I tapped my buddy’s elbow and put my hands together over my head, mimicking a shark’s dorsal fin. Or a supplicant. He turned away from the tiny fish he was photographing in the coral, eyes widening at the blacktip shark that swam back and forth, approaching the cavern by degrees. We were probably in his home and, not wanting to wear out our welcome, made a purposeful exit. He turned on us and swam within a few feet, then turned away and disappeared into the shifting blue of the deep. Drifting along the top of a ridge towards the anchor line, Rob stopped to photograph some more fish while I hovered, gazing into the distance. A school of scalloped hammerheads cruised past just on the edge of visibility, grey mirages gliding through the water, never so much as flicking their tails.
The current strengthened by the minute and I was thankful for the anchor line as we flapped like flags in the wind. The line vibrated like a piano string, the surging water plucking an aria to the rapture of the deep. The west side of Oahu was known for strong currents – almost every year someone died. If you were lost to the current, your only hope was being picked up by your crew. The current circulated in a colossal gyre in the middle of the Pacific, forming a depository for millions of pounds of trash, from old fishing net and children’s toys to plastic water bottles and styrofoam. Hawaii is the most isolated land in the world – there was nothing to look forward to once you lost sight of her emerald hills. Clipped to the anchor line, we were serenaded by whale songs as we decompressed. A barracuda drifted past, circling slowly to determine if we were edible. Deciding he didn’t like the odds, he too faded into the shimmering distance.
As we moved higher up the line the light grew stronger, grey-blue twilight giving way to pillars of sunlight. My friend transformed like a chameleon from an ash-colored alien to flesh and blood, the various colors no longer filtered by the water as we approached the surface. I grew relaxed and peaceful as we settled into the final decompression stop. I monitored the gauges in a meditation and watched the panoply of life flow past like a movie; from tiny copepods and jellyfish to amberjacks and silversides. With my breathing slow, body calm, and mind quiet, the ineluctable beauty of the world filled me.
The tranquility ended as we surfaced. The transition from the quiet deep to the frenetic membrane of the surface was a sorrowful parting. With waves rolling over me, I drifted to the stern of the boat and took hold of the ladder as gravity took hold of me. Straining under the weight of rebreather and bailout tanks, I hauled myself onto the deck and braced myself in a corner as I unbuckled from the rig. Though I cannot stay there, the experiences of the deep stay with me like honey under my tongue.