On race day during my freshman year at Georgia Tech, a pilot friend of mine offered to take me flying if I helped pay for gas. He rented a Cessna 150 at the Fulton County Airport not far from downtown Atlanta. I had time in a Cessna 140, a tail dragger version of the 150, but had never flown a 150 before, so I sat in the right seat.
A short 30 mile flight later we were on top of the Atlanta International Raceway (now the much faster sounding Atlanta Motor Speedway) just as the Atlanta 500 race was starting. Once there, the pilot decided to let me fly. I, like any normal young male very full of himself, decided we should race the cars. And so we did.
Other planes started arriving, but we were the first ones there, and so the rest had to orbit further away from the track, while we had the prime spot for the race action – directly over the track.
Although the two-seat Cessna had a cruise speed of only 123 mph, it had a Vne, never exceed speed, of 162 mph, and I found that by putting the plane’s nose down on the straightaway, I could safely race the cars at 150 mph, which pretty well allowed me to keep up with them. On the turn I threw the wing over and maintained position over the track. After the 180° turn, I’d climb back up so I’d have altitude to speed down the track on the next straightaway.
We did several turns like that before deciding it was time to fly off for more adventure.
And to think, I wasn’t even a pilot yet!
(Disclaimer: It you pulled that stunt today you’d be escorted away by a pair of F-16s, have the plane impounded, and lose your license – forever! So don’t even think about it.)
A photo of Jello Wrestling among fully clothed adults was published today as an indictment of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and its off-duty recreation program for McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Since I’ve spent a little time at McMurdo Station, I’d like to come to the defense of the NSF – by doing nothing more than describing what life in Antarctica is like.
I am not, and have never been an employee of the National Science Foundation, and have never held an NSF grant. I’ve never participated in a Jello wrestling match, although it looks like fun. So, I am unbiased about this news event. However, I am informed about the rigors of daily life at McMurdo Station.
What is most concerning to me, is that the Coburn report focuses on a non-science activity, designed to relieve interminable boredom in a minimalistic environment. I think that, if pressed, the report’s author would have to admit the photo has nothing whatsoever to do with waste in science funding. How much can Jello bought in bulk for the McMurdo cafeteria cost?
As the Google image above shows, men and women who support the McMurdo and South Pole Station are isolated by vast distances from “civilization”. The closest cities with air transportation to the U.S. bases are either in Christchurch, New Zealand, or in Chile. During the winter, with 24 hours of darkness and generally horrible weather, it is virtually impossible for anyone to leave the bases. There are no flights into or out of the continent. So if anyone developes a medical problem or injury too great for the local medical support staff to handle, they are simply out of luck.
During the winter months, the size of support and scientific staff are greatly reduced, so those sharing the bleak winter together get to know each other, well. The contract staff during both winter and summer is composed largely of young, college-age men or women who are healthy, energetic, and are signing on for adventure.
But think about it. With 24 hours of darkness during the winter, the opportunities for recreation are minimal. It typically isn’t safe, or even possible, to go for walks or runs outdoors. A trip away from base, or even close by, could prove fatal if the weather were to change suddenly, which it often does. There are no soccer fields, no ball parks. And even worse, for those of you forever connected to the Internet, there is barely enough bandwidth down there to support email on a bank of shared computers. Want to send a photo of yourself home to the folks? Forget about it. At least that’s how it was when I was there a couple of years ago.
Life in Antarctica, at its best, is a spartan existence in a harsh, unforgiving environment. So how do these young men and women entertain themselves?
The fact of life is that off-duty entertainment, anywhere in the world, can lead to pregnancy, which in Antarctica can easily become a medical emergency. And medical emergencies can lead to drama very quickly since flights out of McMurdo are nonexistent in the winter and difficult to arrange, and very expensive, even during the summer. So group entertainment that keeps these young healthy adults occupied is a wonderful idea.
I admit I do not know all the facts behind the firing of the Jello Wrestling organizer, reported in various news accounts. But I have to wonder: why would off-duty entertainment be a reason to very publicly condemn the organization that funds and staffs the McMurdo Station, and funds a large proportion of science research in the U.S.?
As a scientist I do not understand the denigration of the noble discipline that helped our country attain greatness, defend itself, and lead our way into the future. If science is to be attacked in public, I would ask that those attacking it be held accountable for the damage they do to science institutions, and to the minds of young men and women on the verge of becoming scientists. As a country we decry our failing leadership in science and engineering, and complain of the poor quality of education in the math and science disciplines, and yet we allow, and even fund, studies that criticise programs that have long been working safely and productively in the harshest environment on Earth.
The U.S. Antarctic Program is a success story, in spite of what headlines of the day might suggest.
Photo taken by Pax River Naval Airstation Photography Department. Click for larger image.
Did some pilot take the word “Landing” in Landing Craft, just a little too seriously?
Well, not exactly. But the story behind this photo made it into Flying Magazine, as you see below in the “Ship to shore” piece.
Now here’s the rest of the story.
It was February 1975, and I was an active duty First Lieutenant in the Army stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. I had flown our 2-seater Cessna 150 from Southwest Georgia (Thomasville) up to Aberdeen, MD in January. After a 734 mile (each way) flight home for the weekend of February 8-10, I could not resist flying myself and another Lieutenant back home for Valentines Day (Feb.14) since the following Monday was a Federal Holiday, President’s Day. The fact that my wife and I were trying to start a family made a Valentines trip all that more appealing.
My aircraft was a 1962 Cessna 150B, the fastest stock version of the 150 with a reputed 109 knot (125 mph) cruise speed. Therefore, the round trips were challenging but doable for a 232 hour pilot with 10 hours of instrument training.
All was well until the return flight on the 17th. The weather briefers claimed that a front was moving from west to east across my path of flight, but as slow moving as I was I should be flying up the backside of the front, in the clear, as I made my way up north. Naively, I put too much faith in their forecast. It was what I wanted to hear.
After picking up my friend at Peachtree DeKalb Airport, outside Atlanta, we set off on the long leg back to base. On refueling and reassessing the weather in North Carolina, things were looking bleak. The front had stalled, and was not moving through as projected. It appeared that some “scud running” would be required, at least for a while, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk it. But then again, we really wanted to get back to the Army base. The Army would not be happy if we didn’t show up the next morning.
A more experienced pilot I had been talking to at the air field in North Carolina took-off with the intention of following roads. Well, if that was good enough for him, it was good enough for me. We departed again, and were soon flying just below the clouds over endless farm land, far from towers or anything else that could reach up and smite us.
Except for the flock of Canadian geese doing the same thing.
I’m not sure who was more surprised as we came together out of the mist at well over a hundred miles an hour, them or us, but thanks to quick reactions and animal instincts we all survived the encounter without so much as a feather lost. It was then that I decided to climb on top of the clouds at the first available opening, just to see what I was facing.
It was gorgeous on top of the cloud layer, with bright sunshine and endless visibility, and white clouds stretching from horizon to horizon. I was flying “VFR on top”, and with the added altitude my single VOR navigation radio was able to pinpoint my location at all times. I no longer needed to follow roads. The only problem was, getting down, eventually.
As we motored on, I developed a plan. I had already intended to fly east of Washington D.C. , over the Chesapeake Bay, before heading straight for Aberdeen, MD, north of Baltimore. But now the plan was to navigate above the clouds to the center of the bay, and hope for the best, staying just north of the airspace around Paxtuxent River Naval Air Station (PAX River). If things didn’t look good for the run up the bay, I’d land at St. Mary’s County Airport in Leonardtown , MD.
When our navigation radio said we were directly over the Bay, a hole opened up large enough for us to spiral down towards the water. But once under the clouds I realized I had little choice except to land at St. Mary’s airport (2W6), which, according to the chart, was only about a mile from our location. The option of scud running up the Chesapeake would have vanished about the time I reached the Chesapeake Bay Bridges. Flying under them would not only have been illegal, it would have been stupid.
The only problem was, St. Mary’s County Airport was not where the chart said it would be.
As I searched vainly for the airport the clouds were lowering as evening was approaching and air temperature was dropping. I was now getting concerned enough that I flew low over a farmer’s field checking for suitability for a precautionary landing. The only thing my passenger said, was “What are you doing?”
Well, my passenger was not too keen on what I had in mind, so unwisely I gave up that opportunity and crossed to the east side of the bay continuing to search for the airport. Soon I realized it was not there either, and started a 180° turn back to the west.
Unless a pilot is extremely careful, he can lose some altitude during a large turn. During my turn I lost 50 feet, which is not bad, except for the fact that I’d started the turn about 100 feet above the water. That dip towards the water definately got my passenger’s attention, and I think from then on he was willing to accept whatever method of safely landing that I could manage.
Once I was headed west across the bay again, I found the clouds had dropped to the top of the Calvert Cliffs. The option of putting N1144Y down in a field on top of the cliffs was now gone.
I was now committed to landing on a beach that would hopefully be flat enough and wide enough for my plane, whether my passenger liked it or not. If only I could find one. Then, almost miraculously, 4000 feet of suitable landing room appeared just north of Cove Point. I took it as an invitation to end part 1 of the saga.
In my excitement during manuevering for landing, I forgot to lower my aircraft’s flaps, which meant I approached the beach faster than intended, and my roll out was longer than it should have been. Just before rolling to a stop the front wheel hit a one or two inch berm in the sand, which sent the plane rotating up onto its propeller spinner, tail high in the air. In the cockpit we were staring down at the sand, which seemed strange, but at least we were stopped, and none the worse for wear.
We hopped out of the plane, and pulled the tail back down level, so it didn’t look so much like a plane crash. Just then, we saw a squad of men running up the beach with stretchers, thinking there had indeed been a plane crash. The report of a crash had been radioed in by men on a boat who witnessed the approach and landing from out in the increasingly foggy bay.
After the initial excitement died down, we were invited to spend the night in a Coast Guard Station, on whose property we were now trespassing. But since we were both Army officers, we were treated like fellow brothers in arms.
It was my intention to take off again the next day. The beach was firmly packed sand, a very decent soft field, and after all, we pilots practiced soft, short field takeoffs and landings. But we got word that the FAA was planning to visit the site to “approve” the take-off location. Unfortunately, it took a couple of days for the FAA to arrive due to, as they said, a number of plane crashes that foggy day. So I guess I’d been lucky to find a suitable location for a precautionary landing.
But getting off proved to be a challenge since by the time the FAA arrived the beach had dried and become too soft. They would not approve my takeoff.
Two plans presented themselves. One, a team of mechanics would descend on the beach and disassemble the plane like ants carving up the carcass of a downed dragon fly, carrying off the pieces. Or sailors from the nearby Paxtuxent River Airstation would put a sling around my still airworthy bird and a large helicopter would hoist it into the air, depositing it on the Pax River runway not too far distant.
That latter plan was dashed when I called Cessna Aircraft and asked their advice about stresses that might be placed on the airframe by a hoisting operation. “Don’t know,” they admitted. “But tell us how it comes out.”
That was not what I was hoping to hear.
The final plan was pieced together by Navy base personnel who were accustomed to using Landing Craft to recover the remains of crashed test aircraft. And my little bird sort of fit that description. They called it a training exercise.
One morning early I was guarding the aircraft when I saw the LCM get as close in as it could to the beach, and then a bunch of sailors charged out of the open front ramp of the LCM like Marines at Guadalcanal. Strong hands and arms then pushed the plane backwards down the beach, and then up into the open bay of the craft.
The nose wheel rested on the downward sloping ramp, which would have placed the wheel in saltwater as we slowly motored across the Bay towards Pax River Air Station. That problem was solved when I gently sat on the tail section (the horizontal stabilizer) to raise the nose wheel out of the water.
Luck was with us as the water that morning was glassy smooth as we motored the approximately 6 miles or so to the Navy airfield. The LCM nudged up to an old sea plane ramp, and myself and several sailors pushed the Cessna up the ramp to a flat portion of the Pax River runway. From there, I taxied the plane to a maintenance hangar where we spent most of the night going over the engine and airframe with a Pax River flying club mechanic to make sure the aircraft was still airworthy.
The next morning I took off from the longest runway I had ever seen, flew a salute around the Coast Guard Station that had been so accommodating, then flew on up the Chesapeake Bay to the air field at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
I could never, in a single lifetime, repay my debt to both the Coast Guard and the Navy for their assistance on one long flight gone wrong on a cold February day. If you are one of them, reading this now, know that I am eternally grateful. You are one of the reasons I’ve spent my professional career working for the Navy.
And the FAA? When I reported that I was attempting to locate an airport that was incorrectly charted, I never heard from them again. Fortunately, airport or not, I was able to make a good decision before I ran completely out of options. A precautionary landing beats a crash any day.
Three years later I completed my instrument rating so I would never again have to repeat such a potentially dangerous experience.
The following photo shows 1144Y with a fresh coat of paint, and with a baby boy born nine months after that Valentine’s day flight.
It was a day of contrasts when I discovered that my vinyl 45 rpm records saved since my childhood were inexplicably lost. Imagine my joy, however, when a few hours later I discovered that the much beloved songs of that era were available for downloading from the internet!
I’m dating myself of course, but songs from Tex Ritter, the singing cowboy, were the ones which meant the most to me; songs like Red Rooster, Froggy Goes Courtin, the Theme from High Noon.
And of course, worthy of enduring admiration were songs my mother used to sing to me when I was little; like the somewhat zany 1944 hit, MaresEatOats. And songs my older brother would play, like the unforgettable mystery song, The Thing. I downloaded as many of the free, and legal, mp3s as I could find from one or two sources. The source for all of the Tex Ritter songs was http://www.kiddierecords.com/, a music recovery project that is well deserving of donations.
I started thinking about songs like MaresEatOats and Red Rooster when I found myself spending more and more time entertaining a 3 and a half-year old. What better way to entertain her than singing and playing songs that meant so much to me as a child?
Magically, as if time knew no boundary, the preschooler responded to those songs just as I had many decades before. What a thrill it was to share that simple but engaging music, and to watch her bouncing with seemingly endless enthusiasm in perfect synchrony with the beat.
One of the oddest songs written and sung by Tex Ritter is Blood on the Saddle. Although the title and words sound ghoulish, the fact that it is featured on the animatronics show, Country Bear Jamboree at Disney’s Magic Kingdom Theme Park near Orlando, FL clearly illustrates that it is comical and child-like.
I once wrote a Master’s Thesis at Georgia Tech on yeast, arguably the most primitive fungus, the type of fungus that can drive women wild with infections, and drive all of us to distraction through its ability to ferment grains and juices to make alcohol. It all depends on the particular species of yeast, of course. It depends on genetics.
I, and most any school kid, can vouch for the fact that fungus, in general, is not known for its high IQ. Of course, it has no brain per se, and apparently no neural circuitry at all. So I find it amazing that a fungus can do what our best scientific teams are incapable of doing – controlling minds.
Admittedly, ants are not all that smart by human standards, but they are geniuses at being ants. They do have a brain, and typically their goal is to feed and protect their colony using well scripted behaviors. However, walking off into the jungle undergrowth and starting a new fungus colony in an ideal location, for fungus, is not part of their neural programming. And yet, the lowly fungus, against all odds, manages to rewrite the ant’s neural code to serve the fungi’s own reproductive purposes.
Fungus can infect the human brain, and even kill. It is a big killer in immunocompromised, AIDS infected humans, and it kills by causing a potentially fatal meningitis. Perhaps it feeds off the brain, but human pathogenic fungi do not CONTROL the human brain.
At least one naturalist described the Zombie ants as chimeras – part ant, part fungus. The way I interpret that statement, what the fungus lacks in terms of neural circuitry, visual and olfactory organs, and legs, it acquires by merging with the brain of the ant. So while we routinely manipulate lower life forms like cattle and oxen to do our bidding, it seems like quite a different thing when a lower life form controls a life form vastly more complex.
But what is especially scary is that the difference between fungi that infect the human brain causing coincidental death, and fungi that control the ant brain causing a well manipulated death, is a matter of genetics. And what is one of the hottest scientific fields for now and the forseeable future? Genetic manipulation.
Actually, it’s not the ants I worry about, nor the fungus. What I worry about is what scientists like myself might do with the knowledge that fungi can control brains, even if they are simple ones. The concept of directed mind control by the use of genetically enhanced fungal vectors is simply too Orwellian for me.
Shortly before Howard Hughes’ massive ship, the Glomar Explorer, conducted a secret mission to recover a sunken Soviet submarine in the Pacific, under the guise of collecting manganese nodules, a much smaller Research Vessel was collecting the real thing, on the Blake Plateau about 150 miles southeast of the Georgia-Florida Coast .
In 1970 I was the only biologist on board the Duke University’s Research Vessel, the R.V. Eastward. Also present were geologists from the Lamont Geological Observatory, and a geologist, Dr. J. Helmut Reuter, from Georgia Tech where I was in graduate school.
There is a wealth of information on the association between bacteria and ferromanganese nodules, with some scientists convinced that bacteria precipitate manganese out of solution in seawater, thus leading to nodule creation. Arguably, the best reference on this subject is the book Geomicrobiology by H.L. Ehrlich and D.K. Newman (5th ed. 2009)
My mentors at Georgia Tech and I knew bacteria would be found coating the outside of the nodules, but we wanted to know if viable bacteria remained inside the nodules once surface contamination had been removed. My mission onboard the R.V. Eastward was to setup a small bacteriological laboratory and then search for that evidence.
Ultimately, our search was not successful. No viable bacteria were cultured.
But that is the nature of science — you don’t know until you try.
Success or not, how do scientists celebrate the end of a cruise to the Blake Plateau? Well in Nassau celebration involves fine German Beer and even finer Cuban Matasulem Rum. Yes, at the time Matasulem Rum still bearing its Cuban label could be found in the Bahamas.
Factoid for the day: Since Helmut Reuter was a geologist, he taught me that the sand around Nassau, unbelievably soft on your feet, was called oolitic sand.
Forty years later what do we know about these curious nodules? For one thing, they are extremely slow growing, growing about a centimeter over several million years. That means the nodules in my possession are on the order of 12 million years old.
Secondly, although scientists are stimulated by the competition to discover the one correct theory among numerous hypotheses for the origin of something mysterious, such as manganese nodules, in this a case it looks like virtually everyone was correct. Nodules seem to form from precipitation of metals from seawater, especially from volcanic thermal vents, the decomposition of basalt by seawater and the precipitation of metal hydroxides through the activity of various manganese fixing bacteria. For any given nodule field, these chemical and biological processes may have been working simultaneously, or sequentially. For any one nodule, it is presently impossible to tell which processes affected its formation.
We should realize as we hold a 12 million year old rock in our hand, that it is far too much to expect to know details of its history over eons of time.
OK, I admit it. I’m in love with an inanimate object.
But if you could see her, you’d understand. In fact you might feel the same way.
Sometimes I even wonder, if she really is inanimate? So what if she’s forty years old. So what if she’s high maintenance? So what if her paint is not as fresh as it once was?
Where else could I find a thoroughbred steed that can take me and my family whizzing across country at 160 mph, above the clouds and haze of summer, through mild or threatening weather, day or night, eating up the miles like a horse on speed.
Her heart is 200 horsepower of whirring, fuel-injected cylinders. When given her lead, her three-bladed propeller slices through the air turning it into powerful thrust, like the magic machine she is. Her graceful wings vault her into the air, reaching for heaven, and finding quiet solace two miles high.
To understand her best is to realize she’s more than a magic machine; she is veritably a time machine, leaping us across country on a time schedule simply unimaginable any other way.
And the sights from her cockpit are unmatched by any artist, especially when a mixture of stormy and clearing weather paints a palette of color and texture that exceeds the human capacity to absorb, visually.
What is left is raw emotion.
She may be inanimate, but riding her is like clinging to the back of an angel. What’s not to love?
An undercast, seen from 9000 feet
In 1971 Harry Nilsson wrote a song I’ve always loved, and now I can claim it as my own. At least I imagine it that way.
Me and my Arrow
Straighter than narrow
Wherever we go, every one knows
It’s me and my Arrow
Me and my Arrow
Taking the high road
Wherever we go, everyone knows
It’s me and my Arrow
Here is how it sounds, from Harry Nilsson himself.
Visibility was lousy that day, which made the dive just that much more exciting.
I and some U.S. Navy SEALS were cruising in shallow water searching for antiquities, when out of the gloom appeared, fuzzy at first, and then with startling clarity, a fluted Roman column lying on its side. The effect was stunning.
We were diving in Caesarea, the location of one of the finest Mediterranean ports ever built before and during the time of Christ – designed to compete with the contemporaneous port in Alexandria, Egypt.
As we swam on, we encountered large frames made of hydraulic concrete, with remnants of wood still embedded within them. I could barely believe what I was seeing! The Romans had concrete, and used it underwater?
Well, there it was. And imbedded within the concrete remained some of the original wood used within the frames.
I’ve since learned that Roman engineers used a type of hydraulic cement called pozzolana. According to a local maritime historian,
“The Romans found that when they took the volcanic powder found around Mount Vesuvius and mixed it with lime and rubble, the substance hardened in water.” … “This ‘hydraulic concrete’ was imported to Casearea and used to fill wooden frames which were then lowered into the water to lay the foundations for the port.”
At the time of our visit, the diving site was not yet open to tourists, but now it is the site of an underwater museum, through a concerted effort of archeologists and historians.
Which worries me a little. You see, on that dive I didn’t have as much weight on my weight belt as I should have, so I picked up a stone and carried it around with me throughout the dive. Of course as I surfaced from the shallow dive I left the rock on the bottom, somewhere. If that stone had some archeological significance, the information about its placement, relative to the rest of the sunken port, was destroyed by my use of it.
I can only hope that it was a ballast stone from one of the many merchant vessels visiting that port two thousand years ago. That it should serve as my personal ballast stone feels fitting somehow. It was perhaps a connection tying me to ancient mariners.
Or else, it was just conveniently located junk. But, I can imagine, can’t I?
As of 2006, Herod’s Port has been accessible to tourist divers as an Underwater Museum. Now anyone can dive there, with the benefit of waterproof underwater maps and well marked archeological artifacts.
Caesarea is not your usual diving location, but it is important enough, historically, to make it into my top three.
Twenty kilometers north of Sharm el-Sheik are four current-swept reefs that attract Red Sea divers and bountiful sea-life alike. We left for the dive site from Ras Nasrani, heading for Thomas Reef, in the middle of the current-swept Straits of Tiran.
Thomas Reef is the smallest but most popular reef for diving. Because of the current, it requires a different diving technique than the simple but awe-inspiring wall dives at Ras Mohammed. Our dive boat with some diving professionals and tourists onboard anchored just off Thomas Reef and quickly had its bow swept into the current.
The plan was to enter the water from the stern, and follow the anchor line down to a point where we could kick like mad and make our way to coral encrusted rocks. From there, it would be a fairly short swim against the current, using the rocks for assistance, until we entered the calm water in the lee of the reef.
Thomas Reef provides a unique dive site due to the sea life attracted to the current. Because of that, it is well worth negotiating the heavy flow; rewards awaited the determined diver. In my case, a surprise awaited me as well.
As I let loose of the anchor chain, I could clearly see the steeply sloping bottom features of the reef, where I was headed. I spotted my target rock and kicked mightily until it was in my grasp. Now anchored, I had time to survey the beauty around me, and plan my next step. It was then that I noticed that an inch way from my naked right hand, the one firmly grasping the rock, sat not just another stone, but a stone with eyes.
It was in fact, something far more dangerous than a stone — it was a stonefish.
Stonefish are reputed to be the most venomous fish in the world. Had I grabbed it instead of its stony neighbor, glands at the base of its many dorsal spines would have flooded my bare hand with venom. The sting causes intense pain; with the affected body part swelling rapidly, potentially leading to death of tissues.
Just how bad the symptoms become depends on the anatomical location of the punctures, depth of penetration and the number of spines involved. The effects of the venom are muscle weakness, temporary paralysis and shock, which, if encountered during a scuba dive in a strong current, could make a safe return to the dive boat somewhat difficult. If not treated, the incident could prove fatal.
The emergency treatment required is much more than is likely to have been available on a chartered dive boat. As breathtaking as a Red Seas trip promises to be, you might stumble across critters that can take your breath away, literally. So a check of the closest and most capable medical facility should be high on your pre-dive checklist.
No doubt about it, if I had grabbed the wrong “stone” I would have been in a world of hurt; and probably in a lot of trouble with my dive buddies as well since that trip would have been brought to a sudden and exciting conclusion.
Oh yeah, once I overcame my surprise, and moved on, ever so carefully to the lee of the island-like reef, the experience was everything I had come to expect from the Red Sea.
I’ve read a couple of books lately where the author, critically injured in an accident, experiences what seems to be a visit to heaven, followed by a swift return to Earth. The most recent such book was Flight to Heaven, by CAPT Dale Black, a plane crash survivor.
A common theme in these books is that the author finds colors in Heaven to be much purer and vibrant than any colors seen on Earth. Well, I know a place just like that, and for a diver it must indeed be heaven on Earth. It’s called the Red Sea.
Sharm el-Sheik and Ras Muhammad are located on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, where the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba meet the Red Sea. On my first dive at Ras Mohammed, as I sank below the water’s surface I saw a wall of color that defied description. The phrase, “a riot of color”, is a cliché, but that is what I saw. It was as if every inch of the reef was shouting for attention, clamoring to be the most colorful, the most interesting piece of rock ever created. I was stunned — in sensory overload from the beginning to the end of that dive.
At Ras Muhammad, the coral encrusted wall dropped at a dizzying angle, headed for depths of 3000 feet, 1000 m, a very short distance from shore. I had planned a dive to no more than sixty feet, where the natural light was bright enough to show off the colors cascading downward, towards what seemed to be a bottomless abyss. But at sixty feet I saw a never ending waterfall of fauna, just a few feet below me, and then below that, even more. The colors were still spectacular even at that depth, defying all the laws of physics as I understood them.
When I realized I was twenty feet below my planned dive depth, a curious thing happened. I stopped searching for the next most beautiful thing, stopped my descent, but for a few moments I had an almost overwhelming desire to throw rational thought aside and continue down into the abyss.
I understood the consequences of that action, had I continued deeper, but the experience in that moment seemed to transcend my worth as a human being. The living communal organism, and all the life forms sustained by it, clutching close to the wall, seemed to have much greater significance in the whole scheme of things than I did. I felt a kinship, perhaps pointing to our theorized evolutionary beginnings, that made it seem that where I was, was where I belonged.