One morning, while we were on vacation, Dave ended up feeling sick and staying inside. But because I was not sick, and vacation is limited-time-only, I went snorkeling anyway. I was on a little beach with a rocky outcropping that supports coral and a variety of sea life: you have to swim out a little ways to get to the good stuff.
Or at least, so I thought. There was a little patch near the shore where a school of large fish (maybe parrotfish or ulua, according to my fish cheat sheet from the dive shop) was hanging out over a bunch of sand and debris. I was adjusting my mask, and floating with these fish, when I noticed a dusty cloud not far away, brushing along the sea floor, and paddled over to look at it. It was an octopus.
You know those videos of octopi, adjusting seamlessly to their environment by way of camouflage? It was doing that. If I hadn’t seen it move, I would never have spotted it at all, so absolutely did it resemble a rock on the ocean floor. It was clearly annoyed that I was looking at it: periodically if would move around, see I was still there, and creep a little way before becoming a different rock. When it moved, color flowed through it like water: a layer of white shimmered over its skin, a cloud of black moving through its body like cartoon displeasure. Not lone after, a sea turtle swam by, and I took the opportunity to leave the poor, irritated octopus alone, though I later saw another, larger, and less bashful one, in the same area.
It feels like I’m building up to some sort of metaphor about vacation generally: you don’t have to go so far out to find good things. And sure, that’s true. I’m happy to be home, where I feel freer in my movements if not with my time; where my dog is and my bed is, and all my books are, not to mention the library. But I have never seen an octopus in Arizona. I have never floated for hours in crystal clear water while clouds drifted off a distant volcano like smoke.
So, no metaphor, I guess. I was charmed by the octopus, and charmed by the turtle; later, when I turned away from the turtle to swim back to shore, I was confronted with a second turtle that had been following me, as I’d been following its friend. Not six inches from my nose. We floated, as the tide began crashing against the rocks: in those moments, it’s best (well, mostly to not be near the rocks, but secondary to that) to relax on the top of the water and let it wash around you as the sea calms back down.
Then I swam back to shore, and lifted my head above the water, which now looked only like its own surface, a scrim of waves, a sheen of blue, a brief dream.