The following is one of my homework assignments from my travel writing class at NYU. The prompt was to write about something using the five senses. After watching Disney Nature’s Oceans last night I was inspired to share this here.
Sight. It is the sense that drives us into the ocean. To witness colorful coral, swarms of tiny fish that move and dance as one giant organism, giant beasts of the sea that make you question your ranking on this planet. There is such visual overload when diving it is best to narrow your focus- macro or micro. Sometimes I prefer to hang back, enjoy the underwater vistas, the coral mountains, blue holes, and other seascapes that permeate the ocean floor. Other times I bring my mask as close as possible to the life around me. I choose one fish and observe as it goes about its daily routine, fussing around its anemone home, busybodying other fish away, oblivious to my existence.
The range of taste is predictable underwater. There are long pauses of slightly stale air punctuated by intense, bitter accidental gulps of sea water.
Smell is the one sense that is truly dormant beneath the surface. Yet there are so many smells we associate with the ocean: The salty air, the noxious fumes from boats and air tanks.
It may be forbidden to touch marine life and coral, but you can’t stop the water from touching you. Bubbles brush over the body, pushing past to reach the surface. Temperature changes are acute, sliding against skin. Reaching hand to arm, you feel raised hair and puckered skin, fighting against the cold.
Many people list the silence of being underwater as one of their favorite parts about it. But listen closely. Inhale. Exhale. Your own breathing thunders through your head as your lungs rasp for oxygen. You hear bubbles fizzing around your ears as they glide to the surface. A boat roaring by in the distance. A parrotfish greedily crunching on coral. The muffled exclamation from a fellow diver. Occasionally, when your breathing is slowed and your adrenaline surged, you hear your own heartbeat.
The imagination takes over and fills in what gaps are left from our naturally dulled senses underwater. A mesmerizing hard coral would die if touched by human hands, but the sensation of the texture is so intense you are convinced you must have felt it. The brain fills in the gaps.