I don’t always choose musical titles, but when I do, I think they’re appropriate. I had the day off work yesterday so I went down to the beach to see if the water was ready for snorkelling again. It turns out it wasn’t ready. Not even close. But I went anyways. Growing up in Ohio, I had the perception of California that it was an ocean paradise, warm waters and surfers hanging ten left and right. As it happens, it is. But you must bring a wetsuit, or you will freeze.
I usually like to go snorkelling at the Cove in La Jolla, a small underwater preserve that has some amazing places to explore, as well as a seal colony to offer the occasional surprise swimming companion. Setting my mask and fins on the beach, I decided that instead of just jumping in right away and becoming a soprano, that I’d slowly wade in and take my time getting used to the water. After twenty minutes of gingerly creeping up through the frigid waves and trying to make my spasms look natural, three girls ran past me and dove right in, giggling and splashing. Some quick mental calculations followed this spectacle, and I decided that I was ready to go all in, or I would be forced to hand in my Man Card.
I consider myself someone capable of “roughing it” without complaint. But that water was cold. I mean cold. Painfully cold, it felt like a vice grip made of ice cubes had clamped down on my head. You get used to the temperature pretty quick, but it never stops being cold, and you can never forget about it. It’s always there. But yesterday the water was incredibly clear, and as I swam through fields of swirling green seaweed and into rocky canyons on the sandy bottom, it was worth it.
Brilliant orange garabaldi and colourful little fish I can’t name darted past in silver flecks as I swam by. You can definitely see a lot floating on the surface, and there’s something serenely peaceful just floating there and rolling with the waves. But for me the best part of snorkelling is taking a huge gulp of air and diving down to the bottom, plugging your nose and blowing out to pop your ears, and swimming through the ocean carved rock channels to explore hidden places.
After about six minutes I’d had about as much of the freezing water as I could handle, and was trying to talk myself into staying longer, when I peeked around a coral ledge about fifteen feet down and came face to face with a little octopus! He was hiding in a patch of red seaweed and I’m not sure which of us was more surprised. I’ve probably gone snorkelling in the Cove two or three dozen times since I moved here, and spent many afternoons looking for new diving grounds. But I’d never seen an octopus! It was amazing to see him just sitting there in the kelp. When he spotted me he shrunk back and turned a deeper red, curling his little tentacles up around him, watching me warily. I went back up for air and dove down to see him five or six more times, but I don’t think he was as amused by this encounter and so he crawled into a dark crevice in the rocks. Octopus, the celebrities of the reef.
I was thrilled! I couldn’t believe I’d found a real octopus! I decided I’d do the snorkelling equivalent of a victory lap and swam out a bit farther. As I was diving down to the bottom, lo and behold, what did I see? Another octopus! I was dumbstruck. This was a little purple fellow, clinging to a bit of exposed rock on the bottom. When I came closer he leapt up and spurted away, tentacles trailing gracefully behind him, into a thick clump of seaweed. I was ecstatic, I didn’t think I’d ever get that lucky again, but to see two octopus in as many minutes?
I powered back to the shore wishing I had someone to share my discoveries with, but it’s difficult to share that you’ve just seen two marine cephalopod mollusks with strangers.
So I’m sharing it with you! Next time, and from now on, I’m bringing an underwater camera. It’s a beautiful place to visit, and definitely worth recording. However, until the water warms up or I get my hands on a wetsuit, I don’t think I’ll be testing my manliness anytime before June. But what a rush. There’s nothing quite like the flush of excitement that comes with finding something beautiful and wondrous in nature. When we have the power to build skyscrapers that soar into the cloudy heavens, land on another planet, and share information instantaneously with someone on the other side of the world, chancing upon one of nature’s random little wonders can be breathtaking.