Monday, October 15, 2007

Swimming Into the Great Abyss

On a coral atoll there are two places to go swimming. Ocean-side or lagoon-side.

Lagoon-side is always the safer bet of the two. There are no waves to deal with, the tide is not an issue and there are not as many sharks.

Lagoon-side has its own issues as well though. The water is sometimes murky with sediment and the trash problem of Majuro is very evident under the water. I have seen bottles and cans, plastic bags and diapers, moving and swaying in the water. It is tragic and disgusting but it is not life-threatening.

At least I think it is not — maybe those diapers should be checked out.

Until recently, I stuck strictly to lagoon-side swimming. Aside from the fact that there are less sharks on lagoon-side, the sharks that are there are reported to be smaller than ocean-side ones.

However, as I was leaving my house one day I looked out to the ocean and saw that it was as calm and glassy as a lake and I decided to reconsider. I called my field director to find out her point of view on the issue.

“Hey Tam,” I asked, “do people around here go swimming on ocean-side?”

“Why, are you thinking about going out there?”

“Yeah, I was thinking about it. It seems really calm now.”

“You know, people sometimes use the ocean as a bathroom.”


“Yeah, people do go swimming out there, but I just thought that you should know...”

I went back to my little house and sat on the front steps to think it out. A few yards away, the ocean swayed and pulsed in a gentle and inviting rhythm. On one hand I had big sharks, a strong tide and the knowledge that I would be swimming in someone’s giant toilet. On the other hand I murky water and lagoon trash — including the ever present and always disturbing diaper.

I decided to leave the choice up to fate — fate being one of my neighbors.

I knocked on my friend Courtney’s door.

"Hello?” she said.

"Hello, want to go snorkel on the ocean side,” I asked.

“Sure,” she said.

“Oh good...”

It was decided and I had nothing left to do but swallow my fear and put on a strong front. I ran back to my house and gathered my equipment and we headed down to the water.

We tiptoed out into the ocean, careful to avoid any nasty sea creatures, until we got into deep enough water to strap on our fins. We stroked out side by side and the incoming waves washed over the tops of our snorkels. We blew out the water and kept on going. We started to get into a rhythm where we knew when to dive deep under the incoming waves and soon we were in deeper water where waves were not an issue. Here the water was crystal clear with no trash.
Underwater it felt like being in a cathedral. The ocean made a clicking sound that I have heard is from the coral. Cut into the sea floor were deep channels that were coated in coral and life. I swam into half-enclosed channels that almost formed tunnels and came out the other end feeling like a fish. My visibility went on and on and I imagined that if my sight could echo like my voice then I would hear no refrain from the murky depths into which a stared wide-eyed.

The fish out here were bigger and moved in larger numbers. On the edge of my field of vision, where the blue sank finally into black I saw shapes of fish that were much bigger than any I had seen before. Most of the time I imagined them to be sharks hungry for human, but with longer gazes and more careful eyes, I was able to see that they were just monstrous reef fish.
when the tides started to change Courtney and I swam back to shore. On the way back in I turned over underwater and watched waves crashing from a fish’s perspective. They broke hollow and white. They rose up into cylinder shapes before erasing themselves with a bubbling whiteness.

I came to shore feeling refreshed.

Maybe I would start swimming ocean side more often. You can surf there, the water is clearer and contrary to what Tam warned, it doesn’t feel like someone’s toilet.Plus, I didn’t see a single diaper over there...

The love you give comes back in the end.


Leah said...


Stay out of the water! Doesn't matter if it's lagoon-side or ocean-side. Both contain poop that did not come out of a fish or a man-eating shark. Poop is poop is poop...enough said.

I'm going to stop now before I go off on a "public restroom" tangent.

Stay out of the water!

Scott said...

Please be safe. I love you infinity, MOM

Tim Lane said...

oh leah,

the ocean has a very good drainage system... It is the WHOLE OCEAN after all...