Or my Christmas visit goose will be cooked. The children are not always thrilled to see their names in print. Someone I read writes a weekly marine science bit for DailyKos blog (I suppose to say I only read that for the seahorse pictures is akin to saying one only reads Playboy for the news.) so this story is tangential to that. Vaguely. Anyway, I lurk at Mark’s Biome Blog and his little blip on seahorses put me in mind of a funny, but only in retrospect, story about my favorite (only) daughter. That would be the one who did a fruitfly study in her landlord’s refrigerator and learned a painful lesson about population explosions. This seahorse tale has two parts. Each speaks to her strong personality, for worse and for better.
You know I sometimes refer to her as The Snarl? Well, by and large, she is a child of light, of good spirit, of laughter and of grace. She is mostly Sunday’s child. And yet. She has this streak that, only very occasionally, makes us all want to flee the vicinity. At those times she can rotate her head like an owl, shoot mace from her eyes and issue forth crystal shattering shrieks. Nowadays, I never see this side of her personality; it was mostly between the ages of 3 and 5 and then 16 and 18. During those years the rest of the family would cower at the bottom of the stairs in the morning and say, "I’M not waking her up. YOU wake her up."
Both my children thrived at the small alternative high school in Ann Arbor. They were curious and motivated and self-directed and Abby, especially, has never been particularly constrained by arbitrary rules and regulations. Seeking permission to go to the bathroom wasn’t her thing. Community High was solidly democratic and most everything was subject to vote or consensus. Junior year, winter break was fast approaching and Abby was counting the minutes until she could cut loose, fly to Isla de Mujeres and dive. She had e-mailed her favorite dive instructor and planned to complete an advanced night diving certification at the remote little resort we enjoyed. I had agreed she could take an additional two days and start her vacation early provided she had her academics covered.
Calculus was an easy class for Abby and the final was scheduled for the Monday prior to the break beginning Friday. We were flying out Thursday. Abby showed up for the exam but there was a fair amount of fussing from some of the students that they weren’t ready so the teacher took a vote: she would administer the exam that day or she would wait until Friday but if it was Friday there would be no exceptions, no makeups, no excused absences. The small class of 9 kids voted for Friday with Abby the only dissenting vote.
Abby doesn’t usually whine or fuss, no telltale smoke- she just explodes. In this case, she didn’t protest; she simply stood up, left the classroom, went out in the hall and punched an 80 year old cast iron steam radiator with her right fist. Apparently that cleared her head a bit and she stayed after, spoke to the teacher about her travel dilemma (but not her swelling hand) and took the test after school. It was scantron so she managed it with her left hand.
The first I knew of any of this was around three in the morning when Abby woke me to say matter-of-factually that she thought her hand might be broken. I looked, nodded, and we packed off to urgent care. Somewhere along the line, her stoicism gave way and she began sobbing at the realization that she had bollixed up her diving situation with some serious damage in a moment of uncontrolled rage. Urgent care made a referral.
The next day we were at the orthopedic surgeon’s bright and early. He came in all chipper and upbeat, beamed at her and popped the x-ray the nurse handed him up on the screen. He stared at that, turned and stared at all 98 pounds of Abby, turned back and looked at the x-ray. When he finally spoke he said, "I’d hate to see the other guy." He explained that she had a "boxer’s break" of two joints and there was only one way to get that; usually when he saw that x-ray he was looking at some guy coming off a bar fight. She confessed she hit a radiator because the teacher postponed the calculus exam and he looked puzzled but encouraged her to "get that kind of thing out of your system while you’re still on your parent’s insurance."
Abby explained that she really wanted to go diving in three days and because he was basically a sports medicine man who patched up football players to play he switched her through a couple casts over the next three days, ending with one that could hold up under water. His parting words were, "Make an appointment for the minute you get back. I guarantee you’ll want to change that off after diving." Little did he know.
I know you thought your hippocampus was that little islet in your brain that helps you remember names (I think it shrivels up with menopause) but it’s also the genus of seahorses, family of Syngnathidae. Seahorses are live bearing fish and interesting in their appearance and also because it’s the only species where the males become "pregnant", incubating and giving birth to the young. They are very cool to look at and are fairly popular as aquarium pets. Sadly enough, many are threatened and some are on the red "hot list" for endangered species. Another creature left better off and seen in nature.
Abby was surprisingly adept at diving with one hand in a cumbersome cast. She didn’t take anything for pain or discomfort and, although I was concerned about her diving in that condition I let her be, figuring the consequences were hers. Since she often paid for her private time with the dive instructor by hauling tanks and equipment for him during his group dives, she did that as well, without complaint.
These two were simpatico from the start and he enjoyed being her mentor from her first dive. This was her third year diving with him. She is at ease under water, comfortable and relaxed and at her happiest. During our week in Mexico she spent most all of her time on or in the water but because of chop she was having trouble getting a clear window for her primary night dive test. We were on our second to last day and because she couldn’t dive the last night before flying in the morning (decompression problems) she was praying for clear skies. By that time everybody at the small resort-mostly European divers who were substantially older-felt kindly towards Abby. I think they admired her spunk and skill and it was clear they were cheering for her as the night sky came up clear and starlit.
Abby and Gabriel headed out and I waited, with a dozen other people at the open air bar on the sand. It seemed as though they were gone an unusually long time and I was starting to get worried but then I heard the motor and they were back. Surprisingly, Abby headed straight for the shower- I had expected her to come running with her usual bubbly excitement and a full report. Gabriel came and sat and announced that she did "beautifully" and that Abby would be down with a very funny story to tell shortly. When she came from the room she was radiant and beautiful, with her damp hair, dark tan and big green eyes. She got an enthusiastic round of applause, ordered a big plate of pasta and told her story.
Here is what happened to Abby on her night dive. She was using her left hand to manipulate her dive computer and holding her flashlight in her broken right hand with the cast. After passing a navigation test they went on to look at the night sights. At some point Gabriel noticed that Abby had stopped in her tracks and she was signaling for help. Abby had come upon an enormous school of newly hatched seahorses and fascinated, she was watching them closely. She didn’t know it then but young seahorses are phototropic- they are attracted to light. As she watched them in her light, first one and then another ducked into the tiny "cave" that was formed by the small gap between her wrist and the cast. Two, then four, then twenty and soon dozens of tiny seahorses were darting into her cast. She knew enough not to drop her light but she didn’t know what else to do. Gabriel signaled her to turn off her light and then he aimed his directly at the opening. Slowly, ever so slowly, out popped one, then another and soon a stampeding herd of tiny seahorses exited the cast.
Did they all come out? The smell of that cast suggested not. By the time we were halfway home people were moving out of their seats on the plane to get away from the stink. And that is the story of Abby and the seahorses.