On Sunday, March 16th, at 10:30 am, I had returned to my vehicle after 23 minutes of diving in Blue Springs State Park @ Orange City, Florida. On recollection, my buddy had noted an anti-climactic nature of this escapade after taking a month and half off from diving. Our last outing was two days in the salty brine of the Atlantic Ocean off Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for Padi Advanced Open Water class. On the surface, I had wanted to agree with my friend’s assessment; however, being my first post-surgery dive from two hernias, I had felt an emotional contrast to the facts of the day.
For those unfamiliar with Blue Springs, park services had closed off the spring head access during the winter months for manatee activity. This being the first weekend of open water access, many divers had converged upon Blue Springs. According to the park rangers, we were the 8th grouping to check-in at the front desk. During that process, one of the female rangers had scolded us for skipping park entry. Though, we had flashed our park pass moments earlier. I had thought, “What a saucy lady!” Despite the unfriendly welcome, we had both shrugged off the experience with joking about one of us not returning from this simple excursion.
After clearing the main gate, we had parked our vehicle in the secondary parking lot for assembling our equipment. Before heading down to the wooden boardwalk near the springs, I had attached my buoyancy control device (BCD), tank, and regulator to a small hand truck on loan from Paul Shepherd from Seminole Scuba. The goal for the day was overcoming an underlying fear of undoing my surgical repairs. On one hand, my surgeon, Lou Harold, had cleared me for this activity. On the other hand, while loading my vehicle with a scuba bag the previous day, I had felt some heat from my lower pelvic incision. I was hoping the feeling just to be mild stretching of scar tissue. Maneuvering the hand truck awkwardly, I was exerting a bit more energy and motion than expected. I had speculated, “What if the cylinder pops off the truck? What if I go rushing to catch it from crushing a passing child? What if that rushing action rips my flesh apart?” With those thoughts spinning in my mind, I had opted for a gut check by helping my buddy get his gear on. I had imagined this a good physical barometer for myself to gauge skipping on using the hand truck. Despite all the rehabbing exercises of the past 29 days, I was unsure of the forthcoming result. Carefully lifting and holding his equipment in place, my friend had secured himself. Then it was my turn. Quickly attaching my upper chest and waist level clips, my scuba buddy then had released the full weight upon my body. We then both had commented on, “How light the tanks were?” Despite adjusting my cylinder once more on the walk down the boardwalk, I was amazed at the relative ease of handling the assembled scuba equipment. I had thought,“Score one for picking up lunges for stretching and strength training.”
Reaching the water’s edge, we had discussed our plan for navigating the boil. We had headed toward the spring head on our right in the shallows. The strategy was avoiding the bulk of the current’s strength and overexerting ourselves physically. Upon reaching the spring head, the water’s visibility was greatly decreased by the overcrowded activity of all the other diving groups. For about fifteen minutes, we had waited for the activity to die down. With eight divers returning to the perimeter of the water, we had moved forward with our descent.
Recalling swimming this spring last year, we had passed by the downed tree across the boil opening. Clearing this landmark, I had struggled with current pushing back. I was wondering if cutting my weights down to four pounds might be too light? However, switching my profile to feet first had helped with my descent along with long release of air from my lungs. Additionally, I had pulled myself forward on the white limestone formations. These limestone ridges had appeared like huge underwater shelving at eye level. The descending view was more reminiscent of an alien orifice perhaps from H.R. Giger. After reaching approximately 60 feet, we had basked in the current like a pair of fish. With time to spare, we had spent a few moments for photo-ops. We had joshed around with posing in power flexing stances to Vulcan greeting to other sexually suggestive sign language.
Before our ascent to our safety stop, the sun had cleared the clouds. Looking up at the cascading light shimmering on the limestone cavern and floating debris, I had felt calming sense of accomplishment. The importance of this moment was therapeutic. There were lots of facts to complain from this dive; no manatees, dearth of big fish, an unruly free diver, overcrowding, limited visibility, a cranky park ranger and blurry underwater Go Pro photographs. All of these facts were inconsequential for myself being 31 days out from hernia surgery. This outing was a driving force for my recovery. All I had fixated on most of the month was bridging the gap from surgery to submersion beneath the water’s surface. Twice during that time, I had dreamed vividly of being underwater. Dreams I had believed speak to us about ourselves. People had often talked about the love for water as a form of rebirth or renewal. I had believed that before, more so now. To the question of “What’s inside me?”, for myself, on this day I had lived a dream.
Blue Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)