Underwater Awakening

Guideposts|June/July 2020

Underwater Awakening
How one of nature’s most fragile undersea creatures changed a diver’s life

DIVE A FEW FEET UNDERWATER and you’re in another world. It’s quiet down there. You can hear yourself think. If you’re me, you stop thinking so much. You slow down. Look around. See the world maybe a little more the way God intended.

I’m a restless guy. Married four times. Moved all over the country. Grew up on a farm and later worked as a teacher and coached football, wrestling, and track.

Scuba diving is what I keep coming back to. I learned to dive 30 years ago. I’ve been a diver almost half my life. No matter where I live, I find water and dive. I’ve chainsawed holes in the Wisconsin ice and plunged in.

I always say I’m a C-minus on land but a Mensa genius underwater. I don’t mean I get smarter; I mean I become a better person down there. I’m kinder. More patient. More tolerant and observant. My rough edges smooth out, and I become the calm, generous guy I try—and mostly fail—to be on land.

I never knew why that was until a few years ago. That’s when I made a tiny discovery during one of my routine dives. I was in shallow water off long Beach, an industrial port city south of Los Angeles. I looked down and saw a bright orange seahorse, 4½ inches long, hovering near the ocean floor.

That seahorse didn’t belong there. The waters near Long Beach are too busy and too cold. Seahorses are shy and prefer warmer water. San Diego marks the northern limit of Pacific seahorse habitat, some 110 miles away.

I swam closer, fascinated and enchanted by what I was watching. I didn’t know it then, but that little seahorse had just changed my life.

WIND THE CLOCK BACK TO 1950, when I was born in Oelwein, Iowa. A town about as far from the ocean as you can get. Still, my sister and I grew up surrounded by nature and the cycle of life. We played in cornfields, watched calves being born and learned gardening from Mom.

Dad loved farming, but he couldn’t make the financial part work. We ended up moving to Council Bluffs, where Dad drove a truck and I attended high school. I knew my way around a farm but struggled in school. Kids made fun of me, and I burned to make something of myself.

I squeaked through college, but I had no idea what to do after graduating. I wound up teaching. I enjoyed the work and the students. And the job was portable. I’ve taught school in Wisconsin, Florida and California.


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June/July 2020