It was a super-charged pivotal summer for both of us. We expected that for me, of course. We'd worked hard to make it so. Ursula expected changes for her too, but in hindsight, we really didn't have a clue what the summer actually held for us.
We thought we had some idea. Before we arrived, we'd heard reports from Maui that there were no traces of that obnoxious algae Cladophora. Dare I hope to dive with honu in clear water? I tried not to but I confess that I did sometimes.
I was not let down. The water eventually reached its clearest for many years. There were few waves of consequence. We had the best diving conditions we'd seen in a long time. Ironically, though we were at our physical best, we ended up diving less. Land events that we never thought we'd get to see kept us up all night. It turns out that turtles don't care about human schedules.
We started the summer with certain goals. We wanted to change our approach, to be more disciplined. We wanted to maintain our level of fitness, which meant exercising six days out of seven. We wanted to return home with the first draft of a book. For the book, we had a list of photos that we needed and we hoped to get those. First and foremost, however, I had to prove to Ursula and to myself that my heart condition was under control, that there was no chance of a return of my angina while we were in the water.
Of course I was slightly apprehensive as we snorkeled out to the reef for our first dive. I was paying close attention to my body, watching carefully for any signs of chest pain or breathing difficulty. Up to this point, I'd been confident that there would be no problem, but as we got closer and closer to submerging, there was still that tiny element of doubt at the back of my mind.
I need not have worried.
From the first moment underwater onward, I was relaxed in the water--comfortable, and most importantly, absolutely pain-free. After the initial flood of relief, the joy of being with the honu again took over. Combined with the realization that the water was free of Cladophora, these feelings gave me hope that the summer would really turn out well, that we could and would accomplish what we'd set out to do. From the first day, we were up before dawn, writing for two hours and then exercising for another hour and a half. It was going nicely, the plan was working. Then we got our unexpected bonus.
5690, a beautiful but exasperating lady of the honu persuasion, bestowed upon us our best memories of Summer 2002. She did it in fine style, crawling up and down Lahaina's beaches, making seven nests (so far). We got to watch her make three of them.
When we weren't watching for 5690 to nest, we were watching for her hatchlings to break out. We got to see that--sort of. Five hatchlings isn't many, but they did burst out and scamper down the beach together. Later, we realized that instead of being the vanguard as we'd hoped, they were the ones who'd worked the hardest and broken through. 71 siblings had gotten out already, and two more were trapped below. Still, these events were special because few people have been privileged to see a honu nesting, or watch her hatchlings dig out of the nest.
We've spent hundreds of hours underwater with honu, but because they nest so far away in the French Frigate Shoals, we'd always assumed that there was no chance that we'd ever get to see these things. One turtle doesn't nest at the Shoals, however, and she unwittingly (or maybe not) turned 2002 into our Magic Summer with her motherly instincts. We will never forget her, and we will always owe her thanks.
Although 5690 kept us out of the water and interfered with our writing and exercise schedule, we never begrudged her for a minute. We still made progress with the book, we still worked out in the mornings--just not a regularly as we'd expected. When we did get into the water, the diving was excellent. We were getting the pictures we wanted. We were seeing wonderful things: eagle rays, a manta ray, several reef sharks, and of course lots of honu. Summer 2002 was turning out to be the best ever. Then, in a single dive, the balance was restored.
Not everything had been perfect. Part of our summer involved helping George Balazs conduct an experiment in which time-depth recorders (TDRs) were attached to some of our regulars. One of these had come off, so we were searching the bottom to see if we could find it. On this fateful dive, Ursula thought we should look along the back of Reef 0. We were swimming along, me examining the bottom, when Ursula indicated that we should turn around and head back. When I signalled puzzlement, she signalled back: shark, BIG shark. We quietly and quickly--but calmly--left the water.
On shore, Ursula told me she had seen a huge tiger shark, easily 15 feet long, maybe closer to 20. She was, to say the least, unnerved. Meanwhile, as I was to discover the next morning, I'd somehow managed to flood our beloved digital video camera. Undoubtedly, that was the Most Disastrous Dive Ever.
I said that the summer was pivotal. For me, this was because it was the summer I'd worked for, the summer that proved to me that there was still diving and honu in my future. Believe me, in the bleak days of early January, this had seemed a highly unlikely proposition. Back then, I had no idea whether I possessed the self-discipline and resolve I would need to work through the heart problem and attain the conditioning necessary to be approved for diving again. Actually getting there and diving was important, but it was equally important that the self-discipline continued while we were there. We maintained our fitness and made excellent progress towards a book.
For Ursula, there were some of those same self-discipline aspects, but in the second major surprise of the summer, seeing the shark was her pivotal moment. Of course that is her story and it is best left for her to tell, but it was perfectly clear that the shark sighting had a major effect on her.
I really don't want to seem dramatic, but I'm not sure how else to put it. I'd faced my mortality in the last days of December 2001, in the moments just before I left my house for the cardiac ward. It wasn't unexpected, and I'd had a chance to prepare for it, but still it was a shock.
Ursula faced her mortality in the form of a tiger shark. She was completely unprepared, in a place that before that moment had always seemed safe and protective. For her, everything changed--it was her pivotal moment. The effects remain to be seen. I just know that Honokowai is different for her now.
I am not a religious or spiritual person, but I would have to be brain-dead not to wonder whether some Greater Force has been watching over my life since the New Year. My greatest wish was to be back with the honu. I got that. I dared hope for clear water. I got that too. I never dreamed of seeing a honu nest or hatchlings emerge, but I got those thrown in. Was this our reward for caring for the honu, for working so hard to make this summer happen? Then there was our nightmare dive--were we being reminded not to get too cocky, that there must always be Yin to balance the Yang?
I don't know the answers to those questions. Summer 2002 is over now. What happened, happened. I got what I wanted most and more, but not without grief. The challenge now is to absorb the lessons and move on. If we are lucky, 2003 awaits.
||Summer of '02 at Honokowai|
||Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai|
||Table of Contents|