Yesterday (February 25, 2017), I completed dives number 1,000 and 1001.
This is not a big deal if you are a warm water diver where it is common to do 3 or more dives a day.
But, for me at least, I feel it is important to reflect upon this milestone. How did I get here? The equivalent of ~31 days spent underwater over the last 17 years, almost all in the cold, dark NE Pacific off northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia?
And, where am I going?
Younger me on January 9th, 2000 in a wet suit before I had even done a dive from a boat. Now, I’m much greyer; on to my 2nd battered dry suit; and am most often on the other side of a camera.
I was 36 when I started diving. (I’ll save you doing the math – yes, that means I am 53 now). It was a year of some very big life decisions including leaving solid ground when it came to employment and what many would have considered “a career”. I let go. I followed my internal compass knowing only that I needed to learn from Nature again.
Learning to dive did not feel like one of the big decisions. Looking back, it seemed almost like a flirtation; a “sure, why not?”. Maybe that’s the way it works with the big things in life. There were some pretty big clues that it should be on my path though. For example, back when I worked in the Netherlands, I had hung all kinds of marine animals from the ceiling of my shower. Clearly I wanted to feel like I was under the Ocean. Also, my most crystalline, happy childhood memories are of spending seemingly endless hours exploring the beach when we lived in Chemainus (southern Vancouver Island).
Adrift with so many rockfish during yesterday’s dives. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.
But know that while saying “yes” to taking a dive course was easy, diving has not come easily to me. I’ll spare you the details of how encumbered the instruction was; that I even inflicted injuries upon myself; and how the learning never stops. (If you would like to see what mask squeeze looks like, click here.) I remember feeling that achieving my Dive Masters was bigger than anything I had achieved in university.
But when I saw that first sea star underwater, it was like a lightning bolt went through me. I knew. It was as if I heard a click, as if a puzzle piece fell into place. This was going to be important. But I could never have known how important.
Lone Mottled Star. Yes, the sea stars are still in trouble – an example of how the Ocean may be testifying to environment issues but because this reality is hidden, too few of us notice and take heed. More information at this link. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.
It felt like a lot of puzzle pieces clicked into place that year. Since then, some have fallen out of place leaving an odd shaped hole. This is certainly how life works. Some pieces never were a good fit or were only part of the big picture for a brief while. Okay, enough already of that puzzle metaphor and about what has come and gone, but was once essential in getting to where I am now.
Now . . . 1,000 dives completed.
Now . . . the extraordinary privilege of knowing one small part of the planet from individual fish to individual whales. “Knowing”? Correction . . I am learning from the life in these cold, dark waters.
Now . . . “The Marine Detective”. It’s a handle that I hope captures the mystery and the correct humility. I am a student of the Ocean and, in recognizing that privilege and importance, I want it to count.
The Ocean. Mother Ocean. The ultimate teacher. It’s where life began and upon which life depends. It’s often where the impacts of our disconnect and misguided value systems appear first. It’s our opportunity to have the humility to realize how little we know. It’s our opportunity to connect and to heal and to know how little we are.
Leaving solid ground. Being adrift. Better knowing when and how to fight the current. Learning so many lessons about the life around me and, about myself.
What lies ahead? Another 1,000 dives. More lessons. More puzzle pieces. More trying to make it count.
I am so grateful for it all – to have the health that makes this possible; to being able to live where I do; to my dive buddies; and to you who care enough to read these words, making the effort so worthwhile.
From the depths – thank you.
Here is a past reflection on diving. I wrote this poem after my 600th dive. It still all applies.
Constricted by my dry suit,
Thirty pounds bound to my waist,
Hunchbacked by my cylinder,
A mask suctioned to my face,
I leave the world we’ve cultivated,
To attempt to meet our every whim,
To where Nature’s voice can still be heard,
Far above civilization’s din.
No governments, no borders,
Nor economies present.
When down here, I’m reminded,
Of life’s depth and true intent.
I’m an awkward and brief visitor,
In this world of colour and perfection.
I fill with humility, wonder,
Passion and quiet introspection.
For Mother Ocean is home to life,
Older than mammals can comprehend.
I’m grateful that I may learn from her,
Leaving solid ground when I descend.
Diving brought me greater purpose,
Love, vision and camaraderie.
I think that what some find in a church,
I find . . . deep . . . within the sea.
Below, additional photos from yesterday’s dives shared with fishes, friends, and so much more.
The purpose of one of yesterday’s dives was to do a Lingcod Egg Mass Survey. That’s buddy Natasha Dickinson recording depth, size, etc. The males guard the egg masses to ensure their kind has a better chance of survival. More information on “Lingcod – Fastidious, Fanged Fathers” at this link. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.
Dive buddy Natasha examining an unguarded egg mass for the Ling Cod Egg Mass Survey. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.
Oops – got distracted from the survey by a mature male Wolf-Eel. How could I not?! More on this remarkable species at this link. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.
Swimming with the fishes . . . so many fishes and testament to Rockfish Conservation Areas being so important. Our dive club has been monitoring this site near Port Hardy for over 20 years. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.
Another “distraction” – mature male Wolf-Eel. Intriguing that this one had many juvenile rockfish swimming around his head. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.
Oregon Tritons (marine snail species) feeding on an unguarded Lingcod Egg Mass. ©2017 Jackie Hildering.
Dive buddies . . . could not do it without them. Here – Natasha Dickinson (left) and Alexandra Spicer (right). Dear dive buddy Jacqui Engel was unable to join yesterday due to the flu but her name absolutely needs to appear anywhere where I am reflecting on the importance of diving in my life and how I got here. [P.S. it was 5.5°C!] ©2017 Jackie Hildering.