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Shovelheaded alien

October 6, 2000

 

Going diving in Monterey this Saturday with a few friends. I hear Monterey is Great White territory. Cool. 

 

I've been down there, in a number of countries, with sharks of many varieties: black tips, white tips, whale sharks, dogfish, rays... but my very, very favorite was a creepy, unforgettable encounter in Mexico with... a hammerhead.

 

It's dark and cold and alien as you descend beyond 70 feet into the bottomless watery midnight. When the bottom is too far down to be seen, it feels like there _isn't_ one, as if you could fall and fall and fall into the darkness and never be found. Slivers of light, like millions of cerulean moons, twinkle down dimly from above, where the darkness gradates up into shimmering brilliance toward the surface. Your mask prevents any peripheral views of the other divers around you or behind you... you know they're back there, but you may as well be the only person in the world.

 

Welcome to the Sea of Cortez: Hammerhead territory. Hundreds of them are out there, and you are looking for them. Of course being predators of the highest caliber and jam-packed with sensors for detecting prey, they know _exactly_ where you are. Fortunately they are slightly wary of you (as opposed to being fond of your flavor). Since you've never actually seen one of these things in person, never really had the urge in fact, you're a little uncertain what to look for, and surely, of what will happen if you do see one. You keep feeling a little like an idiot, like standing in the middle of the 101 freeway at a sharp bend, looking for semi's.

 

When, after a half-hour of exhaustive finning into emptiness, one 6-foot freakish alien shovelheaded monster quite suddenly emerges from the murk about 20 feet away exactly at your level and glides directly at you, swinging its bizarre snout back and forth like radar, you freeze.

 

Your brain starts stuttering into a whirlwind of unfinished thoughts of the possible outcomes of the next 10 seconds. But the hammerhead quietly bends into a turn, passing on your left without more than a glance at your irrelevant figure. In underwater slow-mo you spin around to see your 4 closest friends experience the same exhiliarating experience, wondering what their thoughts are, if they're afraid, whether rightly so... and then the shark is gone, into the chalky dimness.

 

And that's it, your first hammerhead experience. After exhausting all the hand gestures you know for "that was cool!" among one another, you're back to finning into the expanse with nothing but your thoughts to keep you company, your own bubbles the only sound, your regulator feeding you all the air you need, the weight of the water both oppressive and calming as it forces your movements into slow, graceful sweeps and arcs.

 

The only thing that's changed is now you know _exactly_ what you're looking for.

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