The Thrill And Terror Of Water
The Thrill And Terror Of Water
Charles M. Bidwell

Water holds a fascination and a fear for me. The fascination lies not only in its beauty but also in its contents. The creatures that live in the tidal pools and ponds are a constant attraction. I sit and stare and try to be alert to any motion in the watery landscape. The fear comes from a panicky memory my body holds of almost drowning.

I find that being beside water restores my soul. It doesn't need to be still water or run deep. The fact that I am near a natural body of water seems to be sufficient. I enjoy a still pond as much as a torrential waterfall or a pounding ocean surf or a gently flowing stream. The form of the water may hold an interest in and of itself but often the interest lies also in what rocks are glistened by it or by what life is active within it. The fascination of the variety of life forms in a pond or spring puddle have held my attention for hours as I held a clear glass jar into the surface to get a reflection-less view of what was beneath the surface. As I got older and had more money to play with, I advanced to snorkeling gear and expanded the subsurface horizons of my view.

Snorkeling was pleasant and easy; scuba was terrifyingly challenging. It brought back all the body memories of not being able to breathe and not being in control of where my body was and what it was doing. snorkeling was uncomplicated and within easy control; it allowed me to see beneath the water's surface and all the life that was there. Scuba took much more preparation, to say nothing of the extensive and invaluable training, and often meant getting someone else to take you and your buddy to the dive spot. It revealed fascinating deeper sea life and had its rewards for the effort but in my case it had other rewards. I had to learn to trust myself and my equipment and my training in order to feel secure at dozens of feet below the surface.

The training for scuba was done in a swimming pool. That is another form of water that I find enjoyable for the sensation of water caressing my body. I don't find pools fascinating because they are not much more than gigantic bath tubs. They are full of water but they are not natural and, except for any people in them, they are lifeless. The training was entertaining and I mastered most of the exercises with ease. I graduated from the closed water section and the classroom exam to the open water exercises.

These exercises were held in Horseshoe Bay on the West Coast. It was a group experience and we donned our wet suits, buoyancy jackets and tanks on the shore and waded in. My buddy seemed more comfortable or confident than I felt but we went in together as equals. I had trouble staying down because I wasn't weighted properly but once the instructor detected the problem and placed his ankle weights on my ankles I was able to relax on the bottom while we did our routines. I got out of and back into my jacket and air tank satisfactorily but when it came to flooding and clearing my mask (a thing you need to feel comfortable doing in case your buddy accidentally kicks your mask while you are looking to the side and it gets flooded and your nose is then under water). I flooded my mask all right but couldn't get it fully cleared. I wasn't holding the top tightly enough to maintain a seal and as quickly as I blew the water out it seeped back in. I finally got my mask cleared but the instructor rightly detected my awkwardness and called for a repeat session in the afternoon. By that time either my panic would have increased or subsided. As it turned out, it subsided and I passed the second session without a hitch.

I enjoyed the freer exploring the next day and was pointing out sea anemones and sea cucumbers and crabs with delight when I realized that my buddy was nowhere in sight. This is serious and although it is no reason to panic it is reason to do two things in order: First you stop where you are and look in all directions for a sign of your buddy (air bubbles) or your buddy. You do this for only one minute and then you drift to the surface and look for them there. They, in the meantime, will have done the same two things. When I surfaced, I found that my buddy was quite a distance from me and we swam to each other with relief. Aside from the companionship of a buddy in the deeps, they are the only accessible source of life-sustaining air, if your tank runs dry. So buddies are vital to safe scuba diving. At any rate, we reunited and tried to explain how we had become separated. I was paying more attention to the underwater scenery than to my buddy who was, I assumed, close behind me and my buddy had started to rise and in response had pressed what he thought was the deflating release button but instead turned out to be the inflating air supply button. My buddy had risen even faster in response to the inflation of his jacket and we had instantly been separated before he could signal anything to me. From then on we moved side-by-side or held hands if we wanted to look to the side away from our buddy. Holding hands turned out to be a ready way of signaling to the other if there was something to see on our side or where they were not looking.

The second time we went scuba diving was off a boat in a bay on the West Coast of Costa Rica. I happened to be on the opposite side of the boat from my buddy and I was alone there. When I fell backward, as you are supposed to with all that gear on your body, I forgot to hold my mask tightly to my face and water got into it and up my nose. I panicked. So much for the flooding and clearing practice sessions. I floundered around and got my hands on the edge of the boat and got my nose cleared. I clung there trying to restore my composure and get the mask back in place. The others were ahead of me and descending the anchor line before I even got to it. I took a deep breath (you are instructed to breathe slowly and in a relaxed manner, after all you have a tank full of air so there is neither need nor desirability to 'tank up' on air). I calmed down enough to go under but I was not enjoying it and not looking forward to the descent. We got to the bottom and it was murky. I held on tightly to my partner and we made a valiant effort to look for some sea life rather than just get the heck out of there. We saw a small fish and then agreed that this was much too murky to be fun and surfaced together. The experienced divers with us agreed that it was a poor day for diving and we went back to shore. On the way back I broke down and cried. It was either out of relief that I was out of the deep or out of disappointment with my performance. At any rate, that was one time when the water held more fear than fascination.

The fear and panic memories of my body come from a time when I was a teenager spending the summer at a cottage on Nottawasaga Bay in Georgian Bay in Lake Huron. I had gotten out in water a bit over my head and was going between sand bars to get to my older cousin and her boyfriend. A wave hit me in the face as I came up for air and I sputtered and fumed enough for them to notice that I was in difficulty. He came to me and brought me ashore by holding me in the water until my panic had subsided. I am grateful for his wisdom in doing it that way because although I am not entirely comfortable in deep water, I can at least approach it without immobilizing fear. I can't even recall his name or what he looked like but I owe him more thanks than I probably ever offered. I know that there are times when we do things for others and either don't get thanked or don't know to what extent what we did was helpful, but I wish there were a way that I could let him know how well he expressed compassionate love that day.

                Written while visiting Robyn and Alice's place on Cortes Island, 15 May'94

Copyright © 1994 Charles M. Bidwell