I have no memory of my birth. I was too young at the time, I suppose. Sixty years later, I can’t help but wonder if birth was like another event in my life — only in reverse.
With birth, I emerged from the fluid realm of the womb and pulled into new lungs a first breath of air. With scuba diving, I returned to an aquatic environment and pulled through a regulator a first breath of air under water. There’s a commonality, though: Just as birth heralds discovery, so does diving.
That’s why it’s been all the more rewarding to combine two of my passions in including scenes involving scuba diving in my second novel. I hope you’ll enjoy following my two protagonists into a cold mountain lake in search for gold bars hidden there more than a century ago by outlaws. What they discover instead is a ghastly corpse lashed to a rock. My protagonists will have to get wet again before discovering the treasure or truth.
Unlike birth, I recall with clarity my first breaths under water — initially in a dive shop swimming pool, then the dark depths of the Homestead Crater in Utah and finally the warm and welcoming sea off Cozumel in Mexico. Each breath was a tentative one in a bigger universe and came with the growing realization of what a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus affords. That’s freedom to explore the vast expanses of Earth accessible only to those with the right equipment — or gills. There’s another benefit no less significant: the opportunity to share the adventure with family and friends.
Scuba diving is nothing if not varied. Each dive is unique with its own conditions, depth and time logged. One dive could be as warm and shallow as the next cold and deep. Visibility ranges from crystalline to murky, from hundreds of feet to mere inches. Calm waters invite leisurely investigation. Ripping currents provide a thrilling ride. A quick dip might take only 20 minutes. A longer foray could extend more than an hour.
Dive sites are no less varied. I’ve toured spectacular coral reefs off the Cayman Islands, giant kelp forests off Catalina and foreboding shipwrecks off the Florida Keys. I’ve plumbed the depths of flooded quarries in Illinois and Kentucky, roamed the halls of a submerged lead mine in Missouri and watched snaggletoothed sharks make the rounds in a massive aquarium in downtown Denver.
Nothing fascinates or rewards more than observing life under the sea up close and personal. Nowhere are the creatures more intensely colorful or more frequently bizarre. Angelfish and butterfly fish dazzle like neon signs with their ostentatious displays. Eagle rays soar as majestically as any bird. Conversely, stonefish blend in with their surroundings so masterfully they remain undetected to all but the most wary passersby. In a place where some animals look more like plants, anemones bloom like flowers and worms pop up like tiny Christmas trees. When small fish swarm in tightly packed schools, they can form gigantic bait balls that roil like storm clouds and blot out the sun.
Jacques Cousteau, the pioneering oceanographer who helped develop scuba diving, famously warned: “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
I say this: Let the net tighten.