Fear & Loving Part 2
Dive Log 30: Diving the Ana Cecilia and Spearman’s Barge & My Next Contribution to American Literature
26 November 2016
2 tank scuba dive to two sunk boats
So I can’t share the whole story.
After a couple years, I’ve decided to write a collection of American short stories.
I can’t share the whole story of this dive because enough happened that it demands I mine it.
One of my world-traveled literary advisors in Albuquerque gave me permission. She said Hemingway used real life all the time.
My first collection of short stories should be out in about a year.
We dove two wrecks on a late fall day that was warm not hot with a skin of clouds over the sun that made the Saturday afternoon seem quiet.
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 Ana Cecilia was deliberately sunk, just this past July as part of the artificial reef program, and it’s cool to see the marine life taking up house on and around 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.
We explored the Ana Cecila. My two dive partners even got me to go down into an in-and-out area they had cut out for divers.
The ship was just beginning to be colonized by sponges, other growth things, and bright bright fluorescent orange spots which I found out later are baby corals! Pretty cool.
They sunk the boat perfectly, so unlike a lot of wrecks it’s a complete boat underwater.
You can be on the deck and the crow’s nest sticks straight up – looking outward into the ocean blue under the surface the same it did for miles above.
Only it will never ever travel again. It will stare there until it dissolves.
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.
In New York I had an excellent dinner conversation with my agent the legendary Marie Brown and we conspired for 2017 and the new political realities.
Sunday, 13 November 2016
Freedives from shore
Mangrove live birth “babies” drifting out at sea waiting for the right time to come back to land and grow. How do they know what to do? Are they “thinking” anything at this moment?
Mangroves bear live young like mammals, even though they are trees! The offspring drop into the high tide and drift for days or years out in the water until they find a home back on land.
Man I love mangroves. They are the tropical ocean coasts from Africa to the Americas.
I told you the ocean is crazy.
Finally got in a shore dive. What was that shit Melville wrote in Moby Dick?
“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul … I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” – Moby Dick; Herman Melville, 1851
We’ve had rough ocean for 6 weeks after the hurricanes. Some days the wind blew harder than when Matthew was here. Sand in your eyes and piled up like desert storms or snow drifts on the boardwalk.
Drifting in the sea. Least the sea was calm enough to get in.
The water was filled with suspended sand that clicked and raked against my underwater GoPro camera and mask.
We’ve had rough ocean for 6 weeks after the hurricanes. Some days the wind blew harder than when Matthew was here. Sand in your eyes and piled up like desert storms or snow drifts on the boardwalk.
Drifting in the sea. Least the sea was calm enough to get in.
The water was filled with suspended sand that clicked and raked against my underwater GoPro camera and mask.
Could hardly see. I felt vulnerable, kind of in danger. I overrode it.
I had to get up close to see anything. Everything at any distance was diffuse or un-seeable.
I dove 20 feet down to our ocean’s bottom, repeatedly, and hung out with the gorgonians and sea fans as long as I could, holding my breath. My son loved Sponge Bob. Now I know why.
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.
But they don’t know what’s really wrong.
And what’s really about to come as a new president seeks to drill and mine and burn all fossil fuels and throw out all ecological protections. The corporations will make tons of money.
On top of increased direct-attack dangers to people everywhere who are perceived as “different”.
I had been looking forward to continuing to build society and the future. Now I’m girding for the resistance.
I wrote in Newsweek.com:
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.
5 November 2016
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.
Read an interview with Tarell here.
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.
Northern Florida, south of the Georgia border
28 October 2016
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…
Crystallizing into consciousness.
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.
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.
The spring water had preserved its wood ribs all this time.
What did those old trees know before their lives were severed and flesh conscripted into war to save that “peculiar institution”?
I stepped off the Confederate steamboat, struggling to not lose my footing in the current, and stepped on another beam that tried to trip me but I kept upright and hurriedly backed away.
Pulled my fins on. After going over the dive plan with Dave my dive partner, we plunged feet first into the cold spring, thumbing the BCD vest release valves held above our heads.
Freshwater is not buoyant like saltwater.
It was dark and greenish and swirling, the sand slopes cascading like a perpetual landslide.
Diving into a bowl of sugar, Rudy, another dive club member, said later.
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.
My very first spring dive.
As we began our ascent I noticed Aubra pause. She held her light in one hand. She was looking around.
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.
Here unlike Troy Spring the water was crystal clear.
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.
Holes in the ceilings mirror optical illusions.
“Underwater mirrors” on the cavern ceilings of Littler River Spring, Suwannee River, October 2016.
Dave shined his light.
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.
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.
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.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Dive Log 28: Way Down Upon the Suwannee River … Lies This Sunk Confederate Ass Boat” is the latest installment in Jarid Manos’s literary blogstory Fear & Loving: Where Sea Level Meets the Deep.
Like Jarid Manos’ professional page on Facebook here.
Contact DIVERSe Orlando here www.diverseorlando.org.
Contact AD Burks at www.adburks.com.
10 October 2016
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.
Sending prayers and thoughts.
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.
The storm begins to hit land — and then:
John U. Lloyd State Park
Broward County, FL
21 and 23 September 2016
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.
Surface water temperature was 88 degrees.
The second set of freedives was at bright high noon on Friday with a maximum depth to 20 feet and sea surface temp was 84 degrees.
Practicing my dynamic breath-holding while diving under and staying as long as I can. Air is pretty remarkable.
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.”
Signs of paling (precursor to bleaching) and bleaching here, and some coral disease, which is a whole additional issue, but this year these corals should make it this year.
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.
Download the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Coral Reef Conservation Program
SEAFAN BleachWatch Program Current Conditions Report
September 29, 2016
Broward County, FL
19 September 2016
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!!!”
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.
I fought them like a determined parent, turning them around each time they came out of the wave wash and tried to climb back up onto the beach. Little light-possessed mf’s.
20 minutes of in-and-out little bodies, washing out with the last wave, then coming back in and clamoring for sand.
And, finally, one by one, I didn’t see them anymore.
Out to sea.
I know some of them will get ate up real quick out there.
But they’re in their home.
And some will make it.
And return years from now to climb back onto this same beach and lay eggs in a nest they dig with grown flippers into the sand.
I hope they live to be a hundred years.
They’ve been around since the dinosaurs.
This is actually my first time coming upon a live sea turtle hatching, even though there is a scene with them in my upcoming novel Her Blue Watered Streets.
OK nesting season is over for another year.
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.
Blue Heron Bridge, Riviera Beach, FL
10 September 2016
Her yellow eyes were “like coals set in butter.”
Jet black-skinned with a heavy Creole accent, she kept “a huge glass urn of black raven or crow feathers” in her hut out there in the 1950s East Texas Piney Woods.
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’m not homeless but I love hanging out under the bridge. This bridge connects the barrier island to the mainland. Lots of sea life under that Bridge.
One thing: You sure have to get in the water during the slack time before and after high tide, otherwise –
I found out.
The full-on high tide current is so strong it’s like fighting a hard windstorm on land. I got to the first set of concrete pillars.
I had to hold on just to keep the current from pushing me away.
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.
It was just a little ways.
But one pulse of the current pushed me up a few feet. I bumped my head and caught a small abrasion on my stomach as a reminder. That’s how you get stuck or entangled and drowned.
I turned around, scooped up a clear glass bottle and some plastic straws on the bottom and powered back against the current to where I’d entered.
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.
Got out of the water to wait for the next high tide.
The Sun rotated across the afternoon sky.
I dozed off in my car, sweated, absorbed the heat and the bright yellow sunlight and the green of the tropical trees and grass and varying blues of water luxuriously, got out, walked, thought, waited.
The next high tide was due right before 4p.
The second set of dives 38 of them, in and around those concrete structures.
That bridge you drive over? Check out what it looks like underwater, anchored into the Earth by giant concrete pillars, barren above and encrusted with barnacles, algae, sea plants, and sponges below.
Still recovering from recent damage to my lungs
Frustrated at my diminished lung capacity.
Determined to practice and increase my time.
That CO2 burn inside your chest is urgent as you run out of air.
Air is remarkable.
I’ll write about air – just air – someday.
Yesterday down in Broward County not far from my apartment a 14-foot beaked whale beached himself and stayed alive for 20 minutes on the sand then died.
He looked like a dark-skinned XL dolphin just with warthog teeth sticking out from either side of his lower jaw.
People don’t know much about beaked whales. They’re rarely seen.
One thing people do know. Beaked whales are the world kings of freediving. They can hold their breath and freedive deeper and longer than any other oxygen-breathing mammal known.
They’ve now been tracked down to nearly 10,000 feet (!), and can hold their breath for at least 138 minutes ((2 hours 18 minutes) (!!)
Since depth pressure is so intense underwater, some marine mammals have rib cages that can fold down to reduce the collapse of air-filled spaces like in their lungs.
Why do whales beach themselves?
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?
Ay. Your plastic bag blew in the water.
It wasn’t me.
It came from your corner.
Man when sea turtles swallow that shit it clogs their guts. They can’t take a shit or nothing. It takes a long time and they rupture and die from the inside.
He just looked down at me, then looked at his line.
I swam off, kind of feeling like there was still too much work to do.
My mind, which never stays still (except underwater), then thought of all the killings – that people do to each other.
Near shore under the eastern end of the bridge, as I walked out of the water two young boys kneeling on one of the bridge’s concrete feet asked if I could bring up a fish they saw.
We just want to see hm.
The late day sunlight. Their wet caramel skin firing with their youth’s furnace.
Naah Im gonna leave him there but you can take this beer can.
I handed them a beer can that was floating nearby.
Now take that to the trash and go back to your mama before you fall in.
Because a fish will swallow it and choke?
Yeah, I said, giving in to the generalization. The basic point mattered.
Y’all can learn to dive too you know, I said.
Back at my car in the parking lot, I loaded up my rinsed-off gear.
The fish crow was overhead – on the light pole now.
Really running his mouth, low grade, agitated, repetitive, persistent. I looked up.
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.
I don’t even like instant coffee
So instant love definitely will not do, honey
I mean, common sense oughtta tell you
That when you’re already down on the ground
You can’t pick up nothin’ but dirt
Off the coast of Hollywood, Florida
Sunday, 21 August 2016
Crazy how one person can cause a lot of damage.
I live in an apartment on the 5th floor of a No Smoking building, but one person on the 3rd floor was smoking cigarettes and his smoke was coming through my vents, making it hard to breathe.
I kept the windows open and the fans on but still, for a few weeks, each breath dragged secondhand cigarette smoke into my lungs.
All my life I’ve worked to protect my body from others.
It was a battle to get him to stop but finally we got to his off-site landlord who gave him an ultimatum ‘cut it out or get out’.
My lungs burned for 3 weeks, and I’m just now getting over it.
I really felt it on the last Critical Mass bike ride in downtown Miami.
Smoking is even more dangerous for divers.
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.
Off the beach you have to swim pretty far out to get to any real depth.
The deepest I got on this shoredive was 23 feet.
My lungs struggled to hold my breath.
Underwater they were just burning with urgency even by 30 seconds and I’d have to kick back up.
I stayed calm above my frustration.
Was I mad? Hell yeah.
The longest I could hold my breath today was 43 seconds.
When I got my Freediving Level I certification I could hold my breath in the pool (static— (not moving)) 3 minutes pretty easily, and 1:10 while diving in the open ocean (dynamic).
I should be going up in my times not down.
Once again my body has sustained some type of injury and I’ll just have to rebuild.
Only saw a few corals. Small foot-high rounded corals.
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.
Didn’t see a lot of fish. I did see a big parrotfish, but like all parrotfishes he kind of acted like a bitch.
I don’t know where they get this attitude but it’s not cute.
Anyhow I was glad to see him. They’re good for the health of the reef because they eat algae that threatens corals.
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.
Sound travels far under water but because of water’s characteristics you can’t tell from which direction.
Recreational boat engines kind of sound like chainsaws underwater, except it feels like you can feel the buzzing too, like it’s all-enveloping.
I looked back to shore and smiled at how small the lifeguard stand was.
I had to look for it.
I like to be left alone.
Sometimes I think they think they’re cops.
I angled my return trajectory so I would re-enter land at the farthest point between the 2 lifeguard stands.
I hate to be stared at.
Still about a quarter mile out I noticed a green beer bottle half buried in the sand bottom at about 18 feet depth.
I dove down to get it.
“Heineken Mexico City” it said in white letters.
Wonder where it went to get here.
If I had not touched it, it’s possible that the glass beer bottle’s physical residues might have become part of the geological record.
But then, isn’t glass made from sand? Hell what do I know.
I dumped out its sand. It bubbled into the water like sparkly beer foam.
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.
Dive Log 22 & 23: This Sea Turtle Reminded Me of Bullwinkle, That Snowflake Moray Eel Did Not Bite Young Dude’s Face, and Erik’s Camera is an Underwater Hubble Telescope
Catacomb Reef and Boynton Comb Reef
off Boynton Beach, FL
23 July 2016
Scuba dive: max depths 70′ and 64′
How Much Color We Don’t See!
I have a question: Why do these sea creatures, these corals, sponges, fish, crustaceans, mollusks etc., create so much explosive color down in the depths where there is little and eventually no sunlight?
Beyond 10 feet underwater, our human eyes start to lose ability to see colors, with red going first, followed by orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and at last violet.
What is it that they see? What are they expressing, and to whom? Clearly not to us!
And they have been doing this for millions and millions of years, long before we were around.
But when a photographer uses a light or flash that has the characteristics of the sun, the real colors are revealed, and they are extraordinary. Why?
Underwater reefs remind me of far-flung galaxies photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.
* * *
With my scuba training review course finished, I finally felt up to speed to go on a 2 tank boat dive with DIVERSe Orlando.
I stepped off the boat holding the dive flag the boat’s dive master had handed me. I was to hand it to Aubra once in the water.
Somebody previous had not properly attached the coiled yellow rope and it came off as I hit. I watched sickened at the sight of it sinking down into the green water below.
Damnit even when you try so hard to not cause any harm, shit happens.
Now that rope could be a hazard to marine life down there for a long time unless some other diver eventually sees it and brings it back up.
I was pissed but had to pay attention because the whole crew was already descending to 70 feet.
Catacomb Reef at the bottom sprawled outward, every inch filled with life and color.
I had forgotten the red filter for my GoPro. Everything I filmed would be greenish.
I leveled out, hurriedly adjusting my buoyancy so I did not touch the reef at all.
One of my fins did kick up some sediment. Not good. I moved upward to level out horizontally.
A main rule of diving is to master your buoyancy and never touch the reef or any marine life.
No bleaching was seen.
Out in Australia, 93% of the Great Barrier Reef has bleached out. A third of it has died completely.
It’s likely only a matter of time before our reefs are hit severely too.
Considering this, the rough talking dive master lady on the boat who sounded like cigarettes said: “We’re on the precipice.” She wasn’t talking about underwater topography.
As I got my buoyancy under control and we began swimming a few feet above this underwater civilization, the last of my surface-world thoughts came:
Diving at the end of the world…
Later, back on board, a diver from another group said a 7 foot hammerhead shark rushed him. Then swerved away at the last minute.
I grinned and didn’t say a word, other than: You know they’re endangered around the world, right?
95’ sunken “Jay Scutti” tugboat and Oakland Ledges
off Fort Lauderdale, FL
21 July 2016
Boat scuba dive: max depths 75’ and 33’
I was actually kind of nervous as the boat motored to a stop. Day 2 of my Scuba Dive Open Water Review Course, and my first deep dive ever.
Even though I got my PADI Open Water C card last August, I had never scuba dived off a boat.
The peppy blonde dive master dove down to wrap the anchor chain onto the sunken boat resting upright on the ocean sand bottom 75 feet below.
When she came back up, the captain gave the rules and said “alright everybody in the pool”.
I tried to remember everything from Day 1 of my crash review course yesterday.
I did the giant stride off the back of the boat, holding my right hand over the regulator in my mouth. And I was in.
My head bobbed below the magnified surface, and came back up.
My dive instructor signaled for me to follow him down the rope.
We had to hold onto the rope so the current wouldn’t push us away from the boat below.
The visibility today was excellent – 60 feet.
I pre-equalized, and repeatedly equalized every few feet hoping I would not have a depth pressure problem, which would mean I’d either have to abort my dive or face injury to my middle ear.
My dive instructor had told me not to concern myself with feeling rushed by others coming down the rope, to focus on safety, so that is what I did. And I wasn’t having a problem.
The hulk of the boat appeared down there and loomed larger as we got farther down the rope.
Then we let go and swam to it.
I sunk for a moment to the sand bottom and looked at my dive watch.
I would have smiled if I didn’t have that big ass regulator in my mouth.
I checked my air. I was sucking air – dive lingo for somebody who uses up air quickly.
For a moment I looked around. The boat captain has said we were in the Great Mojave Desert. Aside from the dead but now living boat, nothing but sand bottom as far as you could see.
I lifted up to practice horizontal buoyancy and began swimming alongside the wreck.
The entire ship was encrusted with life. Schools of small fish flitted through.
Looking inside the cabin, which felt exactly like looking in the doorway of an old abandoned house out on the plains or desert, I almost expected to get a whiff of cooler, dank air. Fish were chilling.
Cool blue light shafted through the windows, which were just open squares now, glass panes long since removed.
Watch your air watch your air watch your air.
I did watch my air, but still I sucked it down and the captain had demanded that we be at the surface with a minimum of 500 psi left in our tanks.
As you end any scuba dive and ascend, providing you did not go past your No Decompression Limit, you have to do a normal safety stop of at least 3 minutes at a depth of between 20 feet and 15 feet.
This is so all the nitrogen your body has absorbed at depth pressure below has time to off-gas out of your bloodstream.
(Freedivers don’t have to do this because we are not breathing compressed air, and can simply shoot back up to the surface.) Scuba – you gotta be careful.
I did make a mistake.
My air ran out quicker than even I expected, and in order to save enough to be at the surface with 500 psi, my instructor motioned for me to breathe off his alternate air source until we got back up.
Yes I need to be careful. I’ll get better at lowering my air consumption. Bottom time is limited as it is, and it goes quickly!
I stared down at the sunken boat.
The freediver in me yearned to get good enough so I can reach that depth on one breath!
But scuba is def cool. You can stay under a lot longer. Just gotta be careful.
Remember your body has become hooked up to artificial life support mechanisms, with their own mathematical configurations that must be followed exactly, all of which changes everything should anything go wrong.
Earlier I’d had to work through an itch on my eye, which I could not scratch.
Again I thought of Mars. When they go, they’ll have to be inside that compressed life support system forever and ever, with no exposure of any of their body to the elements ever.
I thought: would it be like diving underwater forever?
Least here, your body, your head, your skin, can touch the water.
* * *
After we got on board, the captain took the boat over to the Oakland Ledges, and we did a reef dive to 33 feet.
This is what you call a 2-tank dive. We had been at the dock by 8 a.m., and were back at the marina shortly after noon.
I actually saw a few baby staghorn corals growing up from the bottom. This is very good because with the massive die-off of staghorns, I was assuming that we were just going to have to try to hold onto whatever adults were still alive.
Dive Log 19: Back to Scuba: The Industrial Might of the Continent Comes to a Head at its Shipping Ports
John U. Lloyd State Park
Fort Lauderdale, FL
20 July 2016
Shore scuba dive
OK I’m confronting my scuba diving intimidation.
Time to get over what’s holding me back – mainly understanding all the technical equipment.
Freediving is so much simpler to understand, and to my mind less dangerous because it doesn’t involve all that complicated math, computers, dive tables, chemistry, and diving equipment.
I mean I had to ask my son how to use the toaster oven.
But almost all the divers I know are scuba divers and I keep missing out on dives.
I joined the black dive club DIVERSe Orlando, and they go every couple weeks.
They’re going again on a boat dive off Boynton Beach, in Palm Beach County on Saturday.
At their recommendation I took a review course to fill in the gaps of what I don’t understand.
The main 3 things I feel I need to work on right now are:
1. Understanding the dive computer
2. Improving my equalizing technique
3. Buoyancy control
With a new instructor from Sea Dreams Scuba, I did a shore dive off the John U. Lloyd State Park, east of the Port Everglades shipping channel and the Fort Lauderdale airport.
Even though the sky is sunny, conditions have been rough the last few days, with blowing wind and waves.
Turns out that a storm far out in the Atlantic can squall water conditions here.
I keep learning details.
I admit it was cool to be able to breathe underwater. Kind of strange after freediving.
Haven’t scuba dived since New Year’s Day.
Saw a bunch of queen conchs.
On the outside, their big shells look crusted and dead as they sit on the bottom, but if you turn them over their upset thing-mouth and bright pink inside shell tell you otherwise.
Why do conchs have such bright, luxuriously pink shells inside, smooth, polished and perfected?
Clearly this preference for pink interior decorating is something they have evolved into, and are doing only for themselves.
My first boat dive is tomorrow. I’m going to go far deeper than I’ve ever gone (which was 31 feet on my freedive test on April 3rd).
As I came back to shore I stared at the giant shipping cranes west of the park.
Just like when I was in Seattle, walking north along the waterfront where the railroad terminated into giant grain silos, I felt again the industrial might and output of a continent coming to a head behind me, and expelling outward into the world’s seas.
Hollywood Beach, FL
Sunday afternoon, 3 July 2016
When they say low viz, it can be like a sandstorm out West on America’s deserts or plains, but underwater.
You can hear the grains of sand hitting your mask and GoPro camera housing.
What’s interesting is that the surface was calm.
You can have two different worlds happening at the same time.
The day was cloudy.
I was feeling a little off this weekend, so I just had to dive.
I went back out to where the shark came.
But “my” 12 foot hammerhead shark is probably 1,000 miles away by now.
Hope he’s ok.
I swam outward in a swirl of low visibility sightlessness and blended primary colors – teal and taupe.
I am sure there were other animals were out there with me, but I didn’t see them.
I have no idea if they saw me. I heard the water in my ears and the sand grains.
Did you know that sharks can hear you from miles away?
It is funny how much more I know about the sea now. About inside the sea.
When I was writing and completing my upcoming novel Her Blue Watered Streets, I learned a lot, but that only led me to this.
A jumping off point to something more. Details inside details.
Which is great because artistically it allows this blogstory Fear & Loving: Where Sea Level Meets the Deep to be its own distinct literary project.
Off the South Florida Coastline
28 June 2016
So – excuse me – recently I was sitting on the toilet at night scanning through some GoPro dive footage.
Having swum solo a few hundred yards out, freediving in only about 20 feet of water, I had been trying to take an underwater “selfie” with some cool gray triggerfish coming up to me, their bug eyes swiveling forward. Early evening shore dive.
A large body slid into the frame.
My heart jumped.
Silhouette though the light blue-green South Florida water
10-12 feet long. Sickle-shaped dorsal fin, scythe-shaped tail.
I never knew he was there.
Broadside the Great Hammerhead shark moved precisely, and slowed.
In a moment low-angling sunrays glinted off his flat brown hammer head.
Coming behind he turned toward me. You can see his tail curving.
His face must have come up right behind my legs, almost to the bottoms of my finned feet.
I actually have some frame grab “selfies” with the shark’s body back there and my stupid face having no idea. Smh.
There is a moment like suspended animation as he pauses.
What was he thinking? What was he doing there right behind me, staring at me??
And then, in the video, he’s gone.
How had I participated in such intimacy, without even knowing it?
So I guess I’ve “seen” my first “real” shark while diving.
My head throbbed. I couldn’t sleep all night.
I’ve dreamed about this (feared it also) since I was little.
So many feelings.
What would have occurred if I had turned and saw him close?
I’m sure I would have instinctively freaked and caused a commotion, swallowing water, trying to get away. We have certain animal instincts or mythological impulses.
Would the commotion have excited him (or her) to tear into me with that big mouth and those big white teeth?
Or scared him away, like me, in the moment?
I know how to steel myself down into a situation.
I’ve had near-death situations before.
If he had come for me, I would have fought him but not faulted him. After my initial panic.
I am moved to look at language. I would not have considered it an “attack”.
He was just “doing him”, in his 400 million-year old perfection.
People kill 100 million sharks a year.
So many Great Hammerhead sharks have been killed by people they’re on the IUCN Red List.
He is not like a person whose mind has become poisoned and virulent.
Would I have screamed? Highly unlikely. Probably at most there would have been one surprised yelp, then soundless, as we tangled. I am not a loud person.
If he had gone too far, and it became clear that this was my new reality and there was nothing else anymore, I probably would have been ok with that too.
It was our bodies, intimately. You adjust to what is happening in the moment. Right here right now. Especially in the sea.
I’ve lived an interesting life anyway, and created work that can change lives beyond mine.
My eyes would have seared into his as he let go and turned and swam away, and I leaked out. Slipped under.
Interesting thing about being out in the ocean. You don’t think about your problems or life or anything. When you’re in the water, there is no reflecting; you’re just present; you just swim and act and react. And absorb.
Several years ago at the International Urban Parks Conference in Pittsburgh, I listened to Teresa Heinz Kerry speak about growing up in Mozambique. She talked about how her Portuguese family had learned to live with African wildlife, and didn’t swim at dawn or dusk when sharks were active.
When I entered the water I knew it was approaching what I’ve named shark o’clock, remembering Ms. Heinz Kerry, but I rationalized it was still early evening, not dusk.
And what freediver can resist calm waters?
So what is the mind?
Sojourner Truth said: “It is the mind that makes the body.”
I’m still new to diving. I just buck up my boldness and skills, push against my limits within reason, and learn and adjust through experience as I go along. I know it’s kind of Darwinian, but there’s no substitute for that. NASA’s not saying it but I’m sure they’re counting on a lot of that for the trips to Mars and deep space beyond.
Looking at this shark visit, the same incident happened whether I knew about it or not. The shark swam up behind me and paused there.
But my reactions would have been different had I known.
And now, knowing about it after the fact?
It’s odd – I feel like my flesh is bonded into his body now. My body should be inside his. Hammerheads are migratory. I think about him out there, traveling the seas.
I know you’re not supposed to dive alone but… the ocean calls me. Deeply.
And my dive partner is not always available.
Will I go back out?
Of course. It’s way too interesting out there.
Blue Heron Bridge
Rivera Beach, FL
25 June 2016
After a couple weeks of national trauma following the June 12th massacre at the Orlando nightclub, DIVERSe Orlando hosted a dive down here in South Florida at the Blue Heron Bridge in Riviera Beach, Palm Beach County.
Atlanta Underwater Explorers also came and I drove up to meet them.
Both orgs are chapters of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers.
People were kind of quiet but the water visibility was good.
I was the only freediver, and of course had to regularly bounce back up for air, but it was funny later when Dave, one of the scuba divers, said he happened to look over and for a moment thought I had lost my tank. He didn’t even know I was freediving. Guess I was holding my breath good.
I like the group and will join. Orlando is the closest black dive club to Miami. They come down here a lot. I need to commit to really learning scuba equipment.
I much prefer the simplicity and natural athletics of freediving. But it’s true that when you can breathe for extended periods underwater you can see more. And hang out underwater the whole time with other scuba divers.
Two Korean members told me about the haenyeo, or sea women, of the South Korean island province of Jeju, who freedive for several hours a day gathering shelled creatures from crevices in the ocean floor. The woman said that the number of Korean sea women divers was dwindling and the tradition, which is badass and hundreds of years old, is dying out.
Hollywood, Florida and Downtown Miami
19 June 2016
A girl’s rubber sandal stood out in the beach wrack, that pile of sexily-reeking sargassum and other decaying sea plants, creatures and things heaved up onto the South Florida shoreline by the restless Atlantic Ocean.
The rainbow canvas foot strap with the SAVIOR patch was frayed and twisted.
Rubber is tough for decades. The sandal bristled all along its warped sides with bright white shells like shark’s teeth. Or an island woman’s shell necklace polished fresh as salon toenails.
Something moved. Aliens! A wet and multi-tentacled mouth slithered out of one of the shells, grabbing, then yanked back in. I tried to focus.
Gooseneck barnacles. I picked up the sandal. Now from a few shells the mouth-tentacle-grabbing-things slithered in and out.
Out in the open ocean, how had they, as babies, one after the other, chosen this floating rubber sandal as their spaceship and why had they only attached to its sides to colonize and grow?
How long had the sandal been walking across the ocean before finally coming to America and stepping onto land?
Had it circled for years in currents, not yet ready?
So much of the Atlantic story is African.
Now, after all that time, it was a matter of one more night before the beach tractor came raking in the morning. Would the goose barnacles succumb and die overnight, or later in the trash? Some were already still.
On what shore had the sandal first stepped into the water? Waves grab.
What young girl’s life was behind it? She was cute and kind of thick, right? Maybe 11 or 12 years old?
Had she been a young girl running through the Shell oil fields of the Nigerian Delta?
Had she lost her sandal in the Haiti earthquake of January 2010 that killed more than 220,000 people, injured 300,000 and left 1.5 million homeless?
People say Dominicans and Haitians don’t like each other but after the quake I saw a “Con Amor Haiti” mural go up quickly in the Dominican hood of Barrio Obrero in south San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Maybe she had come from Gabon, where the beaches are still so wild that hippos swag down to the beach to surf.
I doubt she came from the Bahamas; that’s only a day’s bike ride away – if you could bike on water – and she’d clearly been out there a long time. Years.
I wondered about her house. Was her house made of concrete block? Plywood? Did she have a banana tree outside her house with big splaying green leaves?
Maybe her family had been wealthy and lived in a stately house high on a hill with wrought iron and brightly painted walls and a storm had simply caught her sandal.
Did she and her girlfriends have a favorite place to run to and play while giggling and talking about boys? I imagine the footprints their sandals or bare feet left in the dusty or dirt streets.
I think she had a bright white smile and painted toenails and her Ma braided her hair nice.
And how often had she gone down to the beach and looked out over the ocean toward America and pictured herself here? Thoughts of … What is it like? Would she be safe? Would people love her in America, be nice to her? TV made it seem so much danger, but exciting and full of so much too.
Out in the ocean, on that long journey, those years – what moments?
Taking a break, the sandal surely paused in a patch of floating sargassum, good company, in the legendary Sargasso Sea where yellow, blue and green-lit dolphinfish aka dorado aka mahi mahi hung out, waiting for the next run of flying fish like in The Life of Pi.
At night, what swam below as it bobbed in black water under the moon, stars and Mars?
What were the attached gooseneck barnacles thinking all those years as they stuck their slithering mouths out to catch and eat passing little sea creatures and grow?
How many open ocean storms had slammed the sandal up and down 2-story high swells, and it wasn’t anything to the barnacles?
My ass surely would have puked.
The rainbow-colored foot strap with the SAVIOR patch.
The young girl back then probably had no idea that on these shores those colors symbolized lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride and rights. Where, recently, 223 miles north of the sandal’s first contact with America, a man got punctured by evil in the inland city of Orlando and shot 102 people at a gay nightclub with an easily-purchased military assault rifle, slaughtering 49 of them, wounding the rest.
It was just a pretty sandal.
A week after mass murder in Orlando, the 91-year old Freedom Tower in Downtown Miami stayed lit in rainbow colors for a brief while longer.
Saturday and Sunday, Full Moon
21 and 22 May 2016
Broward County, FL
It’s hard to resist flat water. When the sea goes flat it is the quietest oceanic breath inhaled from way out there pulling you to the waterline and in. Almost impossible. Nighttime. Day. Whenever. And you stay. You always think of reasons to say longer.
The water was clear and calm enough that I could see my darker feet on the rippled white sand bottom with the moonlight, and then just the bottom when it got too deep to stand. I didn’t go too far out this time.
Have you ever slept with somebody all night holding each other and it felt like you were inhaling each other’s clean breaths the freshest breaths inhaling exhaling as you slept deep sleeping breaths and you may have even known in your sleeping semi-consciousness that it was the last time you’d spend the night like this and it was pretty perfect in that one moment?
It was my first swim since that unknown visit two weeks ago by that 12-foot Great Hammerhead shark who came up behind me for a few seconds and paused, staring at me, and I never even knew. (Until my shock upon viewing the GoPro footage later.)
I tried to spark some phosphorescence by waving my hand in the crystal water – not much tonight a couple yellow sparks neon like stars but no more than that.
I tend to forget the little rip current that is sometimes off my beach. It runs diagonally out to sea south of where I like to enter.
Even on the calm night like Saturday I felt it tug and from the reflection of the lights back on shore you could see it streaming outward. I u-turned off its edge and swam back north.
Saturday night was absolutely clear. Not a cloud. The GoPro video setting doesn’t record nighttime that well. At least as far as my non-technological ass can figure out.
Sunday a rainstorm formed lightly over land but blew up big once out there several miles at sea.
The GoPro photo setting on “Night” worked pretty well. It picked up stars lesser seen by the naked eye.
And of course it picked up the storm, the rising moon, Mars, and the ocean as it reflects to us.
Overnight, early Sunday morning, Mars reached exact opposition with the sun, “meaning the Red Planet, Earth, and the sun were all in a straight line”. On May 30th Mars will be the closest to Earth in 11 years. It’s bright up there in Earth’s sky.
Back near shore you may even sit solid wet in a couple feet of water under the shadow of the low tide bank that protects you from any city lights and in the natural darkness and all that night light from the moon and Mars imagine the ocean primeval, the crystal black water just full of life – but now emptier by all comparisons.
Can you imagine what it must have been like to swim here a couple hundred years ago? Even a hundred years ago??
Shiiiit you’d be bumping into all kind of fish and creatures and things everywhere.
Water’s warm enough for shirtless swims again… as long as you don’t stay out too long you know.
Sunday, 14 May 2016
Amelia Earhart Park
7 feet above sea level
Don’t laugh at my helmet. After riding more than 27,000 miles in my life, I bought a helmet because it was required by the park, aggressively.
I needed to aggressively blow off some steam. The advanced mountain bike trails of Amelia Earhart Park in Opa-Locka is a good look to do that.
(Random: Opa-Locka can be pretty hood, so it’s nice they have such a big park.)
Look closely to see that crazy iguana on the side of the trail at the top of the first hill.
After a couple hours of up and down and twisting miles of dirt and dust and sweat, where even the little bugs got stuck and perished in my shoulder sweat, I rode down into a hidden opening that struck me with all these memories and feelings.
I had to stop. I got off my bike. What was that?
It was a good feeling, but one of relationships past.
Memories of having gone through a lot with people I cared about.
A small patch of tropical Caribbean almond trees lined the bend. Next to a sprawl of sea grapes.
That was what it was. The tropical almendras. Different from what people normally know as almonds in the temperate world, but what I personally know.
Puerto Rico. The tropical almond trees are scattered throughout the northeast coast of Puerto Rico.
I realized these almendras, with their big green leaves – a few turning red like they do – were reminding me of the people I had known in my novel Her Blue Watered Streets. And all the things they felt and went through.
The book is set in Puerto Rico, and I spent 3 years on and off there learning and “living with” Prescient, Afrodite, Dallas, Malcolm, Jolene, Miss Ninda, the Stingray, the giant leatherback sea turtles, the wild coast of La Selva “The Jungle” …
In addition to 4 years of thinking, crafting and writing.
In real life, they were “just” characters in my book.
Relationships are really what the center of life is about.
They were all in the past. People I had known.
Soon, when Her Blue Watered Streets is published, many other people will get to know them as well.
That picked up my spirits and I kept riding.
South Florida is flat. All the mountain bike hills and twists and turns that beat us up and challenge us in Opa-Locka’s Amelia Earhart Park are constructed by people.
8 and 9 May 2016
Miami Beach and Jacksonville, FL
In the past, whenever I have looked at water, it’s always been down at or into or out at it.
Even when I peered into its depths it was – without thinking – from a mammalian land-based perspective with automatic and unconscious hierarchical assumptions.
I was here on land and the water was down there and we were unequivocally separate.
Even when I swam it was, until recently, eyes wide shut without goggles; a clear separation blindly.
I took my chances for those moments of swim and didn’t ever know what was going on around or below me.
Now when I look at water, my first automatic thought is not from up top – even if I am up top – but from my shoulders. #diver
What is it like inside there? What’s going on? What would it be like for my body to be inside there right now?
Sunday, 1 May 2016
Dive Log 13:
So yeah, this is the heart of it. I’m a diver. And it’s barely even the beginning. So much more to know.
Right as I was having some concerns about all the technical equipment challenges of being an astronaut I mean scuba diver, I began thinking seriously about freediving, which is athletic and much simpler. At the same time I randomly met Kareem from Antigua, who also wanted to learn freediving.
Right after we got our Freediver Level I Certification we both took a coral reef ID class, and then a “Bleach Watch” training from the Florida Dept. of Environmental Conservation, so we can serve as monitors of parts of the Florida Reef Tract, which runs some 358 miles offshore from the Florida Keys through South Florida. Gives us something service-oriented and cool to structure our freediving practice around.
As you know, 93% of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia recently bleached out, and a severe bleaching wave is expected to hit South Florida in late July or so as the Northern Hemisphere summer and last bit of a climate change-fueled El Nino come through.
There is that low gut panic again. Wait. I’ve just gotten started.
A new layer. Just as I’ve started a new personal relationship… a terminal prognosis seems likely and guaranteed to speed up.
In addition to coral bleaching, which comes from hotter water temperatures, climate change’s evil twin, ocean acidification, is now rapidly dissolving corals in South Florida, as the oceans overload in their struggle to absorb excess carbon from the atmosphere. Last week in National Geographic they said we just lost another 35 years time.
But… I’ve begun meeting corals and the underwater world in the last few months, and didn’t even know their names until recently. Most of them I still don’t know. (They take some getting used to!)
What sucks is that most people will never have even gotten a chance to know corals. And the fish around them.
[Bleaching doesn’t necessarily mean death; it means the stressed corals expel the symbiotic algae that make 95% of their food.
But it takes a long time for bleached corals to recover, sometimes years or decades, and in some cases, if the stressors don’t go away, the corals will die. Sometimes pretty quickly. It’s highly likely that most of our corals and reef systems will become extinct before the end of the century.]
Privately scared, but managing my feelings.
It’s that sense of being overwhelmed again.
We’re going to see and learn and know as much as we can.
Kareem and I just did a shore dive off Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, and explored the first reef. Three reefs run parallel to the shore off the coast of Florida, each one further out.
It’s still so early, still spring, but we found a couple signs of Palythoa bleaching, already! This is not good.
I found a long stretch of fishing line, and neither of us could get it out. It was so harsh that it tore Kareem’s fin.
While the last few days were calm, the wind picked up overnight and was blowing pretty strong today.
Underwater the sand streamed against us like a desert plains sandstorm, and on the GoPro footage you can hear it hitting the camera housing like that dust storm in the movie The Martian.
We spent 2 hours out there.
Back on land I tilted for the rest of the day, even as I laid down for the night.
You know how the ocean’s wave action continues inside your bloodstream long after you’ve left the water.
Out West, in the heart of the Great Plains, you know they say: “How do you know when the wind stops? You fall down.”