I would have reached the second reef.
But hell if I kept going I might reach the Bahamas or Africa and my ass was getting tired just as a southeast wind came and started whitecapping the surface.
Have you ever thought about that space right before a wind comes?
I mean, a wind does have a beginning, and in the last moment before it starts, before it arrives, the air is what it was, what it has been, for one last moment before becoming something entirely different, something else.
I thought of Texas and how those cold fronts would come down across the Plains from Canada, usually starting sometime in late October or early November.
One moment it’s calm and balmy warm, and then, boom it hits and everything is stirred up and tossed around, even cars driving north on I-45 from Houston to Dallas.
And out in Texas people are aware of those weather changes ahead of time.
Out in the sea, little weather events can spring up without you being aware. Remember last year when those two Florida teenagers were out in their parents’ boat and got hit by a sudden squall and were never seen again? Must always be on guard.
A couple times a speeding boat passed.
It appears they saw my dive flag, though one came a little closer than they should have.
You gotta be careful of drunk idiots in speeding boats large and small.
I brought that bottle back to the crowded Sunday shore, slipped out of the sea like a dripping black lizard ignoring all the beach people and dropped it nosedive through the hole of the blue recycle bin.