Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Shark Bait


(this is an earlier blog from Apr.13- a special day for my mom, but as I'm a water baby, thought I'd repost it. All my posts have double meanings (if not more). Can you figure out what this one is?)

It's cooler today. After the tornado watch of yesterday, the heat broke and an icy breeze is cutting through the streets and freezing our toes. Nevertheless, spring reasserts itself and turqoise colored flip flops come out to challenge the cold air.

My own toes bore a bit of that brunt as I ventured out with cheery thoughts to meet my friend Midori regarding some project ideas we're working on. Notebooks out and pens at the ready, we were settling into a booth at Qdoba when we ran into a bunch of other friends. Standing around and trading comical stories, I flashed upon a memory that seemed disconnected to what we were talking about. After leaving, it occurred to me it might not be.

When I was younger I used to spend my summers in Hawaii..... Now, don't get the wrong idea. It's not that we were super wealthy or anything (though, we certainly had enough). Simply, my mother is from there. She was born and raised by a sugar cane farmer on the tiny ....island.. of ..Kauai..... Much of my maternal family is either directly from the Phillipines, or situated throughout the islands. She moved to the mainland when she came of age and for the most part didn't return there unless she was visiting (or for the brief period of time when she and I moved there when I was a child).

Like any other child during summer vacation, I was carted off to visit the relatives. It just so happened that my vacations were spent running through Grandpa's sugar cane fields, watching illegal cock fights(hey, I didn't know that at the time!), leaping over lava rocks and splashing in the water 90% of the time. From the moment my cousins and I awoke, it was sheer play time. Shoes became obsolete. To say that we got a little dark would be an understatement. Pidgeon became my third language. =)

Being island kids, my relatives are natural fishermen. My Uncle R. would deep fish as often as the weather permitted. He'd rise at ..3am.., stock up the truck with gear, guzzle back guava juice, grab a few nephews and head out to the marina to release the boat into the great deep blue. As a child, I wasn't allowed to go. Also, it was an all-boy activity. Nevertheless, I found a way to weasel myself into the pack. This consisted of harassing my aunties and uncles, as well as the staunch belief that I could go anywhere the boys could. Finally worn out by my continual attacks of "Can I go? Can I go? I'm just as strong as Craig/Jamal etc. Please... please.... I'll do ANYTHING!!!".... they finally relented. I was 12 by that time, and assumed to be a bit more responsible and mature. However, the first time I went out I jeopardized my chances of future trips.

The morning began with the shaking of my shoulders in the darkness of 4am and a rough "Time to get up. Let's move it. If you're not ready in 5-10min?....." Thinking ahead the night before, I had gone to bed dressed for the trip. All I had to do was brush my teeth?? Nah... who needs that? (note: ah..to be a kid. My dental hygiene is 1000x's better now!! Perfectly straight and white.)

So launching out of bed with my hair flying, I hightailed it to the truck and wedged myself into the tiny space behind the driver's seat in a position where even if my Uncle had changed his mind, he wouldn't be able to pull me out. With my auntie's assistance the night before, I had packed a bag of munchies for the day. I was set and ready to go.

As we made our way to the marina on the southeast side of the island, my uncle began running through the list of do's and don'ts. Now, there is a strong chance I didn't hear some of it. I was just so excited to be there. As it was, I often operated under the assumption that if I needed to know something I'd figure it out. I always did after all. (brother… what a pain in the neck I was!! or am... was... am??)

It was early morning. The air was warm, lightly scented and velvety fresh. An island dawn was breaking. The clouds danced in various formations and colors began breaking across the sky in vibrant chorus. It was brilliant and clear. All of creation was conspiring to open a day full of promise.

When we got to our destination, I ran onto the boat uncle pointed out and quickly began following instructions. Anything to speed up the adventure. There had been concern that I would get sick going out (a common problem when going out that far), but as providence would have it, I didn't. In fact, the rocking motion of the boat cutting through heavy waves almost put me back to sleep. I had to pop candies into my mouth for a quick sugar rush.

As we raced towards our destination, I hung myself over the edge and watched the colors change and intensify as we progressed into deeper waters. Spray dampened my clothes, and my lungs filled with the scent of ocean. Different shapes and sizes moved and crisscrossed underneath us. One of my cousins began identifying some of them for me. Mahi Mahi. Blue Marlin. Different kinds of tuna. Squid. Sharks.

When we reached the 3-4 mile mark off the coast, my uncle cut the engines and coached me through the process of strapping on the belt that anchors the poles around my waist. Then he showed me how to cast correctly and pull in. Being little, it was important that I concentrate on leverage and cementing my center of balance so I could reel in the larger fish. (This can cause some intense bruising to the solar plexus, I might add)

As luck would have it, I caught one on my first cast. I needed help reeling it in though, because it was rather large for me… about an 18 pound Mahi Mahi. Leaning my weight into my feet, angling my body, and positioning my arms in a certain position prevented the pull from being more strenuous than it needed to be. Combined with my uncle's strength and skill, we landed the fish in the boat. Admiring it's bluish-green sheen in the dappling sun, I was ready to take on the ocean.

Flushed with success, I spent the next few hours happily catching a few more fish. Sometimes, they were small enough for me to reel in and other times, no. (my largest was about 28 pounds.) When they got larger than 14 pounds (and believe me you can feel the difference) or were feisty Skipjack Tuna that refused to be guided into the boat, my uncle would take over and pull them. I lost a gorgeous and spirited marlin to him, which took awhile to reel in as it was flying all over the place. How he didn't lose that one I have NO idea. Chalk it up to fisherman's expertise.

As the morning wore into afternoon and the sun rose higher, we began stripping off our layers and pouring water on ourselves. Sunscreen? What's that? After a few hours, the heat and the hypnotic colors of the water began wreaking havoc with my equilibrium. It felt like this force was exerting itself to compel me to come in….. just come in. My cousin J., seeing my eyes widen with the anticipation of diving into that sweet, cool water… began teasing me and daring me to jump off the 2nd story ledge of the boat into the water. Getting my uncle angry didn't register. All I could see was that I needed to … swim… just swim and disappear into those deepest shades of blue. When I saw my uncle was distracted with flushing the deck, I climbed up by the driver's seat, stepped onto the ledge… prepped myself, flew into the air, then jackknifed into the water.

Slicing through the water in a clean motion, my heart screamed in silent celebration relishing the sensation of perfection. How to describe those first few moments in an alien environment? Initially, there was a moment of discombobulation… an unsurety of which direction was up.
Blinking my eyes underwater and moving past the sting of salt, I began to see movement all around me. Dolphin kicking downward, the water felt slick, heavy and peaceful. Quietness pressed in upon me. Fish brushed past my feet, as my hair floated in the undercurrent. If I could've stayed down there, I would've stayed down there forever.

Looking up through the water towards the boat, I saw my uncle gesticulating wildly for me to get out the water. I tried to stay underwater for as long as possible, but my lungs craving for air propelled me towards the surface after a time. My uncle looked like he was going to have a heart attack. Or maybe he was? Poor man. The moment I drew closer to the boat and reached my arm out of the water, his hand flew out and wrenched me back into the boat with a force that pushed any remaining air out of my lungs. Sprawled on the deck with my shoulder stinging and still clueless about the fear written all over his face, I turned to my cousins for answers. The one who dared me to jump had his eyes fixed on the surface of the boat at his feet as though he had never seen anything more beautiful in his life. Everyone else's jaws were hung open like so many jacks in a box.

As my uncle walked away to catch his breath and recover any sense of control, my older cousin Craig walked up to me and kindly began explaining why what I just did, was ...the .....STUPIDEST thing anybody could've done. CHUM…. Shark bait. I almost became shark bait. It turns out that I picked the worst possible time to go in. For those who don't know, "chum" is leftover fish guts left from cleaning. It's used to attract more fish. Naturally, with the fish .... come .... the sharks. It was still being washed off the boat at the same moment I hit the water. Running to the edge, my uncle and cousins saw 2 separate sharks circling the vicinity. Whoops.

Needless to say, I was banned from the boat until I could prove myself more trustworthy. My uncle was so traumatized from the experience he couldn't look at me for at least a week, let alone talk to me. In a spirit of conciliation, I learned to like all the seafood I had refused to eat prior to that time. Squid… yeah, sure… love squid. Raw fish… yeah, sure I'll try it. Picky eater? Who's the picky eater? Not me!!

My uncle and I gradually worked past that mind-numbing fear. In fact, it only took a few years before he consented to me staying under his roof again. =)

Looking back now, I understand more deeply why he reacted so strongly. Naturally, he was concerned for my welfare. Of course. But I'm sure the thought of telling my dad didn't exactly inspire a lot of internal peace. Lesson learned. On reflection, I'll admit I find it pretty hysterical. My poor uncle.

Word to the wise…. If you're ever on a fishing boat, in the middle of the deep blue sea… and chum is being washed off the deck… DO NOT… under ANY circumstances, get it into your head to cool off with a nice little dip into the sea. No matter HOW inviting.
On that note, the same can be said of certain kinds of people and relationships. Shark bites can be deadly. =)

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