A dreams first breath...
|The year was 1960. The ocean held adventure for a twelve year old boy living by the beach in South Florida. I followed my older brother out to the end of the south jetty at Palm Beach Inlet. He bought an aqualung and regulator for fifteen dollars. He strapped the tank to my back and placed a five pound weight in each back pocket of my cut-offs and told me to jump.
Well you know what they say about the young and foolish, so jump I did. Now you have to remember this was 1960, way before certification, the BCs, depth gauges, air gauges or any kind of information about the bad things that can happen. Weighing only ninety pounds soaking wet and with the ten pounds of weight in my back pockets I descended like a stone. I managed to clear my ears before my head exploded as I landed on the bottom with a thud, about twenty-five feet down.
I realized I was holding my breath when a huge school of Pompano as big as pie plates swarmed passed on their way to the open sea. I still remember how it felt taking that first breath. It was like something magic had bridged the gap between land and water. No longer an interloper allowed only a thirty second glimpses restricted to the shallows. Now I was a sea creature interacting among his peers.
A Moray Eel as thick as my leg pokes its head out of the rocks and seemed to be yelling a silent warning.Large shadows slowly moved in the dingy green just beyond my visibility, nevertheless any fear was completely overwhelmed by wonder. Looking up I could see the sunlight dancing on the surface before it penetrates the shifting currents. Watching from below the schools of fish heading out of the inlet with the tide, making me wish I could join them.
Something to my right caught my eye, lobster. Back in those days lobsters were abundant. You could swim a couple hundred yards out to the first reef on most days and catch all you can eat. Nevertheless it was against family policy to pass up opportunity. Florida lobster have no claws, the tail is delicious, a little chewier than its northern cousin. They huddle together under ledges during the day for protection, for everything loves the taste of lobster. I used to feel sorry for them because they thought they were hidden; yet their feelers stuck out waving to opportunistic eyes.
I put on my glove and pulled one from under the ledge. I didn't have a bag so I twisted off the tail; you have to be careful it's powerful enough to break fingers. As the head drift slowly away things quickly changed. Small fish from every nook and cranny of the rocks encircled the head tearing away bits of food. Some even brazenly nibble from the tail I held in my hand.
All the occupants of the rocks were keyed into the fresh kill. Even the Moray seemed to contemplate leaving the safety of its hole to participate in the free feast. I saw the silver flash of light, as all the fish seemed to disappear. It was a large Barracuda, the lobster head exploded as it was hit. I was startled by the swiftness of the attack and dropped my lobster tail. Another silver flash as the Barracuda hit it again. It swam about two or three yards away, turned and looked right at me. As the little fish returned to eat, the Barracuda's teeth filled jaws opened and closed as it wondered what I was.
It was getting hard to pull the air through the regulator and the Barracuda made me feel unwelcome. The weights in my pockets made surfacing a struggle, but when I finally got back on the jetty my first words to my brother was where do we get this tank refilled.