In the Salish Sea, the wild green waters of the Strait of Georgia, between British Columbia’s west coast and Vancouver Island, there’s an island that takes a couple ferries to get to. The water is full of life upon life and is the winter home to Steller Sea Lions who will winter there and feed on the spring herring run. I have tried a couple times now to dive with these sea lions, both here and closer to my home in Victoria, only to be defeated by their absence. It almost happened again this time.
Good friends and I piled our dive gear into our Jeeps and drove north, heading up-island about 3 hours, through torrential down-pours and gusting winds on Friday night. The forecast already told us the chance of diving on Saturday was slim. The optimists among us were sure it would pass. It didn’t. We spent Saturday with each other, drank some wine, told stories, planned future dive trips, and looked nervously out the windows once in a while at the storm gaining speed and fury.
On Sunday morning there was a bit of a break, but still rough out. A couple of us dove the house reef not far from shore, and spent a few minutes with some passing sea lions, curious to see what we were all about before moving on. Visibility was excellent, a surprise given how choppy the seas had been. We surfaced begging to try for another dive, and keeping an eye on the weather which was gaining speed again, we filled tanks and headed to Norris Rocks, the Sea Lion rookery, through driving rain and pounding waves.
I tell you all that because it was a hell of an adventure, which is what you say when you get through the other side and it all goes well. At the time I was a little nervous. 2 of the more experienced divers had stayed behind, not because of safety but because they were pretty sure we wouldn’t see a thing even if we got out there. And they missed out on what was, for me, the dive of my life. We jumped into the water and before we were kneeling on the bottom at 35 feet, the sea lions were already upon us, swooping and diving with such speed and grace it was hard at times to keep track of them. One moment there, the next gone, and soon back again. Curious, they nibbled everything they could – hoses, fins, housings, arms, heads.
I’m not going to lie, it’s both a thrill and a concern when a sea lion has your skull entirely in its jaws. They are so gentle, but it felt like a good squeeze would be more interesting for them than for us. And yet you hardly noticed because others would be right there in front of you, looking into your eyes, amused by their reflections in the dome of our camera housings.
It was the shortest hour of my life and I surfaced from that calm and delight to an angry surface, bouncing our way home (after losing my lunch a few times) unable to contain the joy. This. This is what I was writing about the other day when I said we need to find the magic. You need to put yourself in front of things that inspire the wonder, that make your heart and your mind spark with excitement; if you want to make more interesting photographs, put yourself in front of more interesting things. Forget the stuff that doesn’t thrill you, intrigue you, light you on fire in some way. Life’s too short. And at the same time it’s too long to live it untouched by those things, whatever they are for you. Because those things that light you on fire will create the brightest light if you fan it to flame, and people – as John Wesley said – will come for miles to watch you burn.
As for the divers who stayed behind, I was almost one of them. We make assumptions about what we will see, what we will experience. And when you add the desire not to carry a bunch of gear, or get wet, or just the desire to stay in and read a book, and it’s easy to miss these things – small moments of “what if”, small chances at something great. You never know if you never go, say my Aussie friends. Take the chance. Peer around the corner. Break the surface. Don’t let these moments pass you by, because how we live our moments is how we live our lives. And there are probably fewer of them than we think.
“Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” ~ John Wesley
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