By Medea Isphording Bern
A private soundtrack plays for us who venture down, who kiss the surface goodbye and plunge, feet first, under the waves. The big blue, our languid concert hall, offers measure after measure of muffled hush, accompanied by the ‘schlippp-pssshhh’ of the diver’s rhythmic breathing and the pop and crackle of a thousand jamming reef dwellers. Aside from an occasional percussive rap on a tank, the chime that draws attention to some elusive or reclusive marvel–a turtle, a hammerhead, an octopus–we flutter toward the sea floor in near-perfect, crystalline silence.
Neutral aural compliments psychedelic visual. A benign patch of sand sprouts eyes, orbs that dart staccato in their sockets like a watch’s spastic second hand. A pretty, frilly, sponge-covered rock suddenly sprouts a tongue and uses it to stun a passing goby, swallowing it instantly. Blink, and you miss the spotted eagle ray flying over a knob of lime green brain coral, the snowflake eel warning away intruders, the coral crab playing its castanets. Glide slowly, all senses ‘go’, and Neptune will reveal the secrets hidden inside every crevice and crenellation.
I was born with seawater in my veins, and curly red hair that, when wet and plastered against my skull, could pass for seaweed. Our family passed weekends slicing Florida’s shimmering blue waters in our 19’ dive boat, ‘Mal de Mer’ (‘Sea Sick’ en français.) Several times a year, we traveled with dad’s dive club, the North Osprey Otters, down to the Keys, boat in tow. We slept on deck or in pup tents on the marl of uninhabited out-islands. We washed everything–hair, clothes, dishes–in the sea with lemony liquid Joy (according to old timers, it cuts the salt.) We gave wide berth to the grinning barracuda that always hovered under our hulls. We floated within schools of Spanish mackerel, piscine clouds of citrine scrawled with horizontal turquoise stripes, a communion unlike the usual wine and wafer, but that left us feeling reverential and a little bit holy.