This little story has nothing to do with vessels, but I felt compelled to write it, for myself perhaps. I offer it to you as a small vignette.
All my life I’ve wanted to fly. Not as a pilot, but as a bird soaring weightless in the air.
My youngest memories of this desire involved climbing into the highest tree branches I could reach, resulting often in itchy bouts of poison ivy rather than sprouted wings. But I had my dreams. As soon as I reached eighteen years old and was legally allowed to skydive I signed up for a class in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Early in the day, our troop of twelve packed our modified army parachutes and listened to the retired paratroopers tell tales of air disasters, no doubt a rite of passage for us first-timers. As the only female in our group, I was assigned the “privilege” of being the first to jump out of the little Cessna 180 at thirty-five hundred feet above the cow pastures. After ten such jumps, plummeting alone towards the earth at speed, I never experienced what appeared in all those movies like soaring. But I did learn to conquer fear in a way I never had before and stand solidly with the uncertainty of risk.
There were other gentler adventures in this quest, parasailing, spinnaker flying, and many forms of air travel, but nothing matched the physical sensation that dream flight achieved… until I discovered scuba diving. Ironically below the surface instead of above it, I could hang weightless with arms outstretched like wings gliding gently around a watery foreign planet of sea fan gardens and kelp forests. I became an underwater avian.
This last week on a visit to Kona, Hawaii, I went on my first night dive. This was an experience I’d greatly anticipated, intent to experience the giant manta rays feeding on plankton after dark. As it turned out the sea was so rough that half the people on board were doing more to feed the fish rather than look at them. I was amongst the sad troop of miserables barfing off the back deck, all dignity lost to a body unsuited for such movement. This went on and on for what seemed interminable hours between our first dive and the wait for nightfall. That’s as far as I will describe this personal degradation, except to say I would gladly go through childbirth ten times over than relive that scene. Many of the divers stayed on board, too sick to manage a second visit to the reef now in the dark choppy water below. I would have done anything to get off that boat, cast myself to whatever fate was down in those pitchy depths.
I have never felt so disoriented as during that descent. This was no gentle journey, everything spun in a full on vertigo plunge into the eerie blackness. Only the extraterrestrial lights off in the distance offered anything to the environment below. That my body was so depleted from hours of nausea made this experience all the more surreal. I joined the other flippered humans kneeling on the sandy bottom, their breathing bubbles illuminated by flashlight making made silver clouds rise in streams above their masked heads.
And then came the massive winged flyers of the night, their one-ton bodies gliding effortlessly from the darkness with mouths open wide as receiving arms.
I had little energy for encountering miracles and mystery. But in the unfamiliar dark, with the manta ray’s belly, a white so bright as to almost illuminate the surrounding darkness, barely inches above me back-flipping in slow circles over my upturned face, and with the deep notes of humpback whale song vibrating against my body, something was resonating and firing in my own depths too. But this all seemed some kind of weird hypothermic dream at the time. Back on board, my mind numbed from sea-sickness and body at the end of its resources, I had little energy for anything but shivering in my wetsuit as we headed back to harbor. Two weeks later, now solidly back on terra firma with those discomforts fading into the shadows of memory, other captivating visions bubble to the surface like my airstream’s luminosity from the regulator that night.
As an artist, I often experience things as symbol and metaphor, with paradox acting as a curious contextual glue for it all. Flying and falling, launch and descent (and sometimes not being certain which is which) can occur within the same experience. Nadir and zenith, and everywhere in between, are part of the inseparable whole, however seemingly contradictory– each part with its own offerings, purpose, and opportunities for expansion. The story just told is of the simplest sort, no life or death struggle internally or externally, just images or perhaps signifiers of larger more challenging themes winging through my life. My experiences falling skyward or plunging into the deeps, however uncomfortable, reveal to me something of the greater mystery and transformative value available within them. Perhaps that’s as close to flight as I can ever achieve.