28 June 2013

Diver Down: The Forbidden Isle, Pt. 4

We scanned the surface looking for Doug's sausage...

Let me back up. This is where it starts to get surreal and profoundly emotional, and perhaps that's why I find it so hard to write about.

As I've mentioned, you want to hike or tour with me. Not the least of the reasons is that I have incredibly sharp, quick vision, even with presbyopic glasses. If there is wildlife to be spotted—be it a monkey or exotic bird in a tree, a Cape buffalo in the forest, a raptor on a wire or in the air, a snake in the weeds, a turtle or a dolphin or a shark on the surface of the ocean, or a cool fish undersea—it's a good bet I'm going to be the first to see it. Trained local guides have all remarked on this gift of mine. It's happened time and time again on hikes, car rides (even if I'm driving), boat rides, bus tours, whatever. I'm a great spotter. You have to take my word for this.

So, when we started circling the dive site, without saying anything to anyone, I went up to the top deck with the captain and one of the other dive masters and stationed myself at one side and began scanning the water. Most of the others, except eldest son, Wisdomie (who was keenly aware of what was happening), were down below. Every time I saw the shadow of a breaking wave or a bird bouncing around on top of the ocean, adrenaline rushed to my brain, and I focused like a laser on the object trying to process the visual clues until, hope against hope, I could rule it out as not Doug.

Now it bears telling, we were all hoping—it was unsaid, but everyone on the crew and Wisdomie and I knew—that we wouldn't find a dark object floating on the swells. Or even a shiny object. Whenever you do a drift dive, or a dive where there's a risk of some current, you take down with you what's called a Scuba safety sausage: a large, long, brightly colored—usually yellow, red, or orange—inflatable bladder that floats up to the surface so that bubble watchers and other boaters will be alerted that there's a diver down, often at a safety stop about 15' below the surface. We were hoping to spot Doug's sausage. That would mean, of course, that he'd deployed it and was floating close by waiting for us to pick him up. Seeing a dark or a shiny floating object would mean a person floating face up or face down (tanks flashing in the sunlight).

After circling the dive site a number of times, the captain and crew analyzed the currents and headed downstream while one of the dive masters went down and searched the area where Doug had last been seen. We rode for 10-15 minutes more, I would guess, then they realized they had to call in the Coast Guard. The nearest CG helicopters had to be deployed all the way from Oahu. As well, there was a tourist catamaran nearby on Lehua, picnicking and snorkeling. The captain hailed them on the radio and alerted them that we had a diver down, eventually enlisting them in co-ordinating the search.

Meanwhile, the only thing I'm doing is scanning the ocean. I borrowed the captain's binoculars and scoured the inner rim of the volcanic rock edge of Lehua hoping Doug had washed up on or against it, though the surf was rough and the rocks really jagged. I was afraid that if he was on the rocks, it was not voluntarily. Because the swells were growing as the sun got hotter, the binoculars proved difficult. Nevertheless, I persisted, running them along the entire length of the comma several times. As time passed, it became ever more apparent, though again unsaid, that this wasn't just a case of a guy who was floating around nearby waiting to be picked up by us. Our search was becoming more desperate by the moment.

I stayed in my place on the upper deck as we rode down and back up the current stream from the dive site scanning the back quadrant of the ocean on the starboard side of the boat. Others had stationed themselves at other quadrants and the captain had the sweep of the bow. It's times like this, when you're searching, hoping to spot one tiny thing, that you realize just how vast the ocean is and how little you in your boat are. As I said before, the Pacific stretched from Lehua all the way to the Aleutians. For our purposes, there was so much water between where I was standing on the boat and the edges of my, albeit sharp, vision. So much information to process. It felt overwhelming and overwhelmingly bleak.

As I mentioned, I have a tendency to get seasick. There was a lot of swell, and the boat was bouncing around quite a bit, but the sickness in the pit of my stomach that morning had nothing to do with the ocean. The longer we searched, the sicker I felt.

Now, for you non-divers, this kind of thing just doesn't happen with professional organizations. One of the crew members told me he'd been leading dives here for over 20 years and never heard of anything like this. The crew were shell-shocked, questioning themselves and their competence, wondering how this could've possibly happened, what, if anything, they'd done wrong, how this guy had simply vanished. Worried sick, like me.

Some of the crew suited up and decided to go down a second time and re-swim the dive course. They wanted to see if the hinky currents had dragged Doug down under a ledge they'd all swam across earlier. They were worried that maybe he'd become negatively buoyant or gotten entangled below.

This was where I became emotional. Wisdomie, who as I've mentioned is a 23-year old Scuba Instructor and certified Rescue Diver living in Honolulu, stepped up and said he wanted to go down with them to help in case they got in trouble. At first they refused because he wasn't an employee of the dive shop and didn't know the waters. But he convinced them of his bona fides, and they recognized the value of his idea to act as a safety back stop. He had no duty to undertake an unplanned, dangerous rescue dive mission at a strange dive site off the Forbidden Isle of Ni'ihau in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, but he did it. He has a giant heart. I was so proud I was moved to tears. In my eyes, at that moment, I knew he'd become a man. I recognized at once his competence and his courage and, despite my paternal feelings and reservations, did not object. I merely said to him as he was about to jump in, "Be careful, Son. I love you."

[to be cont'd]

Not plastic flowers
Wizened face in the cliff side?
Wisdoc, parasol in hand, through the forest 
Fresh Lychees!!! for the hike
Jim H. fiddling with the camera while he walks
The beach from "The Descendants" movie
Jim H's muddy Vibram 5 Fingers after a short hike
Wisdomie and Wesdom rinsing theirs off

25 June 2013

Diver Down: The Forbidden Isle, Pt. 3

I wouldn't know Doug if he was sitting next to me on a bus.

I never spoke to him on boat ride from Kukui'ula Harbor, Kaua'i, out to Ni'ihau and Lehua. I was enjoying the day with my family, joking around, trying to fend off any incipient seasickness, and helping Dive Master Shaked untangle like a mile of fishing line she wanted to use for her jewelry sideline while the other dive masters spun heavier test line onto a couple giant fishing reels. Lunch was starting to sound like a big deal! Doug was with his wife, I presume, in a different part of the boat. Besides, it was early—not my most social time of day.

When we arrived at Lehua—17 miles from Kaua'i, about 2+ hours boat ride—the captain and the dive masters, in consultation, inspected then rejected two different dive sites because of difficult currents. They settled on Keyhole, feeling it was suitable for our first dive of three. Here's Wikipedia:
"When weather and wave conditions permit crossings from Kauai, Lehua is a noted destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. It is also well known for an unusual geological formation dubbed 'the keyhole'. Located in one of the crescent's narrow arms, this is a tall, thin notch cut from one side, all the way through to the other side of the arm."
Doug's group, to my chagrin, got to go in first. [I'm an eager diver. I always want to be the first in and the last out.] We watched as they descended. One guy had some trouble equalizing the pressure in his ears and came back up. For those of you who don't dive, the feeling is similar to that of going up in a high elevator or in an airplane, though more intense. The air pockets in your ears and sinuses have to equalize with the water pressure against your skull, or your head will implode. Something like that. Some divers adjust the pressure merely by swallowing. Others do it by exercising the jaw muscles like yawning. Sometimes, if that doesn't work, you simply press your nasal passages closed and blow.

Our group waited as the boat backed up and brought the diver who failed to equalize back on board, drifted out of the notch, and backed back in. And down we went.

Even though the swells were high, bouncing us up and down at the surface, we had a fairly smooth descent to 40' or so. No pressure issues. In my family dive group, I like to bring up the rear. That way I can keep an eye on everybody. The boys like to lead, and because Wisdomie is a Scuba Instructor, that's perfectly fine with me.

We headed out, going with the current, and down, heading toward about 100'. I had a bit of trouble descending further, but then caught a downdraft and before I knew what was happening I was below the rest of the group.

I ascended, and all of a sudden I found myself up above them. I turned and tried to kick my way back down to them, but the upswell started pushing me even further up. Next thing I knew I was at the surface.

As I said, that's when I decided to scrub the dive.

Because it was a deep dive profile, it was a short dive. Soon the first group came up. By the time they'd gotten on board and out of their equipment, my group was ascending. That was the first time I heard Doug's name. His wife said he'd gotten separated from her under water, and she figured he'd latched on to our group to complete the dive.

Not so. He didn't come up with the rest of my group.

The business of climbing out of the water and getting out of the cumbersome gear and stowing the heavy tanks and equipment is fairly routine. That's when it began to register with the crew that Doug might be missing. They did a head count from the manifest. Then another. A feeling disbelief, then shock seemed to take over the boat. Then the scramble began.

"How big is he?" "What color are his fins?" "Is he a good diver? How much experience?" "When was the last time anybody saw him?" were some of the questions making the rounds as the boat began circling the dive site, then in ever-widening circles the area around the Keyhole side of Lehua.

[to be cont'd]

More Pics:

Swimming with Sea Turtles at Poipu Beach
A Swim-through off Kaua'i
Looks like the whole fam damily down.
Onward gang!
Once again, Jim H and dive buddy Wisdaughter in a cool spot
Jim H: Bubble Boy!
Jim H trying not to kick a friendly Sea Turtle
Jim H @ Keyhole waiting his turn to go down, rocking that wetsuit and that Stannis Baratheon haircut

20 June 2013

Because I Love You...

...some obscure new musics. TOONS!

[659 soundcloud listens as of publication]

[3,239 YouTube views]

[73,770 YouTube views]

[451 YouTube views]

[2,010 YouTube views]

Give 'em a listen!

17 June 2013

Diver Down: The Forbidden Isle, Pt. 2

[cont'd from previous posts]

Let me back up a bit. Here are two things you need to know about me: First, I am, by and large and for the most part, fairly even-keeled, emotionally speaking. I have a loud voice by nature which gets even louder when I'm passionate about the subject matter (e.g., political fools & knaves, scurvy surveillance states, hypocrisy, injustice, etc.), but I almost never raise my voice in anger.

In my nearly 20 years of practicing law, I yelled at a subordinate a grand total of once. And that was after a grueling 36-hour brief-writing episode. I apologized to him the next day. We chalked it up to "the stress". Over the years I worked with any number of screamers and nasty bosses and associates but never rose to the bait. That's simply not who I am.

Nor do I yell at my kids. Now they're grown and make fun of me when I "get that tone." They try to see if they can detect a hint of anger in the quality of my voice at times. It's a game.

I am comfortable with my emotional self. I express my feelings healthily and directly and try to keep them in check. I laugh when I'm happy. I cry when I'm truly sad. I don't harbor hate, and I try to deal directly with frustration and anger—though I'm usually slow to it.

Second, I am a rational person. Even though I have a graduate degree in Theology, I am not religious. Nor am I superstitious. Don't believe in miracles or magic or the mystical. Nothing supernatural. [Attentive readers will note that I spent 16 posts upon my return from hiatus the first of this year laying the metaphysical groundwork for a possible non-supernatural theism, a Whiteheadian panentheism, if you will: Being v. Becoming series here] That's not to say I'm an atheist. Rather, I am agnostic. Like the early Wittgenstein, that about which I cannot speak I must remain silent. Atheism, to my mind, is a belief as irrational as theism; from a logical point of view, 'belief that G' is no different than 'belief that not-G.' That is to say, a belief founded on no rational evidence, but on faith.

So, when I tell you I had some sort of weird, premonitory, though inchoate, feeling about my trip to Hawaii, you will get a sense of how profound the emotional experience at the heart of these post was for me—nearly as profound as the experience at the heart of my lengthy Thyraphobia series.

Wisdoc left a few days before vacation to attend a biological psychiatry conference in San Francisco. I was to fly out and meet her in Kaua'i. On the Friday night before I was to leave on Sunday, we spoke on the phone, and I broke down in a fit of tears and anger at her. For no reason. I told her I was so upset with her I was thinking about not even going to Hawai'i. I ranted for like 10 or 15 minutes. For no reason!

This never happens. I never lose control like this. Never! I never raise my voice at my wife. Never! (Nor she at me, for that matter.) But, on a transcontinental phone call, here I was pacing up and down my room in tears of rage. It took us both aback. We talked it out on subsequent phone calls. Several times. I realized how irrational and overwrought I was being—for no reason: she'd done nothing to merit it.

I apologized, even though I didn't understand why I'd gotten so upset. She understood and forgave. And, of course, I flew out to Hawai'i. Even enduring an unexpected seven-hour layover in the un-air conditioned section of the Honolulu airport waiting on the broke-down puddle-jumper to Kaua'i in good humor, joking around with Wisdomie and Wesdom the whole time.

Wisdoc met us at the airport around midnight, after our 23-hour travel ordeal, drove us to the rental apartment (she'd been there for a full day), and she and I talked late into the night about how strange it had been for me to behave that way. All in a good-humored, 'what-the-hell-was-that-all-about'? kind of way. After that, the subject never came up.

Until after The Dive.

[to be cont'd]

[click pics to embiggen + slide show, mouse over pics for quips]

Magical Kaua'i Sunrise
Na Pali Coast. Unique in all the world land formations. Unique palette.
Interesting skies. Translucent waves.
About to get soaked!
Wave-hollowed lava.
Precipitous? Damn right!
Interesting sky through a Monkey Pod tree.
Rocky pool 'neath a waterfall.
Kaua'i near sunset.

14 June 2013

Diver Down: The Forbidden Isle, Pictorial Interlude

[cont'd from previous post]

Kaua'i pics for the visually-oriented (as always, click pic to embiggen slide show; mouse over for quip):

Selfie, overlooking Waimea Canyon, "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific."
Rain Forest
Wisdaughter and the fam scrambling up the muddy trail.
Na Pali Coast from the interior, land side.
Wisdomie trying to figure out what to do next
Na Pali Coast hike, Ocean Side. See that big rock? It saved my life when my foot slid over the side. More about that later.
Wisdoc. Breathless. Na Pali Coast trail. North Shore of the Island 
That's a helicopter below me there.
Trail Head for Na Pali Coast hike. The next day was The Dive! Shoulda' paid attention.
Not Jim H.! Southside of Kaua'i, near Poipu.
Like I said, you WANT to hike with me
More to come.

10 June 2013

Diver Down: The Forbidden Isle

[click pics to embiggen]
Ni'ihau is a small island near Kaua'i, Hawaii. It is populated by about 150 Native Hawaiians. The residents speak the Hawaiian language and have as little contact with other Hawaiians and Westerners as possible. Entry, without express invitation of the residents, is strictly forbidden. Ni'ihau is a two-hour boat ride from Kaua'i, the wildest of the four major Hawaiian islands.

Just off Ni'ihau is a tiny comma of land jutting up out of the Pacific. Lehua is an uninhabited crescent rim of an extinct volcano. It is noted for its diving. And it was for that purpose 11 of us, not including dive leaders, set out on Friday morning, May 24.

There is nothing between Lehua and the Aleutian Islands, and it was the morning after the full moon.
Lehua and Ni'ihau
I am a fairly experienced diver, with nearly 100 dives under my belt over the last 30 years. A couple of years ago, my mask strap clasp broke under water. I made a safety ascent from 40' up to the boat, grabbed a new mask, put it on, and completed the dive. On an earlier dive on Kaua'i, my mask fogged up and I couldn't see, so I took it off, pulled out my regulator, licked the inside of my mask, put them both back on, cleared them out, and finished the dive with restored vision. All by way of saying, I am comfortable under the water and know how to handle myself. For the most part.

I was aware that this dive at Keyhole, a magnificent spot on the eastern, smaller prong of Lehua, was going to be a challenge. There would be some current, so we would do a drift dive along the edge of the volcano rim at about 85'. We would have the opportunity to see up to five kinds of sharks, manta and eagle rays, tons of large (ubiquitous) sea turtles and friendly, tropical reef fish, and possibly endangered Monk Seals, plus magical underwater topography.
Keyhole. Lehua.
Accompanied by two dive masters/instructors, we went down in two separate groups. My team of six included Wisdoc, Wisdaughter, Wesdom, and Wisdomie (my Scuba Instructor son) and his girlfriend (they live in Honolulu and were diving on vacation). All of whom are good, experienced divers. The other group had five divers of varying skill levels, none of whom we knew. Both groups were accompanied by experienced Dive Masters who were knowledgeable about the site. The boat captain and a bubble spotter remained on the boat.

I had no trouble equalizing the pressure in my ears and descending, and before I knew it I was down about 65' and in contact with my group alongside the wall. The current pressed us on. But, and this is the point about the full moon, a down-swelling current pushed me down to over 100' before I knew what was happening. I was below the group and had to work to elevate. The next thing I knew, however, I was above them. I checked my depth gauge and found I was at 40'. Now I was behind my group. I had never had such trouble with my buoyancy. I tried to swim swim back down to the group, even kicking my fins, but couldn't make any progress against the upswell. And all of a sudden I found myself surfacing.

Never, NEVER, had I had such a lack of control. I'm a strong swimmer and experienced diver, but a hinky, upswelling, full moon, Pacific current probably sweeping down unimpeded from Alaska and bouncing around within the concave walls of Lehua that morning, pushed me up to the surface against my will in what felt like an instant.

I have to say, I was intimidated. The Pacific is a big, strong ocean. But it was my first dive of the day, and I hadn't been down long enough to have to worry about the bends.

Visibility was great, about 120' or better. I looked down and could see my dive group about 80' below me and swimming away. At the surface I could see the boat. I gave the bubble spotter the 'Okay' sign, and she indicated they would come over. She offered to give me more weight (I was already carrying 14 lbs of sand in my BCD). But I told her I was afraid I would have to work too hard to catch up with the group against the up current. She said they could drop me on top of them. I declined.

I scrubbed the dive. First time ever. The lesson being, I guess, if you're uncomfortable with some aspect of the dive, it's not worth risking going on. Diving is an inherently risky activity. Dive again another day, or even later that same day—as I planned to do at a shallower, more protected site.

I clambered back into the boat—swells were growing and were 5'+ at this point—and waited for my group to ascend. Wisdoc and Wisdaughter were concerned because they thought they'd lost me somewhere down there. Wisdomie and our Dive Master had seen my ascent and knew I was okay.

But my bailing on the dive due to some freaky current was not the reason we made the newspapers that day. Nor the reason the Coast Guard had to scramble helicopters from all the way out of Oahu. As I said, 11 of us went down that morning. Only 10 came up.

[to be continued]

04 June 2013

I'm Back: Left of the Dial

Just flew in from the Pacific, and, boy, are my arms tired. Bah-dum.

Big adventures! Made the newspapers even. Had to call in the Coast Guard. Even a true cliff hanger. I'll fill you in about it later.

Driving in Hawaii, the first thing I did when I picked up my rental car (after consulting the map) was tune the FM dial to the left side and scroll around. My kids asked why I did this, and I realized that's what I always do—in fact, what I've always done. (They'd noticed. They know my music.) I've lived my radio life exclusively below 92.1. That's where you find college stations, independent non-commercial stations, jazz, classical, and NPR. This is probably news to precisely none of my U.S. readers.

Upon reflection, I can trace large chunks of my life by the stations I listened to at the time. For example, WXYC, the UNC student-run station, started when I was in Chapel Hill.

When I graduated from Carolina, I had no money to move to Kentucky, so I sold all my record albums (several hundreds) to finance it. Only in recent years—and thanks to the internets and a real job—have I been able to replenish my stock.

I didn't even have an FM radio (or a TV for that matter) during my time in grad schools in Louisville and Philly.

In NYC in 1985, I discovered WFMU by accident one Sunday afternoon—literally my first weekend in town—as it faded in on my then future wife's tuner. On the low end of the dial, I managed to pick up Bill Kelly's Teenage Wasteland as he read a story about Bat Boy from the now-defunct Weekly World News. (Apparently, the paper's still on-line here.) Rrrreaalll Rock 'n' Roll! The station which was then in East Orange, NJ, notoriously faded in and out in large parts of Manhattan. It was associated with the now-also-defunct Upsala College. Once I got my own office, I listened to it on those lonely all-nighters at the firm practicing law. Probably helped me maintain my sanity.

Another joy of living on the left of the dial is finding a great station out on the highway that plays interesting music, even if it's not your favorite. If you're ever driving through Western North Carolina, which I do quite often, and in need of an aural companion, one such station is WNCW 88.7 out of tiny Isothermal College in Spindale, NC, is a terrific broadcast station with a powerful signal.

Here, in the ATL, we've got a couple of decent stations affiliated with Georgia State (WRAS) and Georgia Tech (WREK). UGA (WUOG) has a station that cross-fades, unfortunately, in my area with a Christian (all-too-common here in the Bible Belt) station.

All by way of saying I found a cool free-form station in Hawaii: KTUH. It's student-run at UH-Manoa where Wisdomie will be enrolled this fall. Check it out.

What's your favorite station? (And let me hear from you folks in the UK and Australia. Where can I tune in to your coolest stations on-line?)


"sweet Georgia breezes..."