A Visit To A Silent World

Inga and I were digging through some old papers the other day and we came across an essay I wrote in 1975, my junior year of high school. It was published in the school’s literary journal. As I retype it here, it’s really hard to not edit it, to improve on the prose of a 17 year old but I’ve resisted temptation. So here it is in its original form. I hope you enjoy it.

A Visit to a Silent World

I stopped the boat about fifty feet from the shore. As I lowered the anchor, I surveyed the uninhabited island. It was narrow in shape and about a city block long. Majestic pines towered along the crest of the island and the eroded shoreline sloped sharply down into the clear blue water allowing for no beach. Seeing this, I knew the water would drop quickly in depth as I moved farther from the shore.

I donned my wet suit to protect me from the cold water and slung the belt with lead weights around my waist to counterbalance the buoyancy of the neoprene suit. After putting on the remainder of my diving equipment, I quietly slipped over the side of the fishing boat into the water. The weight of my body carried me downward momentarily, but the air in my lungs caused me to rise slowly back to the surface. I paused to check my surroundings and noticed the total absence of sound. It was eerie, but the steady rhythm of my breathing through the snorkel reassured me.

A slight kick of my fins sent me gliding through the water with a feeling of weightlessness. As I swam parallel with the shoreline, I carefully scanned the bottom for signs of aquatic life. In ten feet of water, I noticed thin lines on the sandy bottom; lines that looked as if someone had dragged a stick across the sand. I knew that by following these trails, I would find fresh water mollusks each with its shell opened slightly to allow the water to carry in tiny particles of food. When I swam near them they quickly responded by tightly closing their shells. Nearby, I observed a pair of pincers protruding from under a rock. I retrieved a twig from the bottom and placed the tip of it near the claws. The crayfish grabbed it. I gently pulled it from its hiding place and it immediately released its hold and raised its pincers in defiance. I declined the challenge and swam further toward the shore.

As I neared it, I entered a dark shadow caused by the trees lining the shore. I momentarily couldn’t distinguish my surroundings, but my eyes quickly adjusted to the light conditions. Here I saw a large submerged branch which was the home of a small school of panfish; several sunfish, which are oval in shape and have beautiful, colored splotches flanking their sides; and yellow perch with black vertical stripes. Here in their refuge, they were safe from larger predatory fish and were shaded from the rays of the hot, summer sun. Meanwhile, they could feed safely on smaller minnows and grubs. I drifted closer and they showed no real alarm but they exercised caution by remaining in their shelter.

I gathered several mollusks and withdrew my diving knife from its sheath strapped to my leg. I pried open the shells and removed the meat from inside. As I scattered scraps of the meat in the water, these friendly fish slowly emerged from their home. The perch, being the bravest of the two types, were the first to retrieve the pieces that slowly drifted to the bottom. The sunfish soon followed suit. I gained their confidence by moving slowly and soon several were eating from my hand. I noticed that a few were admiring themselves in the mirror formed by the lens of my mask. Other were inspecting me from head to fins as if trying to determine what new type of creature I was. I can’t describe the feeling I felt as I saw these gentle creatures putting their trust in me.

When my finned companions appeared to be stuffed to their gills, they slowly drifted back into their refuge. I sheathed my knife and headed back to the boat. As I started to take off my gear, I realized how lucky we are to have such beautiful places and hoped that they would remain that way for everyone to enjoy in the future. */:-)

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