Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Playing in Champagne

"So here's what you do," explains Aeron, her voice dripping sea water, snot, and enthusiasm. "You swim above daddy and you catch his bubbles."

This is one of those games that children invent that make us wonder whether we were ever children. It is so far outside our ken, that on the face of it we feel we might be a different species. Here I am snorkeling off a coral reef in paradise, and instead of toodling along looking at fish, anemones, and the incredibly abundant and diverse coral, I'm supposed to chase my husband around and pop his exhalations.

I am, however, a really good mother. In theory.

"Are there rules?" I ask my effervescent youngest.

She snorts, miraculously avoiding inhaling ocean, and waves her hand at me, "Nah! Just have fun!!"

I can do that. I line myself with the trajectory of the divers and start kicking to catch up. The reef here is astonishing. Somehow all those statistics of coral death left me with the notion that there is none left. Salty sailors who did this jump years ago bemoan the current sad state of affairs. But today -- here on anchorage #32 in the Vava'u group of the Kingdom of Tonga -- it's easy to forget the global numbers. The coral comes in every color, shape and size. There are leather corals, brain, and fans, soft and hard, small crystalline species and enormous bushes of stag. Everywhere I look there are bright, quickly moving fish. There are iridescent micro jellies and royal blue star fish, spiky purple anemones and the occasional shy octopus.

It is all very distracting as I learn moments later when I feel a sharp tug on my flipper. Surfacing, I am scolded, "Not that way. They dive deeper. Come this way."

Aeron drags me towards deeper water where the coral reef drops from the pleasant snorkeling depths of 5 to 15 first to aqua blue 20s and then darker and darker into the 30s and 40s, then the 50s and 60s. Just to our right, the floor of the ocean drops into oblivion, disappearing in a blue familiar to sailors and divers but otherwise completely indescribable. Little flippers lead the way along the reef and towards the dimly visible, slowly moving yellow rectangles far below, the only visible sign of our three divers is their fluorescent dive tanks. She is in a hurry, and I have to stroke hard, kicking strongly to keep up.

As a result, I am abruptly introduced to the dive bubble spot when I slam into the back of my child. We flounder for a few minutes in a tangle of neoprene clad limbs, plastic snorkels, and bubbles. The bubbles make it hard to sort long Conger limbs into two distinct swimmers. There are little bright balls of air everywhere, far more bubbles than could possibly be generated by our collision. I can clearly hear Aeron's giggle through the water as I try to figure out which direction is up. We bounce up, mask-to-mask, while Aeron clarifies the way to play dive bubbles.

"So you chase the bubbles and then you catch them before they touch the top," is her explanation. I look around at the froth of air fizzing around us, Aeron giggling at me, "No no... not these. The bigger ones."

Resigned to the idea of floating above an indistinguishable blue ocean chasing my daughter, I set off after her again, more slowly this time. A lens of pure bright crystal appears beneath us. It is roughly a foot across, shimmering and moving rapidly upwards. My daughter heads downwards and whaps it sharply on the top. The ocean resounds with a deep >bong< as the bubble shatters into a cascade of tiny spheres which surround Aeron like a cloud of seed pearls. Again, I hear her laughter, clear and crystal as the bubbles themselves.

I want one. I spot a likely candidate and head downwards. When my hand hits the top of the shimmering lens, its shattering resounds through my hand, up my arm, in my ears. The sound is different than Aeron's bubble, higher pitched. Mine was smaller. I speed off to the next stream of large bubbles, a series of distinct glowing lenses, each roughly six inches across. Pop, Pop! POP! It's like playing drums underwater. I have to come up for air. I'm laughing too hard to breathe through my snorkel.

Aeron greets me at the surface, her peels of laughter ringing across the sound of surf on the reef. She nods knowingly. That'll show her no play no fun mommy. "This is -awesome-, right?"

My answer is to speed off to find the divers. We pop big bubbles with deep resounding booms and little bubbles which make sharp sounds which do not carry far. We pass through frothy clouds of bubbles which feel like swimming in a glass of champagne. We swoop down on monster bubbles and stick our faces in them, briefly feeling a waft of air while 10 feet down under. We shoot up on jets of mid-sized bubbles which pop all over our bottoms and make us laugh shamelessly at the tickly sensation, like someone running feathers all over our legs.

We chase bubbles until our tummies hurt from laughing and our fingers turn stiff from the chill water. Then we turn back towards the dinghy, kicking gently over the coral aquarium spread out below in the slower, warmer, brighter reef edge. Aeron rests awhile floating like a whale baby, half draped over mommy back and hugging me tight. Her last tired laugh as we near the boat reminds me that we are the same species, a strange animal which laughs and loves and has opposable thumbs perfect for sticking in large bright dive-tank-generated bubbles.


judith said...

That was splendid!

Heather on Meerkat said...

Sounds like heaven.

jane said...

Toast, I read your blogs in large gulps, whole months at once. I've never been moved to comment before now. This is a beautifully well written testament to your life, as a sailor and a mother. I just loved it.