Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Grand Cayman - Part 6

Sean and I drove to the beach at Coconut Harbour for his second shore dive as part of his course with Tortuga Divers. The beach was a slip of white sand in between a cove of rock with coconut trees. Very picturesque.

Julia was already there with her Aussie boyfriend, Brett, who was also a dive instructor. They were joking around about how some female tourist divers wore pink bikinis and were all flirtatious, and couldn’t be taken seriously as they unloaded all of the gear. I was thinking that I was glad I hadn’t worn mine. Brett’s accent was hot as were his rugged good looks. Julia was just a bit pudgy for my tastes, but cute none the less. Their plan was to swim out to a buoy in 30 feet of water, so I decided that I would try to keep them in sight. Everyone suited up, and the divers entered the water backwards to minimize fin wash.

I entered my usual way, walked in to thigh high water, put my fins on and swam off. The divers were already lost to sight. Where could they get to so fast? So, I paddled off in the direction of the buoy. Again, I saw the shoals of coral and sand as I had at Sunset House. In addition to many fish I had already seen, I saw a stop-light parrot fish in the red phase!

When I got out to the buoy, it was surrounded by interesting corals I had not seen. I free dove down the length of the chain it was moored with to get a closer look at the tube coral, like the ones Sean saw yesterday. I just about made it to the bottom.

Back up on top, I noticed the bubbles from a diver. So, there they were! But this diver was not wearing any gear I recognized. Then he was joined by three of his friends. There were too many divers to be my group. So I swam on ahead.

Then I saw something that scared the shit out of me. It was a huge barracuda. You know, folks tell you that they are harmless and that they won’t bite, but this thing was enormous! But it was on the bottom, guarding its territory; so I felt relatively safe. So I hung out watching it.

Then along came the four divers. The barracuda was on one side of this giant brain coral mound and the divers were unknowingly swimming up towards it on the other side. The barracuda began to flare its gills and gape its mouth open threateningly. The divers just could not see the barracuda from where they were. If they swam over the coral they would be right on top of the barracuda. They would have to swim up a bit to see it over the coral.

I began flailing to get the attention of any of the divers in the group. Finally the lead diver looked up at me and I gestured with my arms and hands a big length and pointed down repeatedly. He got the message and swam directly up and saw the barracuda. He quickly got the attention of the others and gave the thumbs up, let’s surface, signal. They didn’t understand why until they got up high enough to see the barracuda too. They shot lots of pictures of it and we all came out of the water together.

They were honeymooners and this was the story of their trip to Grand Cayman. They had never seen a barracuda and to see such a big one the first time! I had saved them and they all wanted their pictures with me. I also got to take their pictures. Meanwhile, Julia, Brett and Sean had come in. They had seen the barracuda too. Brett said that he did not think the barracuda would attack but he did say that it was bigger than me.

We decided to go for a beer and we all hopped into our Jeep with Sean at the wheel. Sean seemed giddy and backed right into a coconut tree. Julia determined that he had nitrogen narcosis from surfacing too quickly but would be okay after a short time. We all decided that someone else should drive, even though Sean said that he felt fine. The damage wasn’t that bad to the Jeep. Remember that kiddies: Friends don’t let friends drive with nitrogen narcosis.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bookfield, Midnight Move - Part 1

It was a warm clear night. I got carried away selling because I was doing well and it had gotten late seemingly all of the sudden. It must have been almost nine o’clock and I was still pedaling for home on the Macon Highway. I was trying to make good time coming home, so I rode at a pretty good clip. This was a pretty isolated area; no houses, plenty of crickets. I knew that here was a long down hill ahead, and when I got there I was really moving. I’m sure that old Sears three speed never went so fast. My tire driven headlight shone really bright at that speed.

A car passed me in the oncoming lane and I noticed it was a police car. To my surprise, the police car made a speedy u-turn. I guess I just heard tires stroking the pavement behind me and knew what it was. The car came up behind me with the blue and red lights on top engaged. One whoop of the siren answered my question, they were pulling me over. I stopped at the bottom of the hill and got off the bike. I felt kind of vulnerable standing out on the road like that.

The officer left the headlights on and also put his spot light on me. I couldn’t see his face when he got out of the car, but it was a one man car; he was alone. He walked over to where I was standing. “Do you have any identification, driver’s license?” he said.

I fumbled with my wallet and handed him my Parchment employment card and sales permit.

“What’s the problem officer?”

“No driver’s license?”

“I don’t drive yet.”

“Do you know how fast you were going down that hill?”

Aw, come on now I thought. This was too much. “No I don’t, Sir.” I answered politely.

“You were coming so fast down that hill that I thought you were a motorcycle. Technically, you were over the speed limit for this area. What are you packing in that case?”

“Packing?” not understanding what he meant.

“You heard me. Do you have a weapon in there?”

“No Sir.” I opened the case slowly, while he held his flashlight so he could see. He looked carefully in between the books and under the lid.

“Well, you don’t have anything in there but books! How can you feel safe out here, at night without a weapon? There’s plenty of room in there for a pistol.” he said.

This caught me off guard, and I didn’t quite know what to say. At least the officer’s mood had changed from giving me a hard time to protecting me.

“I guess there is room.” I answered. The thought of ‘packing’ had never occurred to me.

“Haven’t you heard about the murders of women in town? That’s where you’re headed at this time of night? Look, let me take you down to the station house and loan you a standard issue police 38'. It’ll fit right there in the lid.”

“I don’t know how to use a gun. I’d probably shoot myself in the foot with it.”

“You really ought to be packing something out here.” he tried to convince me.

“Gee, thanks but I wouldn’t know what to do with it. But maybe you could give me a lift home seeing as how it’s so late?”

“I could drive you home, but what about your bike?”

“That’s easy!” I said from experience, “It fits in the trunk, and we can use my bungee cord to hold the lid down.” He opened the trunk of the cruiser and I had that bike in there and the trunk lid tied down too fast for him to entertain a second thought on the matter. Now I would get home at a decent hour, although probably too late to go to MacDonald’s. I went to the back passenger side door to wait for him to unlock it.

“Why not come and sit up front with me?” he said. “It’s not like you’re a criminal and have to sit in the back.”

“Oh, that’s okay.” I answered. “I’ll sit in the back.” He conceded. But he made me suspicious. Off we drove towards Athens. I am always a little nervous when I take a ride, and this was no different. The whole way he pulled me over was weird. He struck up a conversation, looking at me in the rear view mirror. He asked me how long I was in town for, that sort of thing. Then, the tone of the conversation changed.

“Are you married?” he asked. “I don’t suppose you are. What husband would let a pretty thing like you out on the road to sell books all summer? But you could be engaged or even have a boyfriend. Am I going to hear it from some guy who’s your boyfriend or are you free and clear?”

Before I could answer, a guy in a sporty red metal flake kit car pulled up next to us at the stop light and honked his horn. “Hey Joey, how are you doing? What’s that sweet little thing doing in the back of your car?”

“I’m just giving her a ride home, Hank.” he explained.

“Uh huh. You stay out of trouble now, you hear?” The light changed and we rode on. Hank scoped me out big time as he drove by. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car.

“Um, yeah. I have a boyfriend. Hey look, this is my street! Could you let me off right here, please?” I asked, lying about the street. We were just at the corner of Reese and Milledge Streets, two blocks south of my street. There was no way I wanted this cop to know where I lived.

“Oh, which house is it; I’ll drop you at your door.”

“Thank you, but this is close enough.” I was willing to take my chances with the stabbing-rapist at this point. The rear door was not locked, so when the car came to the corner, I got out. I thanked him again as he took my bike out of the trunk. I waited until he had driven off to get on the bike and ride home.

Mary was home already. She sat on her bed recording her day’s sales on the forms. “Sue, I was thinking that we should move.” she said.

“Really? Why, I like it here.”

“Well, Mrs. Epps told me today that she wants to raise our rent. We could do better. I visited a house just one block down on Meigs Street that is cheaper and has more room. It’s a studio apartment. It has three beds and a kitchenette and, get this, a private bath room with shower. We could cook our own meals! The rent is only as much as Mrs. Epps wants to ask us for.”

“Wow, I can’t believe it. A studio apartment for that little money?”

“Yeah, and the elderly couple that own the house are really sweet. We can go see it tomorrow morning if you like.”

“Sure, sounds great. I’d love to have a private bath room. But we were able to get this low price with Mrs. Epps by renting for the whole summer.”

“Yeah, but she wants to renege by raising the cost!”

“You’re right.”

“Just go look at the place. If you agree, I’ll handle everything with Mrs. Epps. Can I take my bath first?” I nodded to both questions.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Grand Cayman - Part 5

During the next few days Sean took his SCUBA classes and pool lessons at Tortuga Divers on the East End of Grand Cayman and I read all three books I brought with me plus a few in the bungalow we stayed in at Cayman Kai. Finally the storm had passed enough that it was okay to go out in the water on the leeward side of the island. We had stayed on the windward side. So, off we drove to Sunset House for Sean’s first open water dive with his instructor, Julie. Sunset House was just 2 miles south of Georgetown, the capital of Grand Cayman on the southwest side of the island.

There was still a stiff breeze driving the waves into white caps on the windward side of the island, but the leeward side was visibly much calmer. This was to be a shore dive. The pier at Sunset House is rock and concrete with a ladder that leads into 80 feet (24.4 meters) of water. Julia helped Sean into his equipment at the pier while she explained the dive. Their plan was to swim down and out to the red buoy and then come back. She explained to me that the red buoy was the cruise boat channel and therefore not safe for snorkeling.

You can actually see the buoys in this photo, but they are really far away.

I snapped pictures of Sean and Julia stepping off the pier and into the water. They swam out a bit and dove out of sight. I was ready to go. I put my fins on, held onto my mask, and followed them in by taking that big step off the pier. Off I went. Right away a school of sergeant major fish swam up to me checking me out. I think they wanted a handout. But alas, I hadn’t brought them anything. Many divers will bring squirting cheese in a can, but I didn’t. They figured that out pretty quickly and swam away.

I searched in vain for sight of Sean or Julia by swimming in the general direction of the buoys. I could see straight down to the bottom. Suddenly, I got this weird fear of falling feeling. Here I was miraculously suspended in this invisible substance, some 80 feet in the air. How was that possible? I regained my bearings quickly and moved on. I noticed that on the bottom, there were bands of white sandy shoals broken by bands of coral. I could see huge fish on the bottom, but they were to far away to identify. I could also look outwards and see that the water was filled with fish in all directions. It really was a living sea.

I lifted my head out of the water and noticed that I had drifted into the cruise ship channel. Shit! There really was quite a current here. So I started swimming like hell to get out of the channel. I saw a dive boat coming and flipped a hot pink fin out of the water so that they would see me as I swam away. I looked back at the pier and Sean and Julia were already out. When I got to the ladder, I took my fins off and handed them up to Sean while he regaled me with stories of what they had seen. They had seen tube coral

A gray angel fish

A sea turtle

A Nassau grouper

The mermaid.

We had a beer with Julie by the dock. Our next shore dive was tomorrow morning from Coconut Harbour's beach. Stay tuned…

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Meeting the Love of My Life - Part 1

I met the love of my life, Sean, at our former workplace, where I was a chemist/safety officer and he was an architect. Of course, as in the story books, I knew the moment I saw him walking by in a three piece suit that he was the “one” for me, but don’t ask me how. It was kismet. I was terrified. I had a couple of boyfriends at the time, and all I could think was, “Wow, I guess my single life is over.” We were formally introduced and my job was to give him a tour of the new wing we had just completed, so that he could do the signage. I had assisted in assuring that we met the fire codes in terms of fire extinguisher placement and lab safety. When we got to the industrial hygiene lab, there was a mannequin with a sampling tube taped to her nose in front of a chemical hood for hood testing. She was naked under her white lab coat, had a red wig, and we called her Elvira. He took one look and said “Do they rent her out on weekends?” And I thought, “I gotta get this guy.”

I sent one of my male spies to find out if he was available, which he was. He had one girlfriend, and we could deal with that, no problem.

We didn’t date for six months. My dad came to visit and I introduced him to almost every one at our smallish company. Afterwards I asked my Dad if he remembered Sean, and Dad said that he didn’t. So I reminded him and said that he was going to see a lot of Sean in the future since I would marry him. Dad asked if we were dating and I replied that we were not. Dad gave me a dubious look.

Pretty much all of the younger people at the company used to go to Johnny Appleseeds (a local restaurant chain) for happy hour on Fridays. Everyone was checking with me leading up to that afternoon to make sure I was going. When I showed up at the restaurant after five, no one was there except for the Sean. We waited for others, who never showed, and then decided to have dinner. That was our first date. Sean swore that he did not know about the set up. You should have seen everyone’s faces when I came into work on Monday asking how my happy hour was and then winking. I guess they just got fed up with us not getting together. When all of this happened, I had given up on finding the “one” and had stopped looking. It took 3 years for me to convince him that it was kismet and we should get married. Some people are just really slow.

Anyhow, it is great when we go to parties, because I can stand in the background and let him do the talking and only pipe up when I have something funny or clever to say. Being a loner at heart, I have learned to socialize at business functions through work, but then I was paid for that. I like talking to people one-on-one. That I can handle.

Yes, I have told him and others that I knew the instant I laid eyes on him. Many folks have asked me how I knew, and I don’t know how I knew. But I knew with a glance; in an instant. We have been married for over 20 years.

Did I mention that Sean repairs my car?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Bookfield, Salt of the Earth - Part 2

I rode for a couple of miles after leaving Watkins without seeing more houses. I came to a dirt road that seemed to have some farm houses at its end and so I turned onto it. The dirt was packed firmly and no weeds were growing up the middle, so I figured it was frequently traveled. Of the three houses at the end I chose to start with the smallest. It was really no more than a one room house and it looked as though it hadn’t had a paint job in years. Weeds grew up around it with such abundance that they could have been intended as foundation plantings. I put my bike down on the soft weeds and walked up to the door. I knocked and stood back.

An old man came to the door. He was squat and his grizzled stubbly beard extended down the folds of his reddened neck. His few strands of black hair were swept straight back. He wore a dirty undershirt and green work pants. He held the door open with his left hand, and in his right had he held a shot gun.

“Good thing you ain’t no nigger or I’d blow yer ass right off my lawn!” he warned. Then he laughed and showed his missing teeth.

I was shocked by what he said, but suddenly really glad to be white on that particular day. I stammered through my approach. He opened the screen door and showed me in. Somehow, even though this man was a racist, and brandished a gun, I felt, oddly enough, that he wouldn’t harm me. So I entered. I was right that the house was one room. The decor could be summed up as shabby. All of the furnishings must have been at least thirty years old and were not quality things to start with. The wallpaper had yellowed and was peeling off in sheets. The ceiling was cracked. There was a hooked rug on the floor with bare spots and it wouldn’t surprise me if the sofa had mice living in it. But, the man showed me to this sofa, instead of the wooden rocker I had my eye on. I guess the rocker was his usual seat. So, I sat on the sofa only to find it to be rock hard. As I sat and went through my demo, which seemed to entertain my host, I squirmed on this hard side of the cushion. Finally I put my hand under the cushion to see what was there. It was a pistol.

“Oh you’ve found my pistol.” the man said. “Yep, I always keep the shot gun by the door and the pistol under the sofa cushions, you know, just in case I don’t have time to answer the door.”

I smiled a little smile, put the cushion back like it was and said, “Yes sir, I know what you mean.” He didn’t buy a book, but I wasn’t surprised.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Grand Cayman - Part 4

After dinner that night we heard on the news service that a southeasterly storm was expected to hit the Cayman Island group over the next couple of days. You could drop a pin in the resort and hear it drop. Some peoples’ shorter vacations were ruined. Sean and I just looked at each other. I was kind of excited. I had never seen a real tropical storm. Anyway, Sean had his SCUBA class lessons and pool lessons over the next few days, so only I would miss out my snorkeling. (Sniff.) Our vacation was long enough to weather the storm, so to speak.

We went to bed as usual with the glass window louvers open, only to be awakened later by wind swept water being blown against them. The wave tops were actually being blown against the windows and into our room. That is how close to the water we were. We could hear the water hit our building and the seawall. We closed the window louvers and huddled together in bed. We could hear the wind howling outside.

When we awoke, it was cold, grey and extremely windy still, but not raining. I put on my long hiking pants, long sleeved shirt, socks, sandals, Nike warm up jacket and out we went to breakfast. I felt like I would blow away and leaned into the wind. The wave action was so violent and spectacular in the lagoon that Sean wanted to get a picture so he asked me to pose on a piece of flattened coral by the water’s edge. So I did. As I stood there, a big wave came shot up the side of the coral, whoooosh, and soaked me head to toe. Sean got a picture of that. Whoopie. I had to go back to the room and dry my clothes.

It turned out that Sean was the only student at Tortuga Divers out on the East end of Grand Cayman. Julia, his teacher was from England. So, while he was studying, I wandered around the grounds of the hotel/time share complex and beach. Many interesting things had washed up on the beach. I saw a man o’ war jelly fish. I sure hated to think that I was swimming in the same water as that.

The pier at Tortuga Divers on a calm day

I was really hoping to find a conch shell as I had always wanted one. They sold them all over the island, but they were all faded; I wanted one that was bright pink. Low and behold, I found one. It was huge and faced downwards in the sand so that it would not be bleached by the sun. Also, it had the hole in the top that showed that it had been fished and the animal was gone from inside of it. When I turned it over the color was intensely pink. It was so heavy I put my hand inside of it to carry it back. Sean said it was gorgeous. I keep it in my bathroom today.

One of the other stormy days, we went shopping in Georgetown. Everything was pricey. I spotted a pair of tiny 14 carat gold enameled yellow tang earrings that were US$450. They would not budge on the price. What a rip off. I walked out.

By the way, the Cayman Island money was very pretty. Again, a foreign currency that kills US currency in appearance. I brought home a dollar and a ten dollar bill for my photo album.

Stay tuned for Part 5 – After the storm

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bookfield, Salt of the Earth - Part 1

The first day that I rode my bike well outside of Athens and its suburbs was an exciting one. I left in the early morning when the sun was just up over the horizon and the shadows were long. I watched as I passed by the last clusters of houses I had already visited and ventured into open country. Traffic was suddenly scarce and it was quiet, the quiet that one only notices when in the country. The road was visible ahead of me for miles as there were only spots of trees here and there bordering the lush green soy bean planted fields. Thick kudzu camouflaged the telephone poles and anything else that dared to stand upright on the roadside.

I next passed fenced grazing fields populated by black, Angus cattle. The bright sun shone down on the bulls’ horns and they bellowed and made mock charges towards me as I sped by. I stood on my pedals and bellowed back with all of the force in my diaphragm. The bulls stared back at me and pawed the ground. Somehow, doing this gave me a feeling of elation.

Eventually I came to a cluster of houses that seemed to be a small village. I stopped at the very first house. The lower floor of the house had white clapboards on it, while the second floor had evergreen colored shingles. A middle aged woman with partly graying hair answered the door and after my approach she let me in.

“Please dear, sit down. I want to tell you something.” There was a hushed and respectful tone in her voice. “I don’t know if you heard about the recent tragedy here in Watkins.”

“No, Ma’am. I haven’t. Why don’t you tell me about it.” I answered.

“Just last week, the Booth’s little girl was hit by a car and killed.”

“That’s terrible! How old was she?”

“She was nine years old. But that’s not all. The young man that hit her was her cousin and he was driving drunk. Now he’s in jail and facing charges. You need to understand that this is a very small town and everyone here is devastated by this tragedy. I myself am distantly related to the Booths. The whole town is in mourning.”

I tried to take in all that this woman was telling me. It was truly awful and I felt sympathetic and my heart sank. All I could think of was the movie Paper Moon where Tatum O’Neal would try to sell Bibles to folks who had just lost loved ones using their recent loss as a hook. I realized just how cold and uncaring it would be to try to sell books to bereaved people.

The woman continued to speak. “Please understand that I am not judging what you do. I think there is benefit in selling Bible books. But please find it in your heart to skip this town. Now is really not a good time, and I doubt whether you would make any sales anyhow.”

I responded quietly. “I understand what you are saying. I think that you are right and I just hope that the people of this town can find a way to live with this loss. Thank you for letting me know.” She smiled and politely showed me out.

I walked down the grass of her front yard and picked up my bike. I stood in front of this first house on the edge of this small town and looked toward the town center. It seemed that I could see almost all of the houses in town right from where I was standing. Maybe there were twenty. The houses were bathed in sunlight, but all their window shades were drawn. The streets were quiet. No one was out gardening; no children were playing. The morning breeze had died. I felt a black presence over the town as if when I looked straight into the clear blue sky I could see right through the atmosphere to the dark vastness of outer space, and the nothingness beyond.

Tears welled up in my eyes. I pictured the little girl dead in the road and felt the town’s shock and loss. I had decided to skip selling in this town. I would ride through quietly, out of respect. Perhaps I could return toward the end of the summer and see if life had returned to normal in Watkins.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Grand Cayman - Part 3

The next morning was bright and beautiful; another day in paradise! Sean and I had fantastic banana pancakes with hot coffee at the resort restaurant overlooking the white sand and blue water of the Caribbean and the swaying palms. We planned our day. I couldn’t wait to get back into the lagoon and snorkel and Sean wanted to head out in the Jeep and explore the island. So, we decided to divide and conquer, as we sometimes do.

So, he took off in the Jeep and I ran back to the room and got into my hot pink Speedo workout bikini (slathered on the sunscreen with high SPF) and matching fins and snorkel mask and headed back for the lagoon. In I went. Basically, I was again lost in the wonderful underwater tropical world again. I saw everything I had seen yesterday, except the ray, plus I saw a squirrel fish furtively peeking out from under a rock. I lost track of the time.

By the time I got out, Sean was back from his drive and I had a burn in a line across my back under the strap that holds the top of my suit on my chest. Either I did not manage to get the lotion on back there, or it rubbed off while I was swimming. It was a pretty bad burn and looked like it would blister sometime soon. My one piece would not cover there, so I had to wear more in the water from now on. But what? I had brought some Coolmax running tanks and shorts that would dry fast, so they would have to do. They would cover more and I would have to use far less sunscreen.

Sean was all excited that he had gotten us both dive/snorkel boat tickets to sting ray city that afternoon! He also made a deal with Tortuga Divers on the east end of the island for PADI dive instruction for him. The water visibility here on Grand Cayman was so good that I could see everything the divers could anyhow. But, Sean really had the bug to learn. So, I supported him fully. I knew he would love it. My biggest concern was that he find a really good partner and be safe. In any event he was stoked. They had agreed to take me along on the dive boat for no extra charge and let me snorkel.

I had already had a dive course in college, but never earned my card, since the open water dive (a required element) was in Skaneateles Lake in winter and they were planning to cut a hole in the ice.
Skaneateles Lake, Upstate New York

Not. I had decided then that diving was generally unsafe and not worth it. I hate being timed. I prefer being able to do something until I say I am done, not my air tank. My partner in college, while cute (I later dated him briefly) was a dullard and almost inadvertently killed me. One of the exercises in learning to SCUBA is the dolphin don, where you remove all of your gear in 10 feet of water, surface, and then dive down again. You put it all on, find your regulator and breathe before surfacing. Your buddy is there the whole time just in case. So, I dove down, took off all of my equipment, surfaced, and dove back down, put it all back on and when I reached for my regulator, it was not there. I kept hunting for it, but it was nowhere to be found. So I gave the signal to my buddy that I had no air at which point he should have offered me his regulator to buddy breathe or found mine. But he shrugged. He shrugged. Again I signaled that I had no air. Again he shrugged. Frustrated, I surfaced, exhaling slowly as I did, so as not to kill myself as the air in my lungs expanded. Good thing I wasn’t in deeper water or I would have been toast. It seems that I had put my equipment on backwards, and my regulator was on my left side, not my right, where it should have been. So he saw me signaling that I had no air, but did not understand why when he could see my regulator. I couldn’t see it because of my mask. Why he didn’t just point to it or grab it and hand it to me, I’ll never know. See what I mean; too easy to die.

So, after lunch I excitedly got ready to go to stingray city. The departure dock was not that far away; we could have walked. We boarded the open dive boat which held about 20 people and started north out to the sandbar where the stingrays congregate. They say that long ago, fishermen used to go to this shallow sandbar to clean their fish. Over time, the normally shy stingrays noticed and learned to associate the boat motors with an easy meal. In the early 1980’s divers began using boats and squid to attract stingrays.

As we slowly approached the site, and the captain looked for our mooring, the stingrays began to approach. They looked black and ominous and they quietly flew through the water towards our boat. There were so many of them, coming from all directions. Some were huge, with a wing span of about 6 feet. I could not wait to get into the water. The lead diver gave a safety talk about not harassing the rays and not wearing dive tanks or fins so as not to stir up the sand.

I was the first one into the water. I was completely mystified by these cartilaginous creatures. Their huge wings just flew through the water; I’ve never seen anything like it. They were completely quiet. I examined their eyes, mouths (they have no teeth), tails, everything. The lead diver had some squid and I took some to feed a large stingray. I held it in my fist, palm up as I was shown and twirled around so that the ray twirled around me and felt like a big wet blanket. When I finally let him get the food, he just sucked it out right of my fist. Sean and I swam around a bit with the rays. I will never forget stingray city.

Then it was back on the boat for our next stop which I think was called the coral gardens. Again, I was first off the boat. Divers were allowed on this spot. We all followed the lead diver to see the green moray get fed. I was a bit scared. Morays bite hard.

Then I went off on my own. I found a pack of blue tangs and began to play with them. I would chase them down to the bottom in 15 – 20 feet of water, turn, and they would chase me back up.They were always just out of my reach. I could see their scales so clearly! I would turn and there they would be waiting for me to chase them down again, so I did. This went on for I don’t know how long.
Then I thought I heard a life guard whistle. So, I surfaced and looked towards the boat. Everyone had gotten back on board and was waiting for me. The lead diver had blown a whistle to get my attention and was standing there arms akimbo looking impatient. Oops. Sorry guys got distracted. Stay tuned for the next part...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Koi Pond News 21May06

Photo credit Aussielicious

Last week, the koi pond at our rental property, that I hand dug had to be removed because a sewage pipe beneath it had burst. This was a perfect pond set up. The house's basement had a freshwater spring underneath it and required a sump pump to keep the basement dry. The pump emptied into the pond, keeping it crystal clear almost all year round without filtration and completely unfrozen in the winter. What a shame to get rid of it. But, our tenants also had had a baby last year and she was beginning to move around quite a lot. The last thing you want is a pond and a toddler.

My tancho koi (2 feet)

So, Sean went to relocate the fish and remove the pond. There were five fish. Sean drained the pond, captured the fish, and released them into a friend's bigger pond (my unfiltered pond is full to capacity with ten large fish) where they will lead very happy lives. He then returned and removed the boulders holding the liner in place, then hauled out the liner and fish sludge with his truck (ewwwww!). He dug out more of the pond to get to the sewage pipe for the plumber to fix it. It is now repaired.

My yellow matsuba koi (2 feet)

When he returned, he did not smell very good and I made him undress outside. I threw his clothes into the wash immediately and I made him take a bath. Remember, when working in koi ponds and with sewer pipes, a good hot bath is in order!

Photo credit Found the One

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Bookfield, Lake Lanier - Part 2

The beach at Lake Lanier was beautiful and it was a clear day. Where we were, there were no boats and the beach was sandy. The other Parchmenters started into the water splashing, dunking, and playing chicken (where one carried another on one’s shoulders and two of these ‘chickens’ would try to push each other off). I couldn’t deal with it after my previous dunking experience. There was an island about a quarter of a mile swim across from the beach, and I decided to swim there. I felt very strong after all of the biking, and the swim would be a great confidence booster. I was wearing a nylon bikini that was brown with small orange paisley patterns. I swam there, by myself, and it felt wonderful. No one seemed a strong enough swimmer to bother me at the island.

But then I noticed that someone else was swimming out towards the island. When he was within 50 yards, I could see it was Chip. Damn. I stood waist deep in the water and waited. He came up, breathless, stopped within a few feet of me and told me that he would not hurt me. He had seen my dunking the previous week and did not want me to be alarmed. He asked me to come to the deeper water and held out his hand. I gave him my hand, and under the water he held my hand against his crotch. He had an erection. He said, “This is all for you.” He caressed me and his body was warm in the cool water.

I was disgusted, broke free from him and swam quickly back toward the island. I felt too vulnerable in the water. When I reached the beach I ran into a small grove of scrubby trees. My feet sank into thick mud. He caught up to me and pushed me down onto my back onto the mud. I raised my hands and feet into the air in defense. He loomed over me on his knees and pulled down his swim trunks. Water from his head of dark hair dripped on my body. He grabbed his still erect cock and pointed it down at my crotch, saying, “Do you think that this will fit in there?”, as he pulled the crotch of my bikini bottoms to the side exposing me. He leered at me and his cock was huge.

“No!” I yelled, thinking to myself that there was no way that would fit inside me anyhow. With my hands and feet I pushed him backwards and off of me. He was taken off guard and fell backwards suddenly into the scrub trees, and I got away. Shit, would he have raped me if I couldn’t fight him off? Without hesitation I ran back to the water, dove in and swam as fast as I could toward the beach. But, I hadn’t gotten far when I heard Chip calling with a plaintive note in his voice. I raised my head from the water and saw him some yards behind me. He had tried to catch me and now seemed to be in trouble. I swam close enough to hear him say, “I’ve pulled a leg muscle swimming so fast and I don’t think I can make it back. Please come help me.”

I didn’t believe him at first, but somehow he convinced me. When I did swim up, he grabbed onto me just to stay afloat. We agreed that he would float on his back, kicking if he could and I would drag him back to the beach with one of my arms while I did a one armed sidestroke. In this manner we made it back slowly. It was quite a workout for me. As soon as we got there, Chip acted humiliated and angry and went off by himself.

Gregg came up at that time. “Where were you two all that time? We saw you swim out there together, and lost sight of you on the island for a little while.” he said jealously.

“Gregg, nothing happened.” I replied curtly.

“Good.”, he said, smiling.

That was when I began to suspect that I was the prize in a little contest that Chip and Gregg were having.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Grand Cayman - Part 2

The beach sand was like white powder on my feet as I approached the aqua water. There was worn smooth and flat coral at the water line to cross before I entered the water carrying my fins. My snorkel mask was on my head already. I could see my feet quite clearly through the totally transparent Caribbean waters. There were hardly any waves in the protected lagoon and the bottom was sandy for some thirty feet or so out into the water. I waded out until the water was up to my thighs and then began putting on my bright pink fins. Some sand got in them and I had to rinse it out so it wouldn’t irritate my feet while kicking. Then, I pulled my snorkel mask over my face and lowered my chest in the water and began snorkeling! A whole new and glorious world opened up to me and I could see very clearly through the mask and water.

At first all I could see was white sand, but then I could also see grass and then what I initially thought were big rocks. They turned out to be living conches!

The sand here was hollowed out like a bowl and I free dove 10 feet or so to pick one up and look at its pink mouth. It was so beautiful. I replaced it carefully. There were also star fish. Then up ahead, I could swear I saw a small southern sting ray.
The owner said there was one here. It was just so exciting. Here I was never having seen anything like this at all and there was this sting ray! I mean holy shit!

Further ahead where the water was shallower again, I could see sea fans and brain corals and lots of tiny fish hovering around in the somewhat rougher surf near the outer edge of the lagoon. Sean and I had studied up a bit to know what fish would be out here.

I saw a parrot fish (green phase),

a small yellow tang,

blue tang,

a one spot butterfly fish,

a blue head wrasse,
a fairy basslet,

a yellow tail

and a sergeant major fish.

The water was really too rough to go closer to the edge of the reef and the corals too high; some even extended out of the water. We weren’t supposed to touch them as the whole sea around Grand Cayman is a marine park and is protected. I didn’t feel that I was a strong enough swimmer to get that close and not accidentally brush a fin or something. It was tantalizing however. Man, I did not want to come back in. I was just totally sold on snorkeling. But, I was starting to wonder where Sean had got to. So, I came back in.

There he was, sitting on the sea wall, all wet from his foray into saltwater paradise. We babbled at each other excitedly about the wonders that we had seen; he had seen everything I had except the sting ray (at least he was properly jealous about that) but he had seen a school of blue tangs out by the edge of the reef where I was to chicken to swim (um, decided not to). He said that he was just fine in the rough water (he is a very strong swimmer, was a life guard, competed in college, has coached, etc).

We were ravenous for dinner, so we hung up our wet things, showered, dressed and headed for the resort’s restaurant. You couldn’t go wrong on the island ordering fish. I don’t remember what fish we had but all of the fish we had on the island was exceptional. We sat in the common room for a while over drinks.

Then we returned to our room and settled in for the night. We left our louvered glass windows open so that the ocean breezes would sweep lightly over the bed. It was the most tiring, adventurous, beautiful and romantic day of my entire life. I could not believe that there were 8 more just like it on the way. Next time…Sting Ray City!