Wednesday, December 12, 2007

night swimming

3 days back to work and a week in st. john is already fading to mist, though i'm still lightly toasted and there are still 4 bottles of Cruzan in the liquor cabinet. they are not nearly full, as i've discovered that Black Strap dark imbues cookies, pancakes and double lattes with depth and mystery.

- what was your favorite part of the vacation? - laf posed last night at the track, as i creakily eked and he fluidly spun out 400s. i thought for a moment.
- i loved running the trails, for one.
- because you were flying solo?
he knows me too well.
- but the best i think was when we went night snorkling.

night snorkling is a different experience entirely. we rented lights, which are like alien ray guns that you carry around and point at the new creatures that emerge from their hideyholes when the light bleeds out of the water. black sea urchins come out in armies and ease across the coral, while the more colorful sea cucumbers inch slowly across the sandy floor. since your field of vision is limited to a funnel of light without peripheral vision it's a bit of a wake-up call when a stingray undulates into view beneath you.

- but that wasn't the best - i explained to laf - the best was when D's light died after 20 minutes.
we were swimming off the edge of a state park, so the only lights we saw were distant points in little maho bay and the constellation of st. thomas 5 miles away. if my light failed, we wouldn't know if we were swimming toward shore or into the caribbean.

since D's the naturalist, i offered him my light and shoved the dead one in the back of my suit. i took a couple experimental strokes into the dark: i was tired of veering away from D's flippers that always seemed dangerously close to my face. the beauty of the salt water, i thought, is that you don't NEED flippers. the water just holds you and multiplies any effort expended so you feel bionic moving over coral reefs and schools of blue tang and swirling sergeant majors protecting their egg spreads.

so i was tired of dodging and i struck out and with the first stroke into the dark was rewarded with something utterly unexpected: an explosion of sparks, an s-curve of fireworks tracing on a second's delay my catch and pull, and my whipping kick behind. THAT, that was the best, swimming straight into the dark, flying solo, striking out into a shower of phosphorescence. there was no temperature difference, air merged into water and i felt free, light and so pregnant with possibility that i could have swum all the way to st. croix.

but heavy with reality i eventually returned to the light, and later, in silence, we emerged clumsy and oafish from the water at maho bay. i was the ungainly 150lb penguin tottering toward my sandals with a sad nostalgia for the water's grace. D was shivering and yanking a fleece over his wet body. a couple walking along the beach stopped.

- we wondered what that light was in the water - the woman said - we thought it might be someone night-snorkling. it's a beautiful night. i looked across the bay where i imagined i still could see traces of my journey - did you have fun? without hesitation we answered simultaneously. NotReally. YES.

february is come early.

8 comments:

fatmammycat said...

Sounds terrifying. I went night swimming with the paramour in Valencia last year, Just bobbing around the surf mind, but even then it scared the no pants of me.
Also it was three in the morning and a considerable amount of gin and rum had been consumed before hand. Not clever, but memorable.

finn said...

why terrifying? is it the open (dark) water? in this case only an inconsiderable amount of rum had been consumed. the considerable amounts usually came later.

what would a holiday be without signature hooch? st. john was sponsored by cruzan, maine by tanqueray, dublin by smithwicks and jameson.

what was BCN?

fatmammycat said...

It is EXACTLY the open dark water. I always suspect sharks. ALWAYS. Or sea serpents.

BCN-Mojitos and caiprinhas. Lot of 'em.

finn said...

situations like that are when an active imagination is a definite detriment. over thanksgiving dinner my zizou cuzzin was telling us about his friend who pilots low-flying planes and said you wouldn't surf once you get up to where he is and see the number of sharks desultorily following surfers in the water.

i've never met a caiprinha, but it sounds like seriously something with rows of needleteeth that could fuck you up. i think i saw one in a Bond film.

fatmammycat said...

No teeth but si si to fucking a person up.
You realise I will now take your plane story and multiply it to the nth degree in my fecund head. I'll be lucky if I take a shower for the next year. Certainly those fucking swans in portobello will miss me.

finn said...

there are flat-screen tv-sized snapping turtles in our pond. i figure they won't take me on, or a border collie, but a thrashing cat might look nummy. like that time D tossed begheera in a snowdrift and a turkey vulture alit in the silver maple to check her out.

a caiprinha sounds real nice; so does some Black Strap, and rioja. january approacheth; time is finite.

Brown Suga' said...

Wow. That stingray was a close call.

I love the sea and yet am utterly terrified of it.

finn said...

understandable. stingrays are creepy up close: their eyes look alien and baleful. but the Dangerous Marine Animals chapter in my guidebook said they're rarely aggressive without provocation.

the greater threat was getting trapped in the shallows by the current and banging up against fire coral or sea urchins. nobody benefits from that experience i can say with some authority.