Published October 26, 1998 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©1998 Susan Scott
Halloween is the time of year people invest a lot of energy and money into getting scared.
We don uncomfortable masks and bulky outfits, then creep down dark corridors of haunted houses waiting for monsters to leap out and scare us half to death.
This is fun because, although the fear feels real, we know in our hearts we’re actually quite safe.
To me, the whole thing is akin to night diving.
I remember my first night dive vividly, and that memory still gives me chicken skin worthy of any Halloween fright.
It was a moonless night on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
I was on a live-aboard dive boat and had had marvelous diving all day. Now it was time to do my first night dive.
As I struggled into my cold, clammy wet suit, I peered into the black water. I had seen a sea snake down there that day, and a couple of fearsome-looking moray eels.
Both my shoulders and heart slumped as the dive master deposited my tank onto my back.
“Here,” he said, handing me a chemical light stick. “Tuck this into your mask strap after you get in.”
With shaky fingers, I fastened my weight belt around my waist, lowered my mask and watched the others jump in.
I knew if I hesitated one moment longer, I could never muster the courage to leap into that dark, spooky water. I stepped off the rail.
The water was cold and my mask popped off. After some sputtering and fumbling, I finally got organized enough to shine my dive light into the water beneath me.
I know this sounds silly, but I was shocked that I could see nothing on either side of that narrow line of light.
I jerked the flashlight right, then left. Why, a great white shark could be right behind me and I would never know it, I thought, knowing that the odds of this were about the same as having Dracula bite my neck.
While I was still waving my dive light all over the place, I suddenly noticed that all the other glow-in-the-dark sticks were rapidly dimming. My second fright of the night was occurring: The other divers were leaving me.
I yanked my purge cord and down I went.
Ahead of me, all I could see of my companions were disembodied glow sticks bobbing like tiny, greenish ghosts.
I was so intent upon staying close to these people, I could barely look around. Occasionally, however, I would shine my dive light under a ledge or into a crevice.
Once, I spotted a glob of mucus about the size of a football.
Leaning into the hole, I soon recognized a parrotfish snoozing inside this sleeping bag of slime. Each night, these fish produce copious amounts of mucus, then rest in the center. Apparently, the substance masks the smell of the fish from would-be predators.
For the umpteenth time, I circled my light in the void in front of me, then flashed it over my shoulder.
I wished that I, too, could secrete a protective coat of goo around myself and take a nap.
As we headed back toward the boat, I looked closely at the white stuff in the water that had been reflecting off my light.
It was billions of tiny, wiggling worms.
Countless animals live on, in and around the Great Barrier Reef, and these larvae were some of their offspring.
Knowing this didn’t help.
When I saw my wet suit covered with the creepy things, I bolted up the ladder.
Safely on the deck of the boat, my anxieties fell away with my gear.
I pulled on my warm sweats and sat back, enjoying a peaceful, post-adrenaline glow.
“Good dive?” the captain asked.
“Great dive,” I beamed.
Getting a little scared is fun, especially when it’s safe — and always when it’s over.