photo by Kelly Bryan
I took an unexpected 2 1/2-year detour from my daily ocean swim in the beautiful Atlantic, thanks to emergency back surgery followed in just 6 weeks by bungled physical therapy. The result was 2 years of agony, massive doses of pain killers, extremely painful diagnostics, 4 epidural injections, endless rounds of steroids, 6 months of body braces, confinement to the horizontal world of working, and just about everything else, lying down, and finally crowned with a double spinal fusion. But finally, gradually, I have returned to the world of the vertical and the sparkling embrace of my turquoise lover in Miami Beach - the ocean.
The first half of my new morning routine now includes a trip to the MedFit Gym on Collins Avenue, where I am being gently guided back into condition under the expert care of Mike and Carmine Klepper, the fitness gurus who also helped Miami diva Gloria Estafan after her back injury years ago. Every other day my workout is on the stepper, which, though not terribly fascinating, allows my mind to entertain itself with thoughts of the day to come and the splendor of a cool dip that will immediately follow the next 24 minutes of sweating to disco.
The water was beautiful, clear and calm that day, so with face mask and snorkel I would glide over the interesting shells and pieces of coral rock near shore, above the occasional sand dollar beyond, then over acres of sand that lead to the buoy that bobbed 200 yards from shore, which delineates the line where swimmers can swim and boaters can boat. In the old days, after reaching the marker, I would turn and swim on to the next one.
Then I remembered being told by my friend Stephanie, who lives nearby and visits the same beach, of a school of hammerhead sharks that swam right up to shore. "Well, at least I'll see them coming," I thought. That's better than when the water is rough and wavy and you don't know who's in there with you.
What does one do in a shark encounter? I decided if they came close to shore it wouldn't be good since they would probably be hungry. I had seen a snippet of a TV show featuring a book about what to do in the face of such a disaster, but of course a chatterbox in the room caused me to me miss the advice. Punch them in the nose. Don't wear red, I had heard in the past. Don't be bleeding, I added. Show no fear. Don't thrash about - but of course I would. Even a piece of seaweed startles me. But it's all in the mind, isn't it?. Inner coolth - that's what I needed - grace under pressure.
I looked at the timer - 12 minutes to go - halfway done. Halfway to some delightful salty ocean coolness.....12 minutes to a scarey shark encounter. But, timing is everything . . . . maybe if I stop in 8 minutes, I'll just miss the sharks. Or, would 10 minutes do it....?
Stop it, mind!
After 5 minutes the music stopped, making it harder to keep the rhythm going. I had rained enough sweat anyway, and my date with destiny might be avoided if I timed this right. Not one to usually fall short of a goal, I decided this time it might be justified.
Just a block away, the ocean was still as a millpond. A film crew was gathering at the ocean's edge for a shoot of some kind. Hey, maybe they'll catch my watery demise. I wondered if the lifeguard was watching, and if he would whistle if he saw any large dark shapes looming towards me. In I dove - it was crystal clear, slightly bracing and thoroughly refreshing .
The closer I go to the bouy, the more nervous I grew. Shut up, fear! I swam out here daily for years and never saw a thing. Why the trepidation now? Maybe I sensed there WAS something there. Mayber not just a shark - maybe a whale shark, the world's largest fish. So what if they're vegetarians - they're big! One yawn and I've had it. Maybe I wouldn't die, maybe I'd just loose a piece. But who needs that, especially after all I had just been through!
As a dabbler with tarot cards and having worked in a tea room giving readings to others, I thought this was a good time to turn my focus within and do a mini-psychic reading for myself. I asked my insides if there was another consciousness nearby....anything bigger than a breadbox, maybe? It's hard to give an objective psychic reading for oneself, though - the mind and the emotions get in there and confuse things.
Then suddenly there it was - the chain that holds the buoy appeared through the watery haze. As I obsessive/compulsively reached out to touch the buoy in triumph, also appearing through the haze were two very, and I mean VERY large fish. Each at least 80 pounders. Big, thick, tall boys, looking at me with a half concerned look. Were they barracuda? No, too wide. Were they dangerous? Not yet, at least.
Thrilled, amazed, startled, I began my exit in case they had friends - maybe they were ocean thugs. As I looked below I realized I was above a school of at least a hundred of these massive beings - some about as big as me. Their characteristic pointy yellow tails told me they were tuna. More and more and more fish joined this rushing wave of life. And there I was, if only momentarily, part of it.
Should I dive down into it and swim with them like I have done in the Keys with the little yellow striped guys? Naaah. Reflecting a moment with how far I've come since my operation, this experience was plenty. . And who knows whom they may be running from. Time to go.
Looking behind me, I swam fast, just in case. At shore, a crowd had gathered to watch the film being shot. But they all had missed the real action.