Turtles Are Evil   “Turtles are evil,” our dive master probably repeated over a dozen times on the trip. We had seen a couple of dozen that week. One or two of them even surfaced for air near our boat as we made our way between dive sites in the Bahamas. Every time I spotted one, they seemed a lot of things, but evil was not one of them.   He repeated it again as the other divers pulled on their wetsuits. We were diving a site known as the tri-wrecks because three different shipwrecks had found their rest eighty-feet below our boat.  It was a site that was rarely dove because conditions had to be almost perfect for it to be safe and a good current could easily stir up the fine bottom making things almost impossible to see.  What made the site special was not just the three ship wrecks, but it was also an area were cruise ships dumped a lot of food and waste, which along with the natural food supply, allowed the fish to grow to enormous sizes.   I usually dive in just a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, even in cold Midwestern lakes. So, I was ready to go while my dive buddy was still pulling on his wetsuit. Telling him I would meet him down at the end of the mooring line, the place where a rope between the boat and the bottom was secured to make sure the boat did not drift with the current, insuring that it remained in place while divers were in the water, I did a back roll into the ocean.     Resurfacing, I gave the sign that I was okay and began my slow descent to the bottom, no more than one foot a second, repeatedly popping my ears to adjust for the difference in pressure and the air inside my eardrums becoming compacted.   Knowing my buddy was four or five minutes behind me, I decided rather than to just sit there or, more correctly, hover there, I would do a quick glance at the wreck on my left, knowing that we would probably have to rush this last part of the dive given that a diver consumes air three times as fast at that depth.   When I learned how to dive through the Ames Park and Rec Department, it was just a line on my bucket list, I never imagined the beautiful places I would see in this world that most people never have a chance to see and are disappearing all too quickly. Fish, coral, and creatures whose colors and names many of which I still don’t know. Each dive site offers its own beauty and possibilities. Even if you have been to a dive site a hundred times, there is always something new, something there that could take your breath away.   As I made my way left, I got to my turn around point when I noticed what looked like a rather large rock sitting on the sandy bottom about 40 yards off the stern of the wreck.   I looked at it a second time. It wasn’t a piece of coral, nor any kind of rock I had ever seen before. It was a huge turtle about the size of a VW Bug just sitting there.          Now, water tends to magnify things. A nickel can look like a large gold doubloon. I did not want anyone making fun of me when I climbed back on the boat and described this massive turtle, only to be informed by another diver that saw the same turtle that it was only four or five feet from head to tail. So, I swam slowly towards it.   I could see the massive ridges that went the length of its back. Surprisingly, the closer I got to it the size did not change. It had to weigh at least two tons. Slowly, trying to disturb the water as little as possible, I got to where I could almost put my hand on it. Circling its side, it was still and massive. I did not know things like this existed. As I got to the front of its shell, my flippers only a little past its mid-back, it turned its head as if it had all the time in the world to look at me. There seemed to be a gentleness peering back in its giant black marble of an eye. You become stunned when you are confronted by something so large and peaceful.   I have a lot of friends that have told me about their being visited by angels or God. I have never had that kind of thing happen to me. I probably don’t have the right kind of wiring. Looking into the eyes of a sea turtle that had been on this planet long before I was ever born, probably long before my grandmother was born, is probably as close as I will get to that experience.   And like that, it slowly rose and began to leave. I did not realize what I had done until after I had done it. I grabbed hold of its shell. As a diver, you are constantly reminded not to do such a thing, not to harass the sea life. You would not want a space alien coming into your house, tickling your belly, pulling on you, or taking piggyback rides on your back while you are trying to eat supper. Sea life deserves the same respect. The ocean is their house. They need to be left in peace. Yet, it hardly noticed me, if it noticed me at all.   Its shell was softer than I would ever have guessed. Putting my cheek next to it, I could feel the layer of fine green algae that covered it.  Each slow flap of it giant flippers pulled us through the water. After what I thought was about two hundred yards, I decided I better let go. As my fingers loosened their grip, my arms went out wide, my chest went back, and my legs came forward like I was a gymnast on the parallel rings as I watched it slowly disappear into the darkness of the ocean. And just like that it was gone.   I was pretty sure I knew where I was. All I had to do was a reverse compass heading a couple of football fields back to the three shipwrecks and I could join up with my dive buddy and the other divers. Still, just to be safe I decided to surface, get my bearings, and then go back down to the wrecks. If I was off by only a degree or two on my compass, I would miss the wrecks completely. After a safety stop at fifteen feet, I surfaced and looked around.   One little problem, our dive boat looked like a children’s toy bobbing on the surface of the ocean. The turtle had carried me three-fourths of a mile from where I thought I was. I had four choices.   First, I could drown. Not something I would necessarily want. I imagined my brothers standing over my casket poking me with a stick to make sure I was dead. One saying to the rest, “ He is bloated with salt water and has been nibbled on by fish for several days, so clearly he is dead. Another replies “He always looked that way” and pokes me again, just to be sure.  I could not have that.   Two, I could swim back to the boat against the current until I sucked the last bit of air from my tank and then switch to my snorkel until I got back to the boat. Good plan. One problem, it is said that walking is a controlled fall. My swimming is a controlled drowning. And swimming against the current, it seemed like a long distance.   Three, I could go with the current and probably drift to a private island. Good idea. Walking in out of the surf and knocking on some stranger’s door, if they were home, and asking for help. Given that it was not the United States, the odds were pretty good I would not get shot. The rest of the world does not seem to treat guns like party favors.  Still, I doubt there would be a Mary Ann or a Ginger on that island and I would probably have to be there awhile.   Four, I could inflate my orange, six foot rescue tube attached to my vest and hope someone on the boat notices it before I got swept too far out for them to see me.   I went with number two. I made the swim back to the boat. For all you swimmers out there, I hate you.  I huffed and I puffed my way back to the boat, each wave knocking me back a bit as I made my way through them. The harder I worked the more air my lungs wanted. The problem with a snorkel is it confines the amount of air your lungs can take in with each breath. My chest started burning. I was pretty sure I was going to have a heart attack. I cursed my only swimming lessons class that I ever took in elementary school, that I flunked because I was half blind and the teenage girl named Maude that taught it. I hoped her children were born looking like the cast from Deliverance. (I am Norwegian. We tend to hold on to anger for a decade or two. Okay, seven or eight.) If that boat had been fifty or a hundred yards further I might have given up.   Worn out, I climbed back on the boat. Everyone glad to see me. I had a beaming smile across my face. All I could think about was that turtle. What a ride. I think if I had another chance, I would go off with that turtle again. Turtles are evil.        
Turtles Are Evil   “Turtles are evil,” our dive master probably repeated over a dozen times on the trip. We had seen a couple of dozen that week. One or two of them even surfaced for air near our boat as we made our way between dive sites in the Bahamas. Every time I spotted one, they seemed a lot of things, but evil was not one of them.   He repeated it again as the other divers pulled on their wetsuits. We were diving a site known as the tri-wrecks because three different shipwrecks had found their rest eighty-feet below our boat.  It was a site that was rarely dove because conditions had to be almost perfect for it to be safe and a good current could easily stir up the fine bottom making things almost impossible to see.  What made the site special was not just the three ship wrecks, but it was also an area were cruise ships dumped a lot of food and waste, which along with the natural food supply, allowed the fish to grow to enormous sizes.   I usually dive in just a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, even in cold Midwestern lakes. So, I was ready to go while my dive buddy was still pulling on his wetsuit. Telling him I would meet him down at the end of the mooring line, the place where a rope between the boat and the bottom was secured to make sure the boat did not drift with the current, insuring that it remained in place while divers were in the water, I did a back roll into the ocean.     Resurfacing, I gave the sign that I was okay and began my slow descent to the bottom, no more than one foot a second, repeatedly popping my ears to adjust for the difference in pressure and the air inside my eardrums becoming compacted.   Knowing my buddy was four or five minutes behind me, I decided rather than to just sit there or, more correctly, hover there, I would do a quick glance at the wreck on my left, knowing that we would probably have to rush this last part of the dive given that a diver consumes air three times as fast at that depth.   When I learned how to dive through the Ames Park and Rec Department, it was just a line on my bucket list, I never imagined the beautiful places I would see in this world that most people never have a chance to see and are disappearing all too quickly. Fish, coral, and creatures whose colors and names many of which I still don’t know. Each dive site offers its own beauty and possibilities. Even if you have been to a dive site a hundred times, there is always something new, something there that could take your breath away.   As I made my way left, I got to my turn around point when I noticed what looked like a rather large rock sitting on the sandy bottom about 40 yards off the stern of the wreck.   I looked at it a second time. It wasn’t a piece of coral, nor any kind of rock I had ever seen before. It was a huge turtle about the size of a VW Bug just sitting there.          Now, water tends to magnify things. A nickel can look like a large gold doubloon. I did not want anyone making fun of me when I climbed back on the boat and described this massive turtle, only to be informed by another diver that saw the same turtle that it was only four or five feet from head to tail. So, I swam slowly towards it.   I could see the massive ridges that went the length of its back. Surprisingly, the closer I got to it the size did not change. It had to weigh at least two tons. Slowly, trying to disturb the water as little as possible, I got to where I could almost put my hand on it. Circling its side, it was still and massive. I did not know things like this existed. As I got to the front of its shell, my flippers only a little past its mid- back, it turned its head as if it had all the time in the world to look at me. There seemed to be a gentleness peering back in its giant black marble of an eye. You become stunned when you are confronted by something so large and peaceful.   I have a lot of friends that have told me about their being visited by angels or God. I have never had that kind of thing happen to me. I probably don’t have the right kind of wiring. Looking into the eyes of a sea turtle that had been on this planet long before I was ever born, probably long before my grandmother was born, is probably as close as I will get to that experience.   And like that, it slowly rose and began to leave. I did not realize what I had done until after I had done it. I grabbed hold of its shell. As a diver, you are constantly reminded not to do such a thing, not to harass the sea life. You would not want a space alien coming into your house, tickling your belly, pulling on you, or taking piggyback rides on your back while you are trying to eat supper. Sea life deserves the same respect. The ocean is their house. They need to be left in peace. Yet, it hardly noticed me, if it noticed me at all.   Its shell was softer than I would ever have guessed. Putting my cheek next to it, I could feel the layer of fine green algae that covered it.  Each slow flap of it giant flippers pulled us through the water. After what I thought was about two hundred yards, I decided I better let go. As my fingers loosened their grip, my arms went out wide, my chest went back, and my legs came forward like I was a gymnast on the parallel rings as I watched it slowly disappear into the darkness of the ocean. And just like that it was gone.   I was pretty sure I knew where I was. All I had to do was a reverse compass heading a couple of football fields back to the three shipwrecks and I could join up with my dive buddy and the other divers. Still, just to be safe I decided to surface, get my bearings, and then go back down to the wrecks. If I was off by only a degree or two on my compass, I would miss the wrecks completely. After a safety stop at fifteen feet, I surfaced and looked around.   One little problem, our dive boat looked like a children’s toy bobbing on the surface of the ocean. The turtle had carried me three-fourths of a mile from where I thought I was. I had four choices.   First, I could drown. Not something I would necessarily want. I imagined my brothers standing over my casket poking me with a stick to make sure I was dead. One saying to the rest, “ He is bloated with salt water and has been nibbled on by fish for several days, so clearly he is dead. Another replies “He always looked that way” and pokes me again, just to be sure.  I could not have that.   Two, I could swim back to the boat against the current until I sucked the last bit of air from my tank and then switch to my snorkel until I got back to the boat. Good plan. One problem, it is said that walking is a controlled fall. My swimming is a controlled drowning. And swimming against the current, it seemed like a long distance.   Three, I could go with the current and probably drift to a private island. Good idea. Walking in out of the surf and knocking on some stranger’s door, if they were home, and asking for help. Given that it was not the United States, the odds were pretty good I would not get shot. The rest of the world does not seem to treat guns like party favors.  Still, I doubt there would be a Mary Ann or a Ginger on that island and I would probably have to be there awhile.   Four, I could inflate my orange, six foot rescue tube attached to my vest and hope someone on the boat notices it before I got swept too far out for them to see me.   I went with number two. I made the swim back to the boat. For all you swimmers out there, I hate you.  I huffed and I puffed my way back to the boat, each wave knocking me back a bit as I made my way through them. The harder I worked the more air my lungs wanted. The problem with a snorkel is it confines the amount of air your lungs can take in with each breath. My chest started burning. I was pretty sure I was going to have a heart attack. I cursed my only swimming lessons class that I ever took in elementary school, that I flunked because I was half blind and the teenage girl named Maude that taught it. I hoped her children were born looking like the cast from Deliverance. (I am Norwegian. We tend to hold on to anger for a decade or two. Okay, seven or eight.) If that boat had been fifty or a hundred yards further I might have given up.   Worn out, I climbed back on the boat. Everyone glad to see me. I had a beaming smile across my face. All I could think about was that turtle. What a ride. I think if I had another chance, I would go off with that turtle again. Turtles are evil.