Who says time travel isn’t possible? I say that it is. My time machine is not the steam punk version of brass switches, levers, dials, and knobs. There is no hissing gas, whirring motors or clouds of vapour like those pictured in the movies. My time machine will not take you to the center of the earth, disrupt the space time continuum, or take you to a lost world full of terrible lizards. My time machine is much simpler, my time machine is music.
In January I spent a great deal of time combing through decades of music to come up with a play list of fun, feel good trop-rock for my daughter’s birthday beach party. In doing so I felt blind sided because while listening to all this music, moments of time, long forgotten were suddenly and quite vividly alive in my head. Music is a sweet mystery, it can heal, set the mood to fall in love, feel angry, brave, sad and happy. It never ceases to amaze me how a few notes of melody combined with the commanding beat of the drum can transport me directly back to a place and time wherein my mind’s eye, to taste, see and feel are still possible. For me, one such case is Shine by Collective Soul, distorted guitar with pounding drum begin the song and…
A ghost of me is standing on the deck of a dive boat in the Gulf of Mexico. The water is choppy, the sun is beating down my back and the wind is like a salted whip. In the early 90’s I had taken three weeks vacation to complete my testing for open water and advanced open water scuba. The classroom work I finished in Ottawa but signed up to do two weeks of practical testing with an outfit on Madeira Beach, near St. Petersburg Florida. For the third week my gypsy soul wanted to dive and explore the Florida Keys. It was here my viewpoint on life dramatically changed.
At the time many of the people I knew slugged it out day-to-day in occupations they really didn’t enjoy and their dispositions reflected their dissatisfaction. Cap’n Cod and Dive-Master Dan were different. They were living their dream, owning a dive shop, dive boat, working on the water and in the water most of the day in sunny Florida. That’s a dream I admire. Salt of the Earth, honest, happy and hardworking men, doing what they loved. I think people who are “salt of the earth” are “the spice of life”. Laid back, natural story-tellers with thick Southern drawls, they didn’t take themselves too seriously and were passionate about diving, the waters they explored, fished and shared with others.
There was never a dull moment in the time I spent with them learning how to dive. I still laugh at the memory of heading through John’s Pass into the Gulf of Mexico. A neighbouring dive boat pulled up alongside our boat and it was very clear from the start that the two captains knew each other well and were friends. Wise cracks volleyed back and forth between the two boats like cannon balls between warring Spanish Galleons. Stifled chuckles surfaced throughout both cabins as the verbal smack-down slowed to the point where the other Captain, bested by Cods’ wit hauled down his shorts and “mooned” our boat. We were all reduced to helpless gales of laughter. When Cap’n. Cod was asked later about why he did not retaliate and “moon in kind” he grinned and in his best piraty voice replied “Matey’s, thar’s a lady aboard me boat”. It’s good to know chivalry is not dead in southern waters.
“Did y’all know thar’s gold in them thar waters” Cap’n Cod told us with a twinkle in his eye on the way out to Indian Shores Reef. The legend goes that John Levique a peasant French boy found employment on a Spanish Galleon that was taken by pirates in the 1830‘s. He chose a pirates life and by doing so saved his own. John worked his way up the pirate chain of command, eventually managed to Captain a ship of his own and hoard a small chest of gold which he buried on an island off the west coast of Florida. The island he buried the chest on was split into two land masses now named Treasure Island and Madeira Beach by hurricane force winds. John Levique was the first man to successfully navigate the passage of water between the two islands that now carries his namesake (John’s Pass).
Having just stowed my tanks, regulator and weight belt, and in the process of removing the knife off my calf I was bubbling over with excitement and fumbling for my treasure. I am sure there must be some trace of buccaneer blood coursing through my veins because I adore a treasure hunt. While diving I saw something out-of-place from the corner of my eye. I signaled to my dive partner who swam over and upon further investigation and a little digging I unearthed a black slightly encrusted 1942 American silver quarter. I felt incredibly lucky, still do…visibility due to changing gulf conditions can vary from 15 to 60′ under the water. Finding something so small in something so large with limited visibility… I could not help musing that in the Mt. Everest of haystacks I had found a proverbial needle. The joy I felt was not proverbial, it was unmistakable for while it was not a Spanish doubloon or piece of eight it was treasure that I had found, and still carry today.
I can still feel and taste the salt water dripping from my hair into my eyes and down my chin. My eyes smarted and watered from the sting of the salt. I had passed the open water diver and was working toward the advanced level. That moment in time, that day is so visceral and part of my core. It was an easy dive in 40 feet of water. The dive master had chosen a sunken mystery barge as our dive site. My dive buddy, a 400 pound Goliath Grouper. Breathtaking is the only word that comes to mind when I think of that fish. Rich tones of chestnut-brown mottled with shades of cream and pale, pale yellow coloured his leviathan body that sat motionless in the water. His ancient, watery eyes, larger than my own, surveyed me dispassionately, while his comically large, jutting lower jaw occasionally basked in the water. With one swipe of his caudal fin he could have knocked me into next week, instead he was, curious, and followed me around while I investigated his turf. As a guest in his space I felt small and insignificant compared to my new friend and my window on the world grew a little larger.
Close to the end of our day a couple of German lads were just finishing up their spear-fishing dive when the other boat returned and plans were made for a bbq and a dock party that evening on the pier. When I think about it today that party reminds me a lot of the “loaves and the fishes”. We numbered about 16 after girlfriends and spouses arrived. A small catch of several snapper and grunts courtesy of the Germans and Dive Master Dan were our main course. The rest of us filled in the menu gaps with fruit and veg, breads and boat drinks. When the fish was scaled, gutted and cleaned they were grilled simply with oil, salt and pepper on a large charcoal grill at the marina. No part of the fish was wasted as a crowd of comical, stout brown pelicans lobbied back and forth like the Three Stooges waiting expectantly for the heads, tails and insides.
Someone brought a guitar, and songs we all knew by heart were sung as Dive Master Dan kept time by clicking two pair of metal tongs. We watched the sun sink slowly in the sky, glow like embers then turn velvet. The harbour lights twinkled in the water laughing with us while we told each other tall tales into the wee hours of the morning. I was one sheet to the wind on the walk back to the hotel the moon rose high and cast ribbon of light to the burnished bronze beach that wound it’s way back to The Sands where I was staying. The whole adventure was too perfect for sleep and I wanted to bask in the afterglow so I sat on the beach and plugged myself into my discman. As the sun slowly rose on the horizon I combed the beach for shells and watched curlews and egrets running back and forth with the waves that crashed ashore and then rattled back to sea. Music is such a sweet mystery, perhaps some mysteries are better left unsolved, perhaps they are just meant to be enjoyed!
**The photo of the aerial view of John’s Pass and the Goliath Grouper are not mine. The aerial view of John’s Pass I found at http://www.beachdirectory.com. The grouper is a plate I photographed from Reef Fish Identification written and photographed by Paul Humann.