July 20, 2006
Advanced NAUI certification -- A night at the Wye
The Wye dive site, located just inside the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Townsend, Tennessee is just a shallow little dive, but often fun and relaxing. For me, it's a great, easy dive site to get to after a long day at work. It is not very deep but so much fun. Depending on the season, the temperatures vary from upper 40s to just over 70 degrees. This is a prime dive site for seeing Hellbenders, among the largest salamanders in the world, and wonderful creatures
The time was 8:45 pm on Tuesday. Not even close to dark, but still, the excitement was building. I had three students present; Alicia, Chris, and Josh. The forth, Rhonda, was attending a funeral of a young man taken way before his time.
We arrived at our dive destination ahead of schedule, so we had more time to assess the site. There were lots of people in the water swimming, playing, and jumping off the cliffs. If those brave enough to jump only knew the risks they were taking.
The water at the Wye is always swift and often clear. Tonight was no exception. The temperature, however, was almost unseasonably warm; a balmy 72 degrees. This night would be an awakening for three eager students. Each there for his or her own reasons for being there but with a common goal -- to achieve their NAUI Advanced Certification. This would be their night dive, the fourth of six required dives for certification requirements.
As we were assessing the area we noticed bubbles appearing on the surface of the water in a methodical pattern. Someone had beat us to it ... A diver was in the water. Soon we were able to see the diver and noticed he was not wearing a wetsuit. We continued looking around the area and the diver got out of the water and walked up to his car. He looked puzzled and just stood there looking around. Alicia and I walked over to see if he had found any treasures during his dive. I then realized he was a dear friend of mine, Edward. We talked for a few moments, then I asked him if he'd like to join us on our night dive. He said he'd love to, but he didn't have a flashlight or another tank of air. I told him not to worry, we had extra tanks and a few spare lights. With consent of his wife and daughter, Edward stayed for the night dive and we took him home afterwards.
I instructed my students on the proper etiquette of night diving. We went over site orientation, safety issues and communication skills. Everyone donned their gear and away we went!
My students entered the water first and then Edward. I stayed on the surface for a few moments to make sure everyone was underwater and didn't have any issues. All looked fine, so I entered the crisp, clear waters. Once underwater, I knew I was once again in my element. Hovering weightlessly in the current as my students watched in awe and learned the proper techniques to achieve the wonder known as being neutrally buoyant.
I had explained to them about currents and eddies and how to use them to their advantage. Everyone swam around looking at the rock formations, leaving no small stone unturned, looking for treasures. Often, we find watches, sunglasses, and occasionally money. Nothing of great value, but definitely good conversation pieces. I wear one of those treasures around my neck, a St. Christopher medallion. The medallion has an inscription and a date: 08-12-75. I found the medallion at the Wye on 08-12-94. Coincidence? Who knows for sure! I have only taken that St. Christopher off twice in the 12 years I have had it. One of those times was recently, as I wanted to wear a beautiful celtic medallion and did not want the chain of the St. Christopher to distract from the beauty of this special necklace.
One of the students, Chris, discovered the exhillirating pleasure of trying to swin upstream, against the current. I asked him if he'd like to race through the rapids and he said yes. I gave him a head start, then I made my way with ease through the rocks in an area that was protected from the current. He saw me soaring by and tried even harder to catch me. Once I had reached our destination I turned into the current and let go. There are few feelings that match that of letting go and allowing the water take you where it wants you to go. A true sense of freedom and being one with nature. One of Nature's amusement park rides.
The other students took their turns fighting the current and then letting go. They were like children on a roller coaster wanting to ride over and over and over again. I'm not sure they ever truly understood the feeling of total freedom, but they will learn that with time and experience underwater. I got out of the water to watch them from the shore. The night air was perfect. Not too hot. Not too cold. Warm enough to dry the water droplets from my skin. The night sky was ultra clear and filled with stars. Lights were not needed to walk back to the cars, as the stars illuminated the path.
Silence. The true attraction to scuba diving. Silence, peacefulness, and serenity. The absence of phones, horns, and anything stressful. The freedom to explore a huge portion of our world that is virtually untouched. The opportunity to learn about nature, understand sea creatures behavior, and to be One with Nature.
I feel fortunate to live so close to such a wonderful place. I feel lucky to be in a situation where I can share this place with fellow scuba divers, my students. I feel blessed to have gone to all of the wonderful places I have already seen and experienced. And I eagerly await the future. A new future.
That's all. A typical evening scuba diving. A tiny dot in the experience billboard that makes us who we are. And, for those moments, my billboard intersects with those of my students. An intersection that will never occur again, no matter how hard we try. No two experiences are ever the same, so each is unique. As unique as each individual. - Caro