It has been a lifelong dream of mine to swim with a sea turtle. Well, as long as I can remember. Ever since I met Myrtle at the New England Aquarium as an awkward, lonely-shy kid I have held a deep rooted fascination for the watery world of sea turtles. Rachel Field once wrote in a poem about the circus, “nothing that moves on land or sea could seem more beautiful to me, than a girl in pink on a milk white horse, cantering ’round a sawdust course.” I respectfully disagree. Maybe Ms. Field had never seen a sea turtle in the ocean, its limbs in perfect unison as it meanders gracefully along the underwater current like a flying bird in the vast sea.
Day nine of the Hawaiian adventure was met with a sigh. We were rejoining the in-laws for an afternoon of snorkeling at Black Rock. My confidence was at an all time low. I had only snorkeled once before (off the stern of a boat in Mexico) and I was wearing a life vest then. Could I swim without one now? Would I look like a dork if I asked for one, would I be a little too like Linus without his blanket? My only clean bathing suit was a tankini that would reveal my cat tattoo and runner-big thighs. To top it off, Black Rock was a place everyone else had been to before. Everyone but me. I was an easy target for an afternoon of “lessons.” The history of Black Rock. Directions to every bathroom on the premises. A how-to on clearing my face mask. A demonstration on how to keep sand off my mat. The only thing I could do was square my shoulders, lift my chin and resolve to lose the loser in me.
So, the Black Rock adventure began. Snorkeling. Kisa led me to the shore put on my gear I kept losing my footing in the surf. Just as I got one flipper on a wave would crash into me and send me hurtling up the beach. If I wasn’t forgetting to jump up with the wave I wasn’t remembering to hold onto my gear. Then my mask would fog up and I would have to start the entire process over. When I got the second flipper on (finally, finally) I was filled with dismay. Had my foot shrunk over night? There was no way I could keep the second flipper on my foot. I could fit my whole fist behind my heel in the flipper. What had happened? I was ready to give up, ready to tell Kisa to snorkel without me. I was prepared to lay on the beach like the pathetic howlie that I always will be. Luckily, Kisa realized at the last second he had handed me one of his flippers. It took me a few more tries to get the gear on properly, but finally, at last we were ready to swim.
How do I describe this bath water of buoyancy? I had to laugh at how ridiculously easy it was to stay afloat, how delicious it was to let the freakishly warm water caress me and to let the current gently guide me. As with the Mexico trip I had to get used to sound of my own breathing in my ears and the gurgle of water around my snorkel tube, but seeing exotically colored fish and the twisted architecture of coral made all my discomfort vanish. When my limbs felt like falling off I reluctantly made Kisa turn back to shore for a break. We flopped on the sand happy with the first excursion. Then it was the family’s turn to swim. As they trudged down the beach I muttered, “watch, they’ll come back saying they saw turtles.” Sure enough, they did. Three green sea turtles. It was enough to make Kisa jump up and encourage me back into the water. This time getting the gear on was a cinch. I don’t think I was aware of putting on any of the apparatus, only that I had a chance to fulfill a dream. This was my chance to swim with a real, honest-to-goodness green sea turtle in the wild.
We retraced our first swim around Black Rock. Nothing. Kisa gurgled something. I thought his muffled words were, “let’s continue around the rock.” I nodded and started to move away. He grabbed me and asked urgently, “did you see the TURTLE?!” My eyes went buggy wide. Of course not. The last thing I remember was Kisa pointing out a group of people and telling me to swim as hard as I could towards them. After that, everything is a blur. I caught up to a large female green sea turtle (to hell with the humans) and cried and hyperventilated with happiness. Nothing else mattered at that moment. I decided to follow her wherever she went. Since she was low on the sea floor and I was so high above her I felt comfortable gliding with her, matching her fin strokes. I didn’t care where she was going. I would have followed her to Fiji, Tahiti, Bora Bora, if I could.
I felt like we had been swimming for mere seconds so it was with great surprise that, when I finally tore my eyes from her and looked up, I found myself nearly on shore. She had brought us back in to the beach. When I looked back into the water I was shocked to see her turned around and staring into my face. Panic ensued. My mind raced. Surely I was too close to this gorgeous creature. Surely I would scare her. Would she bite me? I frantically tried to push myself away from her. My hands made frantic fluttering motions. She just looked at me with such calm and grace as if to say, ‘silly human you’re in my way.’ And with that she glided past me.
For the rest of the day nothing mattered. Even when my father-in-law spotted my cat tattoo and announced it triumphantly I was not phased. Give me mere minutes with a green sea turtle and suddenly I can handle anything.