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My Log Book

8 Aug

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I have been SCUBA diving for over 25 years. Destinations have included The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Greek Isles, Hawaii, California, Florida, a mine in Missouri, and every divable spot in Mexico and the Caribbean. There were times over that period when I was very active and times when life got in the way and I was only able to get in one trip a year. Regardless, I have been religious about keeping a log of every one of my several hundred dives. It is my personal SCUBA history book.

In the early years I wrote about the things I saw. The book is littered with the words ray, shark, turtle, eel, and every manner of reef fish large and small. The sharks were identified by species; nurse, bull, lemon, whitetip, blacktip, hammerhead, and tiger (no great whites yet). I once saw a turtle as big as a VW bug.

When my son and daughter took up the sport about eight years ago, I continued to log our dives together and the frequency of them increased dramatically. Diving became a family affair. I loved getting them alone on a surface interval to chat about the things we saw on our first dive and talk excitedly about what we might encounter next.

Soon after we began diving together the entries in my log book began to change. I still noted the special things we had seen, but there was much more written about the people we were with. The entries were now about new friends made on trips; kind souls that emailed photos from their fancy underwater cameras; interesting folks with good stories; and friends that I have introduced to life under the sea. The memories made on these trips are less about morays and mantas, and more about friends and family.

As I peruse the log book entries from our new second home at Royal Belize I find precious reminders of the people I love the most.

A Fish Story

18 Aug

 

A fox walking on the beach had drawn him out of the cabin into the gray, pre-dawn light. The fire had gone out during the night, but the cabin was warm compared with the chill of the morning. He grabbed at his coat and hugged himself to suppress a shiver in what he thought was silence.

Slowly he became aware of the faint sound of water falling off the mountain a mile across the bay. As his ears were straining to hear the cascade, a whale breached with a whoosh and a spray of water. Then the resident seal splashed at the end of the spit, a gull cried, and a salmon jumped, as salmon do, for reasons known only to salmon. This was not silence; it was a natural symphony played just for him.

The boy and the old man were still asleep in the cabin. The adrenaline from yesterday’s encounter with the bear had worn off leaving the man with a slightly hung-over feeling. He was not hooked on danger as some people said. He was simply a collector of life experiences and the more exciting the better.

The bear had popped out of the brush thirty feet from where they were fishing and challenged their right to extract fish from the stream. The ensuing war of wills, strong words, and a few thrown rocks had convinced the bear to find another fishing spot. The man was triumphant and the boy was exhilarated, but the old man did not like that kind of excitement.

Today was a new day. The stunning natural beauty of the place was worth the pain and suffering and potential bear attacks. Today he would teach the boy how to fill a freezer, how to cast and how to set a hook, how to keep a tight line, how to talk among men, how to casually handle discomfort, and how to make it all look easy. It was also a day for him to show the old man that real life is not lived in the living room. No one ever complains of cold, or rain, or sea sickness, or sore muscles, or wet socks when they are reeling in a monster. The rush of emotion when a big fish strikes is indescribable.

The man snapped to when he realized that the sun was coming up over the water. He said a soft goodbye to the seal and set off to continue the boy’s unfinished education in adventurous living. He wanted to make sure that his son was conscious of his choices. You rarely encounter bears or land a fish that weighs more than you do while sitting in an easy chair. Neither of them was ever going to get old.

Van Horn, Texas

23 Apr

Running virtually across the state of Texas is once again proving to be a challenge. With working, adventuring and recovering from the injuries sustained while adventuring, I am having a hard time getting in the miles and am pretty far behind schedule in both running and writing. A few weeks back I blew through Van Horn, population 1,907 and falling fast. I suspect that a fair percentage of the “locals” are in the federal witness protection program. This little community is 140 long miles from the state’s western border outside of El Paso.

The town is not named for U.S. Army Major Jefferson Van Horne who passed through the area in 1849 on his way to taking command of Fort Bliss. It is, instead, named for Lt. James Judson Van Horn who ten years later commanded an army garrison near some local springs that were strategic in this desert environment. Lt. Van Horn’s post was seized by Confederate forces in 1861 and he was taken prisoner. I guess that neither rank nor military success are requirements for having a town named after you in far west Texas.

The world might little note what goes on in Van Horn if not for two interesting developments. The first is that Jeff Bezos, of Amazon.com fame, bought 290,000 acres of land north of town as a launch site for his space tourism business, Blue Origin. The company is working to lower the cost of space flight so that we can all go. They actually have local job openings posted on their website. Pretty innovative stuff.

The second bunch of crazies working in Van Horn is a group of scientists from the Long Now Foundation. The foundation provides a counterpoint to today’s accelerating culture and helps make long-term thinking more common. They hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next ten millennia. The group is building a 10,000 year clock deep inside a mountain outside of Van Horn. This is an implicit statement of optimism about the fate of civilization. They are building the clock just so that you will ask why they are building the clock.

Admittedly, Van Horn doesn’t look like much on the surface, but there is some strange stuff going on out here where no one seems to be paying attention. Next stop on the journey is Balmorhea for some underwater meditation in the middle of the desert.

Sunset

11 Mar

The first star appeared well before sundown. A big, bright mama star with a toddler tight at her heels. Two stars and a washed out light blue sky that faded toward the horizon to almost white. Dragonflies darted about on the breeze. The ever present surf pounded the timeless reef with waves that had begun their journey in a far-off land. The man thought of his time in the Far East, far to the west where the waves had started their trip. It was nearing the socially acceptable time for end-of-day cocktails, but the heat created a preference for chilled white wine. “That is what she will want,” thought the man to himself. Moving from the lounge chair to open the bottle required more energy than he currently possessed. The heat had overstayed its welcome and intensified in defiance of its imminent eviction.

The man heard the first grackle before he saw it. A loud inelegant squawk. The bird landed in the palm trees that ringed the pool and lined the path to the beach. And then came another and started an argument with the first. The sun quickened its pace as it headed for a swim. The man heard the waves, the buzzing of the dragonflies, and the harsh cry of the grackles. Soon the sky was filled with the big, black birds and their shrilly protests. There seemed to be some giant quarrel among them as to the proper social order and their relative position in the trees. The uninvited happy hour guests created a cacophonous commotion. Nothing else could be heard. Even thoughts in the man’s head could not compete with the raucous cries of this unwelcome crowd. Time to get the wine.

He returned to the patio and the clamor with a chilled bottle wrapped in a towel. It was time to toast the end of day. The woman joined him just in time to see the sun extinguish itself in the ocean. “Did you see the green flash?” she asked. He thought briefly about lying to her once again, but chose to merely shake his head slowly from side to side as he sipped his chardonnay. The setting of the sun marked the beginning of the end of the grackle’s riot. They each appeared to recognize that they had been rude and intrusive and settled quietly into their perches among the palm trees. Quiet returned to the yard and the sound of the surf once more reached the man’s ears. He thought again of the waves and sipped his wine. More stars appeared as the evening breeze chased away the heat. He had a good life and a good woman next to him and he was content.

It was a good day.

Vitamin I

24 Feb

Canadian heli-skiing is for expert skiers – or those that have a natural deficiency of fear or sense.

I survived six days of it with a group of five non-expert skiers aged 45 to 70. As the baby of the group I was one of two survivors that made it injury free to the final day (my seventy year old companion, Dick, was the other.) We lost a person a day for the first three days with injuries to a hamstring (Mike), back (Bill G.) and knee (Steve) respectively. The damage I sustained was less obvious. I leave Canada with a massively bruised ego and a liver that has had to process massive doses of Vitamin I. If beaten paths are for beaten men, consider me battered but not beaten.

Heli-skiing is one of those once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list activities that can hardly be described with words. Flying in a helicopter through the mountains on a sunny day is an experience in itself. Learning to do the heli-ski huddle as you get blasted with snow multiple times per day is imperative, as is learning how to find your buddy buried under the snow. I was fortunate enough to ski through an avalanche that I created and do a perfect nose dive into the debris pile at the bottom of the pitch. Call me a newly certified powder pig.

The folks at Great Canadian Heli-Skiing are the best and the memories created at the lodge will last a lifetime. The small group there was a virtual UN of ski crazies. There were Italians, Belgians, Australians, Swedes, English ladies, sorted Americans, and then, or course, there were the Canadians, “eh”. Love them all.

Vitamin I is my new friend. Get enough of it in your system and you can forget the pain for a few more hours on the slopes. I was told that I can buy it in bulk at any drug store. Apparently it is also known as ibuprofen.

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