Like a Fish Out of Water



Beaches close fairly regularly here in Hawaii while tiger sharks measuring up to fifteen feet cruise on through. When waters are murky, best forego the swim. Plenty else to do. My own shark sightings have invariably occurred at this, my favorite beach – though not today. Feeling the ocean tells me it’s safe to swim, but first I bide my time, warming my fully clothed body in the brilliant sunshine while visitors from colder climes run around in bikinis. Mauna Kea is about as protected a bay as you’ll find on the Big Island, and due to restricted public access (best arrive early to secure a parking spot), never crowded. Beginning of the week on a windy day and it’s mostly tourists – young families with grandparents in tow. A lithe towhead of a girl about eight picks every beach morning glory blossom in sight. She’s making a lei, and raises her hands to me the Observer in proud demonstration. I haven’t the heart to tell her that her blossoms will all be wilted within the hour. Everybody looks happy, and why not? The beauty of the place is staggering.



Offshore winds pick up out of nowhere like tramps in the night. Hawaii’s seasonal shifts are not at all like New England’s – where a nighttime chill in the fall air will by morning produce a palette of colors as far from off-the-rack as bouillabaisse is to Campbell’s soup. Changing seasons here are far less dramatic – one must watch the ocean, be aware of the tides, the color and clarity of seawater; direction of wind. Here on the north shore, one is less inclined to sleep with windows open in order to ward off ill health. Degrees of dampness vary tremendously, and the night air can leave one with cricks in the neck and shoulders during colder months.

Today the ocean is a turquoise jewel, a sparkling crystal of invitation. Fins and mask in hand, I wade in. The first wave fails to render me breathless – a sure sign that winter has passed for good, if fledging cardinals and mejiro birds fail to jog the memory. The ocean never lies. Stroking out into deep water, the bay once shared with scattered others becomes mine alone, and I soon discover why. An offshore wind whooshes into my ears on a turn, and I subsequently notice a subtle underwater silt cloud while reflexively surfacing to check my mask for fog. Experience has shown me I am still safe, but I won’t swim back across the length of the bay today. Calmly I complete my single lap, end to end, tucking into the coral reef for a peek only to discover it has created its own little torrid environment. I quickly turn, roll onto my back and kick my way back to shore, lungs inspiring the bright cloudless atmosphere above. It takes awhile, but I don’t panic the way I did when first caught unaware in similar conditions. Fear burns up energy reserves, and fighting the sea is never wise.

Still and all, I’ve had my day – nothing trumps the freedom this elicits, save free-falling into azure sky before a parachute opens. And this is only conjecture on my part, for I’ve never been skydiving. Nor will I regret, at life’s end, never having done so. I recall years ago when moving from Hawaii to New Mexico, mourning the imminent loss of Big Blue. My dear friend Linda had lived in both places and gently remarked, “Yes, but in New Mexico, the ocean is the sky.” At 8500 ft. elevation, this indeed proved to be true. Still I’d rather be swimming. Or sailing on, gazing at or floating in water. Maybe it’s an ancient memory of gills, or perhaps it’s because the body is over sixty percent water, much of which is saline. Like the fish out of water that I am, something always compels me to return to the sea.


image: Robert Deyber

14 thoughts on “Like a Fish Out of Water

    1. You know, Celia, I think you’re right! I had a dream once that I should share at some point here, about being taken on an underwater journey by an Orca whale. It was simply heart-wrenching to return to land. Enjoy the day!

  1. How very apt, Cecilia. Bela, your words strike not so much longing in me, as a sense that I am actually there, with you…I am in awe that you can create such visceral feelings for me, thousands of miles away…With love and gratitude.

    1. Well Aloha, VivianLea! Thanks for dropping by. I am glad anytime folks feel as though I’ve taken them on a journey with me through my writing. What a profound compliment, and thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed it.

    1. Aloha Jimmy, and thanks for reading and taking the time to offer your thoughts! I’m happy you are able to feel a connection to the rhythm and pulse of the planet, no matter how it is achieved. That I am able to precipitate that in another is a great joy for me. Peace!

  2. This is so beautifully written. I was only in Hawaii once, on the Big Island, for too short of a time. Someday I hope to return. This made me remember waking on a cool morning in Volcano and the drizzle under the trees somewhere up the coast north of Hilo.

    1. Aloha Alethea! Happy to hear you’ve been here. It’s a unique place, for sure. Thanks for the compliment as well – the most difficult thing about describing this place is in choosing from so many adjectives! It is indeed beautiful. And your description of drizzle under the trees anywhere close to Hilo hits home for me 😉

  3. Your love for the ocean is inspiring, Bela. I feel a similar connection, but unfortunately I’ve never lived close to one. I’d like to change that some day…

    1. Hi Priya! Happy to see you. Lots of excitement ahead 😉 Helps narrow priorities to what’s most important, in my experience. The ocean well might figure into your future – you never know! 😉 Peace to you.

  4. I love the sea , belonging to the coastal state of Kerala , in South India. It’s a beautiful place, too. The combination of sea and the green palm fronds waving in the breeze is heady. I now stay in Delhi, which is landlocked and I keep yearning to go back. I do too, from time to time. But there’s one thing I regret. I don’t know how to swim and I wish I’d learnt it. Your description adds more of an edge to my longing.

    1. It’s cool how palms naturally grace the shoreline of certain beaches. The Big Island of Hawaii is some of the planet’s newest soil, in that it’s inhabited by an active volcano. So we get a few sand beaches, both white as well as black sand – but also lots of lava rock, rugged coastline! Makes for an interesting topography.

      I hope you do learn to swim! In fact I’m going to write about that very thing today – you have inspired me!

      Take good care.

  5. I thought of this blog last week when I heard a speech by Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on public radio. He said that shark attacks account for only 5 human deaths worldwide per year. Statistically ostriches are 20 times more dangerous than sharks as they account for 100 human deaths per year. I like the water but I’m not much of a swimmer. I probably would swim if it was warmer. My fear is ticks infested with lyme disease. I love being outside and in places where I’m likely to run into them.

    1. Mary Lee, that’s a wonderful statistic to point out for people – thank you!

      As for Lyme’s, what a bother that disease is! I have to wonder how far out of balance nature must be in order to throw that one into the mix … I’m so sorry, too – because I lived in those woods for 32 years and never had a tick bite of any sort – not on me, not on my dogs or kids, for that matter. So sorry for you all. What an extreme bummer.

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