Thursday, September 10, 2009

One Last Deleted Scene: Sea Turtles

This was a magical moment, and the cut hurt:

Jim took us out into Biscayne Bay, calmer and shallower than the ocean but still endless blue for three horizons. He and Andi coaxed me through the panic of hitting the water for the first time. Every time I hit the water, really. Under their patient tutelage, my fear diminished with each trip.

A lanky six-foot-five, with paddle-like feet and spatulate hands, Jim glides like a dolphin beneath the water. Some of us need help swimming like that, so he bought a diving board we use to drag behind the boat. You angle the board down to dive and angle up when you run out of air. You can’t boat over the reefs without damaging them, so there’s not much to see except sand and grass beds. It feels like flying, though.

It’s our second year swimming in the bay. Andi and I are using the dive board, seeing nothing much beyond the occasional barrel sponge and rusty piece of metal. We're shocked as a Green Sea Turtle approaches, dwarfing any turtle we've shared the water with before. Its shell must near four feet long, its front flippers easily span five feet. Sun reflects off the cream-colored lines covering its mottled skin, making it appear filled with light. Our lungs burn but we’re too excited to care. We watch the turtle glide through the water until it becomes a speck of wishful thinking in the distance.

We break the surface. Our excited waving and screaming make Jim cut the engine. We calm down and describe the turtle, stupid grins slapped across our faces. Jealousy colors Jim’s happiness for us. He’s been swimming these waters his entire life and has never seen a sea turtle larger than a dinner plate. We speculate on the turtle’s age. We bless our luck at seeing something few divers get to see here.

Andi says my presence in the water must have attracted the magnificent creature (to clarify, Akwesasne Mohawks have three clans, Wolf, Bear, and Turtle; I’m Turtle Clan). We bask in the aftermath of our encounter, knowing we’ll probably never see a turtle that large again. Jim starts the boat, and we replace our snorkels.

Within minutes of diving, we’re joined by a Loggerhead Turtle. The Green Turtle was enormous and beautiful, but the breadth of this four-hundred pound dusky sepia behemouth would stagger us if we weren’t floating. Its head is the size of a soft volleyball. One of us could easily curl up on its shell. Its proximity is humbling, awe-inspiring, like seeing the history of the sea embodied.

This time, Jim knows why we’re waving so frantically. Having all three of us in the water when the boat isn’t anchored isn’t the safest maneuver, but Jim’s not about to miss out a second time. He cuts the engine, puts his mask and fins on, and dives in. After fifty years in these waters, he’s due this sight.

By the time he joins us, the Loggerhead is gone. Jim handles his disappointment as gracefully as he can. We dub the Loggerhead the Granddaddy of the Sea.

Andi may be right. Bobbing in warm waters of pale cyan, squinting up at the sun, it feels like I’m being welcomed home.