Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My mascot is a Sea Turtle!

Day 24 of the HAWMC Challenge.

Health Mascot.
 Give yourself, your condition, or your health focus a mascot. Is it a real person? Fictional? Mythical being? Describe them. Bonus points if you provide a visual!

Sea Turtles resting at Black Sand Beach, The Island of Hawaii
 If you had asked me six months ago I might have come out with something very different as my choice for mascot, but now I have no doubt about what it is.
This prairie girl’s mascot is a  SEA TURTLE!

 I went on a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii last November.  I have always wanted to go there and I was not going to let anything stop me from having a good time and seeing and doing everything I possibly could.

We made arrangements to go on a snorkeling boat trip. I have only snorkeled with cheap toys a few times in my life but going snorkeling seems like the thing to do in Hawaii and besides, I wanted to see all the pretty fish.
Our snorkeling boat and our Captain and Guide

The boat was great, the guide fantastic, the weather, well it was Hawaii! There were about a dozen people on the trip and we chatted as we motored out into the ocean. We were barely out on the water when we stopped to watch a bunch of Spinner Dolphins jumping and twisting. It was so exciting to us. A little further along we spotted Bottlenose Dolphins and they started jumping and jumping along side of the boat.  As we watched I thought I saw a fat fish jumping too. It was a tiny baby dolphin! The tour leader even got excited and  guessed the baby was only a couple weeks old at the most.

We arrived at the beautiful spot where Captain Cook landed in Hawaii. It was also the spectacular place that was filmed to use when creating the drop off to the deep in the movie Finding Nemo.  I did as I was told and put on the snorkel gear and with much maneuvering I slid off the edge of the boat into the clear water.  It was not that hard adjusting to the breathing and temperature and then I got on with watching the fish and the coral. It was an amazing experience; it was so exciting and peaceful all at the same time.  We swam around in the sheltered bay for half an hour until it was time to get back in the boat. That was the hard part. I was anything but graceful getting out of the boat but that was nothing compared to the effort required to get on the ladder and back into the boat.

We had a cold drink and fresh fruit for a snack and then moved on our way to a second swimming/snorkeling location. It was in the water by the National Park:  Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau. It was an ancient sacred space where people could be granted refuge.

The Puuhonua.

My picture from Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau.

In old Hawaii, if you had broken a law, the penalty was death.  Perhaps you had entered into an area that was reserved for only the chiefs, or had eaten forbidden foods.  Laws, or kapu, governed every aspect of Hawaiian society.  The penalty for breaking these laws was certain death.  Your only option for survival is to elude your pursuers and reach the nearest puuhonua, or place of refuge. 
As you enter, the great wall rises up before you marking the boundaries between the royal grounds and the sanctuary. Many ki'i (carved wooden images) surround the Hale o Keawe, housing the bones of the chiefs that infuse the area with their power or mana.  If you reached this sacred place, you would be saved. 
Today, you may visit Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, and still feel the spirit of peace and forgiveness that continues to surround and bless this special place.
The Pu'uhonua is still considered a scared site.


This snorkeling location was going to be a bit different because it was a little more open and had bottom formations of lava outcroppings and fewer coral areas. I was tired and thought seriously about staying on the boat but everyone else was jumping in enthusiastically and I was afraid I was going to miss something. I am not fond of being left behind.  The boat is unable to anchor so it was moving away and the lady said jump and I slid in. I got a mouthful, and worse than that, a nose full of salt water. That was a nasty surprise to this freshwater lake girl. My eyes were watering and I could barely see but I realized I was nowhere near the other people and the boat was now out of reach.

I decided to focus on the bottom trying to look at the fish and the lava formations but continue to move toward the other people. I was pretty tired and stressed so my left leg and arm were not working well.  I looked up to find I was even farther away from everyone. I was getting increasingly panicky once I realized that no one seemed to know I was even missing. My tears were mixing with the leftover drops of water in the goggles.

Exhaustion was beginning to overcome me. I put my face back down into the water and looked down and made an effort to get a bit closer into shore and I finally realized that I was caught in some kind of undercurrent that was pulling me toward the open ocean.

Sea turtle slipped into the water at Black Sands Beach.
A big brown flipper suddenly wacked me hard in my goggles. I saw a face and then to my shock this head reached over to the side of my pool noodle and grabbed hard and shook it, like a puppy trying to get a bone away from it’s owner. I hung on to my floatation device for all I was worth.

 I still didn’t realize what was going on so I stuck my head up and found myself staring eye to eye with a giant sea turtle.  His nose was within a foot of my nose! He went back under the water and I put my head back in too. Before I knew what to expect this amazing creature brushed down underneath me and rubbed it’s back against me from my chest to my abdomen and then dropped to about four feet below me. He turned deliberately  and started swimming slowly and gracefully then he did a deliberate u-turn below me and continued on.

I did not want to let him out of my sight yet so I followed him without doing too much thinking.  After quite a while the turtle dropped lower to the ocean floor, did another little turn and went out of sight under some rocks. I pulled myself upright again and realized I was now much further out from shore but actually closer to the boat and the pull of water I was fighting against was gone. I think the turtle realized that “my flippers“ were not functioning normally and he tried to save me from my pool noodle. He then led me out of the current to a place where I would be safe. I was the last one back on the boat and basically I got a little scolding for taking so long. I told my story and the staff said that it was not uncommon for the turtles to swim in the same area  but she, and others I have talked to never heard of a turtle initiating contact like that or rubbing against a snorkeler.

I truly think that turtle may have saved my life.

As a person with a physical disability, I am slow and awkward on land but in the water I am a little more graceful when supported by the water. We saw the turtles sunning at the black sand beach. They looked like large lumps most of the time but when they dragged themselves to the waters edge they slid smoothly into the water and showed the magnificent, graceful creatures that they truly are.
The sea turtle is now my mascot and my hero.

My three daughters at Back Sand Beach with sea turtles behind.

We visited Black Sand Beach and had an opportunity to photograph the turtles and learn more about them during the 5 days our daughters were able to join us in Hawaii.  Black Sand Beach is a volcanic sand shore area that is a government protected area. The Sea Turtles lay their eggs and bask in the sun and feed in on the seaweed in the shallows. These ancient turtles are now a threatened species because of human consumption and in danger due to nets and human pollution. They are not mature until they are over 35 years old and can weigh in at as much as 400 pounds!

All photographs are originals copyright Bob Cooper 2011 Please do not use.


Rebecca Dutton said...

What an amazing story. I used to ignore heads-up experiences like this one, but I've learned to pay attention as you did.

Humpty Dumpty said...

That was incredible. Nature has an interesting way of making you re-evaluate life doesn't it? :)

Grace Carpenter said...

I was moved by your story--everything about it.

Keep writing1

Linda said...

Thank-you ladies! That really was a life changing experience for me. I need to work on my swimming and strength... just in case my turtle friend isn't there next time.

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