Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Immersion ~Belize part 2

Belize 059

I always have some fear when I swim out the first time, after an absence from the Sea. I love the Ocean, but depths frighten me.

It is especially unnerving because right now I can’t see anything; this is not the clear brochure blue Caribbean but a slightly marshy seaside with a muddy floor. The waves stir everything up and visibility is about what I expect in a blizzard, except with coral heads and parrotfish suddenly materializing in front of me. We have vague directions to the little reef (“About 200 yards North off the dock of the house with the barking dogs”). We periodically stop, pop our heads out of the water and pull our facemasks up to squint at the shore. The waves have a different idea of which way we should be heading, and disagreeing with them is tiring. The water is choppy and not really that warm. I tread water and try to untangle strands of my hair from the clasp that holds snorkel to mask; I hear them rip. I yank the mask down, lower my head, and swim. The snorkel sometimes offers air, other times, salt water. My breath sounds amplified, loud and fast: Darth Vader having a panic attack. I feel both claustrophobic and exposed. I try to relax and slow my breathing, which only makes me realize how not-relaxed I am.

I feel simultaneously afraid, foolish for being afraid, and afraid of showing my fear. Are fish like tigers? Can they smell fear? I feel like turning around and swimming back for shore, back to where I can see what’s coming at me.

I’m tired. I float for a minute, facedown, bobbing. My limbs relax.  My back is warm then cool, warm then cool, as small waves come between flesh and sun. Out of the gloom a 5 ft Eagle Ray soars by in slow motion. My head turns to follow its glide. The waters swirl, then I am alone again.

I stop breathing for a moment. Silence rushes in my ears. This is what being a priestess is like.

I have spent so much time gazing at the surface of the Waters. It is mirrored. It’s all the same Ocean, but there is a lot of publicity about the clear places where you can see below. I never seem to end up there. I always end up in the obscure, muddy parts, where the light bounces off the surface. There’s only one way to know what’s there. I wade until the ground drops out from under me and I’m forced to swim. Any given directions are vague, meaningless once I’m on on my way.

I paddle through a vast and murky Sea, not sure where I’m going, not sure what I’ve come to see, not sure I really want to be out here at all. 

Immersion is a constant caress, both distant and intimate. Invisible currents carry me along; I fight against them, wanting to go my own way. I am beneath the surface, but barely. There are unimagined depths below. I do not understand the nature or intentions of the deep, or what may dwell there. The speculation chills me. I long to see, but fear the encounter. Things seem to appear out of nowhere and I am startled by their grace, their belonging to this place. I flounder around, awkward and scared; my tension only makes it worse. Insight is only a byproduct of exhaustion. Be still and listen. Nothing can give me the release I am seeking; I have only been struggling against myself. I am more water than flesh: I am made of the substance I am immersed in. I have been gliding farther into myself, into my own Waters. I am the deep.

My breaths are the waves beneath the waves. Movement is effortless. The depths I fear are what bear me up.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Vargus Debacle of 2010

Who knew dolphins could be so much trouble?

We live in the middle of nowhere, way too far to take a cab or get a ride to the airport. When we go out of town, we drive to our friends Larry & Valerie's place in St Paul (near the MSP airport) and leave our car there. If they are working & can't give us a ride, we just catch a cab.

When we returned from Beilze, we got a cab from the airport. After 24 hours in transit, we were relived to finally make it to our car. Urban started to pull on his seatbelt, froze, and exclaimed "Where's Vargus?"

Vargus is a small rubbery dolphin, one of a small rubbery menagerie that we got out of a vending machine in Cannon Falls, MN. He's tiny enough to fall into a bottle of beer. He hatched out of a clear plastic egg & lives on the dashboard of the Red Barron (our hybrid SUV). Most of his brethren are still rolling around in their plastic eggs on the floor of the car, but Vargus is special. Urban asserts he is a "Bluetooth-enabled navigator dolphin" and is very, very attached to him. He does a little squeaky voice for Vargus, who calls him "boss."

If the car is ever stolen Urban will probably call the cops, totally distraught, and say "Help! Someone took my dolphin!"

Well, there we were, in the Barron, with no Vargus. This was clearly not an accident, as in his place was a little (previously floor-dwelling) octopus. After a frantic search, Urban determined that both Vargus and the empty egg were missing.

Our friend Valerie had kidnapped Vargus. Or, as Urban put it once we realized what had happened, MY friend Valerie.

We are frequent travelers, yet we somehow managed to get lost on the way home. From the airport. To the house we’ve lived at for six years.

For the next two weeks, every daily traffic annoyance, like missing an exit or long red lights, would cause Urban to mutter that this wouldn't happen if Vargus were here. Since we have an identical dolphin, I suggested that we put it on the dashboard. He looked at me like I was insane, and said "That is not Vargus, that's just some stupid rubber dolphin." Every time we got in the car, he looked so disgruntled it would give me the giggles, which would make him look even more disgruntled, which would (of course) make me laugh even harder, until I was practically rolling around on the floor with the stupid rubber dolphin.

Yesterday Urban finally went to St. Paul to get Vargus. He texted me a pic of Vargus on Valerie's shelf, in his little plastic egg, with the caption "Hostage."

Negotiations were successful! We got in the Barron this morning and there he was in all in his tiny rubber dolphin glory. I said "Hey, Vargus, you're back!"

In his squeaky dolphin voice, Vargus replied: "I'm not talking to you."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

You know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby. ~Belize part 1

Belize 101

There are some places you visit that are so idyllic as to be unbelievable. You get there, look around and say: This place is so great, it’s unbelievable! You hang around, do vacation things, but now and then you find yourself stimulated by a sunset or drink or really good moment to say it again: unbelievable, as if reminding yourself of its unlikelihood somehow helps to fix or define its reality. When you leave, you’ll look back and remember, but pictures will not capture or express what you only fleetingly managed to grasp. You’ll remember the things you did, the little or large adventures. Or, you’ll remember that nothing much happened. Nothing had to; it was enough to be there, to partake in the experience of how unbelievable it was.

Then there are the other places.

Places that are so deep in their own reality that they make you question yours. The place you came from seems unbelievable. You have arrived in the hyper-real. Every moment is piercing. Every other place ceases to exist. You’ve come here for the first time but you’ve been here before. You remember the sounds—the rush of the river, the movement of trees and breeze, twilight frogs, and birds that scream at dawn and wake you up. You feel the humidity and there is no instant of wondering where you are. The memory of teak pulses under your feet as you rise and open the screen door and step out into the spicy air that seems to settle on, then penetrate, your clothes and skin and hair. The slap of the door cuts off the avian cacophony. You walk into the quiet heat, down the stairs, the railing is satin under your palm, the boards like warm marble under your feet. At the bottom of the stairs, the grass is wet and cool, with squashy mud underneath. Something shakes the underbrush as you pass. Something else zooms by in the air, either a small hummingbird or large bug; you don’t really want to know. 

You walk the few steps to the boulders overlooking the river; the rocks are warm, both rough and silken. They are damp, shiny grey and shaded pink. Sleek white veins run through them like rivers. You leave faint red-mud footprints. Although you stand upon them, you can feel their heaviness, as if gravity is always upside down when you’re standing on the bones of the earth.

The hills rise around you, cradling the watercourse. The air has a presence and mist is coming up over the trees. The birds have dismissed you and started up again. The river is before you, fast and slow, squeezed by boulders to jump, bubble and froth, then smoothing out into deep pools that throw themselves over into descending falls again until, weary, it calms and steadies to flow sure and quiet between overhung banks. This is a twice green river: milky agate water reflecting shimmering jade dark trees as it  uncoils itself downstream and disappears beyond the bend. You wonder where it goes.

You look around and realize a thousand greens.The river green before you, the bushes and trees green around you. Green as light as white, as dark as black. Greens glossy, streaked, spotted, mottled and matte. There are slashes and spots of flowers and hummingbirds: crimson, orange, hot pink, like licks of flame amid the smoke of green rising from steaming soil.  Life is crammed together. There are things growing on other things: strange spiky plants sprout from the joints of trees, vines climb and hang in heated tangles, lichen and moss cover everything. Some of the trees have leaves larger than you. The air tastes damp and rich and gigantic. The sky is silver gray-green, heavy with rain; granite above and granite below, water before and water behind. This is the only place you’ve ever known.

The jungle is silk, the jungle is around you, and the river goes on forever.