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Pumpkin Pie Tastes Better Than Sour Grapes
Words by Gregory Greer
Photos by Bob Care
Editor's Note: These are actual photographs from the trip and the copyright to the pictures are owned by Mr. Greer.
One late May, after the famous Cherry Blossom Festival around the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, where over 2,000 cherry blossom trees are in full bloom every April, thanks to the Mayor of Tokyo donating those trees to Washington, DC in 1910, and after I had made two wonderful dive trips to Hawaii and Cozumel, diver fever set in and I just had to make another dive. This one would be in Okinawa, Japan. I booked two round trip tickets, one for me and one for my lady friend of fifteen years, from Washington Dulles to Tokyo Narita on our favorite airline, All Nippon Airways. We both had enough points for a FREE round trip upgrade each to Business Class. There is nothing like Business Class on All Nippon Airways. No one provides service like ANA’s Japanese stewardesses--Banzai!
Okinawa is a wonderful place for play in Japan, and it is also a wonderful place to scuba dive with over 250 varieties of fish in probably the clearest water visibility in the world. I was looking forward to my first scuba diving trip to Okinawa. My last trip to Okinawa was a non-diving trip in 2001 when I took my lady friend to the Club Med Kabira Ishigakijima Resort at the southernmost point of Japan's territory, similar to the Florida Keys being the southernmost point of the United States. “Ishigaki” is the name of the island. “Jima” means “island” in the Japanese language. Due to Ishigaki’s proximity to Taiwan, Ishigaki blends the best of both Chinese and Japanese culture. It’s a great mix. In America, Key West is 90 miles from Cuba; in Japan, Ishigaki is 173 miles from Taiwan. Similarities, not differences, often are the most noticeable element whenever you look at a foreign country.
Okinawans are famous for being gentle, kind-hearted, and non-hostile. Maybe that’s why Okinawans have an average life expectancy of over 80 years of age, and many Okinawans live well over 100 years of age. And if Club Med, the premier French resort company and “inventor of the all-inclusive resort concept in 1950,” is in Ishigaki, it must be good.
My Federal supervisor had signed and approved my vacation request. My Federal supervisor is like a sister to me. My Federal supervisor is the sweetest supervisor I have ever worked with. My Federal supervisor is the epitome of femininity, which, today, is so rare in America. My Federal supervisor is so feminine that she actually wears a pink business suit to the office, which matches her pink toenail polish and pink high-heel shoes. She is tall, thin, pretty, and doesn’t have one ounce of fat on her. When I asked her what her husband’s military rank was during the Vietnam War, she said, “I don’t know, that was before I knew him.” My response to her was, “You’re a girl!” she laughed. I like being a boy and my Federal supervisor likes being a girl. We make a great team.
Late May was the perfect time for a dive trip to Okinawa. The weather would be neither cold nor hot. Okinawa is on the same parallel as Florida, so the weather and the water is always warm. My staffing company (I actually work for them, not my Federal supervisor) said that I could take four days’ leave without pay since I didn’t have enough vacation time saved up. I trusted their promise and paid for my trip in advance.
Everything was set for my dive trip to Japan. All Nippon Airways even called to let me know that the FREE upgrade roundtrip for both me and my lady friend was confirmed. What a great trip this was going to be, starting with the ultra-relaxing 14-hour flight from Dulles to Narita, thanks to ANA’s feminine stewardesses.
Then suddenly, one week before my trip, the onsite project manager of the staffing company I work for changed her mind at the last minute and said, “You can only take two days’ leave without pay.” I guess she couldn’t stand how happy I was going to be and the good time that I and my lady friend were going to have. The onsite project manager (a real nasty lady) had been on my back for years. It was all jealousy and discrimination. That was enough for me. I quit immediately and let the staffing company keep its “sour grapes.” This is not 1950s America anymore, a time when most everyone in the United States kept his or her mouth shut and did what they were supposed to rather than chase money. People in 1950s America (like my parents) did the right thing because it was the right thing to do. And my parents were not prejudiced and my parents taught me not to be prejudiced.
I quickly got over “sour grapes” and decided to go Halloween pumpkin carving in Virginia—underwater. Virginia is on the Southern side of the famous Mason-Dixon Line in America that separates the North and the South. Virginia is such a genteel American State, referring to itself as “the Commonwealth.” And the true Virginia lady still covets femininity, same as my now-former Federal supervisor. Virginia’s slogan “Virginia is for Lovers” couldn’t be truer. Love abounds in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Who can refuse love and femininity? Not me.
Every October, my dive group, Sea Ventures, in Fairfax, Virginia, hosts an underwater pumpkin carving contest in the Middlebrook Quarry in Broad Run, Virginia.
Most people in the Western world have heard of Halloween and many people in the Western world have participated in pumpkin carving as a child. Pumpkin carving is a big deal in America, especially for children. American mothers usually teach their children how to carve pumpkin, and elementary schools often spend one day every year carving pumpkin. Surely there is folklore about pumpkin carving, and there must be some really neat folklore about underwater pumpkin carving? I wanted to find out exactly what is that folklore, both for my own interest and to complete my assignment for my last folklore class at George Mason University.
Saturday, October 30, 2010, Millbrook Quarry, Broad Run, Virginia,
12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“I’m taking a class at Mason, and I’m doing some research. You don’t mind me recording, do you? It’s about the folklore of underwater pumpkin carving. You’re Jim? You’re Dan? What’s your name?”
“This is my first time, so I don’t think I have the institutional knowledge that you’re looking for.” said Jim.
“Well, what’s your understanding of the folklore of underwater pumpkin carving?”
“Just to get wet and have some fun,” responded Jim.
“Karin, what’s the folklore?”
“Actually my Dad is the owner of Sea Ventures.”
“That’s your Dad, Ron?”
“My Dad created the 28th Annual—”
“What’s the reason for pumpkins?”
“For Halloween and to get everyone together for diving,” said Karin.
Another group of three or four people were found for interviewing.
“Hello! You don’t mind if I record this, do you? This is for my class at Mason.”
“Well, that depends on what it’s for.”
“It’s for the folklore of underwater pumpkin carving.”
This group started laughing and said, “You are really scraping the bottom of the barrel! You have a class on that?” The group continued extended laughing and said, “My tax dollars are paying for that?” (George Mason University is a State school and therefore, same as any State school Mason’s funding is supported by over 50% tax payments from State residents.)
“No, they [the State] are not. I’m paying for the class. It’s a folklore class and we each have our own assignment. I’m doing mine on pumpkin carving.” This appeared to mitigate the tax dollars issue and settle the tone down for smooth interviewing.
“Pumpkin carving in general or underwater pumpkin carving?” asked the un-named female interviewee.
“Since we’re doing underwater pumpkin carving there’s got to be something related to your culture behind it. Why underwater pumpkin carving?”
“Same reason that people go to the Matterhorn [the mountain in the Pennine Alps on the border between Switzerland and Italy], same reason they dive under ice—because you can do it,” said the un-named man with the un-named woman.
“Okay, but how do pumpkins come into it?”
Thirty seconds passed by and the un-named female interviewee said one word, “Halloween.”
“Okay, what about Halloween?”
“That’s a whole other folklore,” said the un-named male interviewee as he laughed again. This line of questioning was definitely taken as being very funny; however, recognizing Halloween as folklore and making the association between diving and folklore demonstrated that underwater pumpkin carving is considered its own folklore.
“So you’re saying that underwater pumpkin carving is based on the folklore of Halloween?”
“Yep. The time of year: Halloween. This is my first year, but I think Ron does this at Halloween every year.”
“What was your name?”
“Cool. And what was your name?”
“Hi, what’s your name?”
“I’m Greg. That’s a good way to remember each other’s names: Craig [pronounced “Kreg”] and Greg.”
Craig and his girlfriend had been listening to the conversation with Jim and Anna and readily joined in without having to be asked for permission to record them. Craig’s girlfriend added, “It’s an excuse to get in the water,” and Craig added, “It’s the last dive of the season.” Craig’s girlfriend continued, “It’s a way to play.”
“That’s what it’s about?”
“I think so. Picnic. Play. Fun.”
“Okay, so picnicking, playing, having fun.”
“It’s a way to get a lot of people out together,” finished Craig’s girlfriend.
Ron’s wife, Courtney, and some other people were approached and started contributing to the story.
Courtney began, “Don’t you remember me?” and laughed.
“Of course, I remember you.”
“What’s your name again?—for the recorder.”
The man’s name was not easy to hear.
“Craig,” said a new interviewee also named Craig same as the first Craig who had already contributed.
“Craig? I’m Greg.”
“You’re all diving today?”
“Not today, I’m cooking,” said Ashley.
“I’m cooking and talking,” said Courtney.
“So what’s your understanding of the folklore of underwater pumpkin carving?”
“We’ve been doing this for eighteen years,” said Courtney, and Craig confirmed, “Eighteen years.”
“It’s a challenge to carve a pumpkin underwater. They’re buoyant. You have to carve the innards out and go down,” said Courtney.
“You clean it out before the dive?”
“Yes, otherwise it’ll float to the top,” finished Courtney.
“Okay, so you gut it?”
Ashley joined in the conversation and said in her gentle, young, sweet 18-year-old voice, “You gut it out and then you go underwater and you put your weights in it.”
“You put your weights in the pumpkin?”
Ashley and Courtney both said “Yeah” at the same time.
“You don’t hold on to it?”
“You have to hold on to it so it won’t float away, but you put your weights in it and then you have to carve it underwater.”
“So these are the same weights you have on your dive suit? It’s an equal-buoyancy?”
Craig, Ashley, and Courtney all said “Um-hunh” in agreement.
Craig added, “Or find a good size rock,” and laughed.
“Keep it down,” said Courtney.
“So it won’t float and then you go down, but you can’t mark on it before you go down then you take your dive knife when you’re down and—” said Craig.
“Why only a dive knife?”
“It’s part of the rules,” said Courtney.
“What rules? Where do these rules come from?”
There was a long silence of thirty seconds then Courtney said, “Otherwise it’s cheating” and started laughing again.
“What other tools could there be?”
Craig added, “A pumpkin carving knife that they sell in pumpkin carving kits with the little saw blades.”
“I was thinking of bringing one of those and I didn’t because I thought I would be cheating.”
“Right,” said Craig.
“So there are rules.”
Courtney responded, “It’s a fair game,” and Craig added, “There are understood rules: no pre-drawing the design; you take a clean pumpkin down and you carve it clean.”
“What is it about carving?”
“It’s the challenge of being down 40 feet underwater trying to build something. There’s also the challenge of a dive knife that’s shaped like a diamond compared to a kitchen knife that you normally use on land to carve pumpkins. Which is easier to use? If you use a diamond shape it’s going to puncture a split hole and it’s not going to make sharp cuts, which is why pumpkin carving tools would be cheating.”
“I see. It sounds like’s a real game here. And there’s a tradition. And there are certain rules that have to be followed. Everybody is nodding their head in agreement.”
Everyone started laughing and said, “Yes.”
Courtney continued, “And there are different categories for judging the pumpkins.”
“So this is actually judged?”
Craig answered, “It’s a traditional dive team of landlubbers, scary, looks-like-Ron, animals.”
“I see. What do the signs say? I can’t see them from here.”
Courtney answered, “There’s Ron-look-alike, Animals, Scary, Landlubber, Dive Theme, Traditional.”
“And what if you’re just a total klutz at pumpkin carving?”
Craig answered, “That falls under Traditional.”
“Thanks. When should I gear up and get ready to go in?”
Ashley answered, “Whenever you’re ready.”
“Are you diving, Ashley? “Are you diving, Craig?”
Both said yes.
“Do you have a dive buddy, Ashley?”
Ashley asked her Dad, Craig, if Sierra would be going down again. Craig responded that Sierra had a headache and would not be diving again. Ashley asked, “Can you be our dive buddy?”
Craig said that I could join him and Ashley. I told Ashley that my niece was also named Ashley. Craig mentioned that he had a camera and would be taking some video. Ashley asked, “Are you going to carve a pumpkin?” My answer was, “Yes, I have two of them.”
This time, a lone member of the party was sought for interviewing.
“What’s your name? I’m taking a class at Mason. What do you know about underwater pumpkin carving?”
“My name’s Arjie. This is my first time.”
“Arjie, what is your feeling about the folklore of underwater pumpkin carving?”
“It’s a very unique tradition.”
“Unique tradition? So you do feel that there is a tradition involved and there is something more involved than just going down in the water?”
“Yes, it’s more of a tradition.”
“Any other comments?”
“What’s your name again?”
“And you are doing this for your university?”
“Yes, George Mason University. A folklore class.”
“Cool, I’m almost there, too.”
“At Mason? You’re at George Mason University, too?”
“Yes, my application is in for physical science.”
“Graduate or undergraduate?”
“Are you from Virginia?”
“No, Texas—the State of Texas!”
“I thought you had a Southern accent. I like Texas. Texas is great, particularly San Antonio. Are you going underwater pumpkin carving when you go back to Texas?”
“Great. Are you going to share the folklore of underwater pumpkin carving?”
“Yes, I’m going to tell them, ‘People, come on in the water and carve a pumpkin.’”
Now it was time to interview, Ron, the owner of Sea Ventures.
“Okay, Ron, give me some folklore on underwater pumpkin carving.” Ron was happy to offer his input, “We’ve been doing this for 28 years. It started back in the late 80’s. We made it a yearly event to keep the camaraderie going for the divers. One thing I’ve never done and always wanted to do is underwater watermelon diving in July—an underwater watermelon carving contest. We do this for the camaraderie and we give some prizes away to keep the people diving. We’ve only been rained on twice in all these 28 years.”
“But what about the concept of carving a pumpkin underwater?”
Ron was stumped with this question. He added, “I have no idea. It’s been something done for years in the dive community. It started out in Los Angeles County in California.”
“Why LA County?”
“That’s where diving all started in America, out in LA. Diving in the United States, anyway.”
“So it didn’t start on the East Coast?”
“No, most all of the divers that you read about were California-based, particularly when the guys came back from World War II. The diving conditions were better then. The water was warmer.”
“Why did it get warmer?”
“They didn’t have wet suits back then, so you could only dive during the summertime. With the advent of the wet suit you had people who could dive on the East Coast. All the diving agencies started out in California. It was all the GIs coming back who started diving out in California.”
“Now particularly about pumpkins. There has to be something historical?”
“I don’t know, Greg.”
“So you created your own folklore, Ron? You started something new?”
“Well, yes, but I’m not the only one doing it. Other dive shops have been doing it for years, too. The Boston Range Rovers have been doing it for 40 years.”
“Is that a dive shop?”
“It isn’t a dive shop, it’s a dive club.”
“It’s really cold up in Boston. What kind of dive suits do they use?”
“I’m sure they’re using 7 mil and probably dry suits. But for the folklore, this all relates to Halloween, All Saints Day.”
This was the second confirmation that underwater pumpkin carving relates to Halloween.
Fred is a regular diver at Sea Ventures.
“What’s your understanding of the folklore of underwater pumpkin carving, Fred?”
Fred joyfully provided extensive knowledge on this topic—finally, someone who knows the secret.
Fred began, “It all began with the Great Pumpkin in Transylvania. The reason that the pumpkin got carved was so that they could do it underwater and hide it from the village people and that way they could always have pumpkins cool, ready, and stored in water.”
“Yes, that’s how it started.”
“Where did you get that story from, Fred? Is that true, Fred?”
“Yes, it’s true.”
“Is that your understanding of it, Fred?”
“Transylvania, that’s a new one.”
This was so unbelievable that I asked another member of the group, “Can you confirm what my fellow diver Fred just said? Was underwater pumpkin carving created in Transylvania? Does that sound true?”
“I can neither confirm nor deny that fact.”
“If that’s ‘a fact’ then you just confirmed it.”
“Again, I can neither confirm nor deny that fact,” said the nameless member of the group.
“Hmm, it sounds like there’s a mythology angle to this whole thing?”
The nameless member offered one suggestion: “It might have something to do with underwater basket-weaving.”
Craig, Ashley, and Sierra appeared.
“Underwater basket weaving? Ashley, who is this? This is my boyfriend, Mike.”
“I’m going for my third first-place,” said Craig.
“So there’s a real mission going on here?”
“So this is a real blind contest? All the carved pumpkins are lined up and Ron judges them.”
“So there’s some real, serious tradition going on here?”
“There is, and I love it. I look forward to this every year,” said Craig.
“So what is your masterpiece going to be?”
“I’ll show you last year’s.”
Sierra joined, “The first year I got certified, I won first-place for traditional pumpkin.”
“Do you have your dive log? What was the date?”
“What was special about your pumpkin that you won first-place?”
“It was the traditional face and triangle eyes and smile. The year Ashley had her first dive she carved a pumpkin, too. She won a prize.”
“Let me go see Craig’s pictures.”
“He’s really good.”
“So this is on a digital camera, Craig? Wow! Oh no—”
“This one has a bikini on. I had miniature pumpkins for boobies; gourds for arms; and she has a snorkel in her mouth.”
“This is three pumpkins, one on top of the other, and she has a mask.”
“This is a gendered pumpkin?”
“I bought the bikini at Wal-Mart. I got some really funny looks when I went shopping for the bikini.”
“I’m sure you did. This is a kind of a metamorphosis. You turned three pumpkins into a humanoid.”
“I won first-, second-, and third-place last year. First-place was $100.”
“I still use a disposable camera. It works fine for me underwater. You just have to capture the right light at the right time. If you use a disposable camera correctly, it works fine.”
“This looks like Facebook.”
“It is. This is my Facebook page. You can see my U-85 dive pictures, too. The U-85 was the first U-Boat to be sunk by the United States. Now that wreck site is a great dive in North Carolina. We dove the U-85 last month.”
“Did you see any ghosts on the U-85?”
“No, but we did see a mola mola.”
“What’s a mola mola?”
“It’s a giant sun fish, bigger than you and me. It’s huge. The best thing about the dive was this old guy on the dive with us. He was on the USS Roper when it sunk the U-85. He watched the drop-bomb that hit the U-85. Every member of the U-85 was killed. There were survivors and there were boats dropped in the water to rescue them, but since the USS Roper was spotlighted the Roper was forced to drop depth charges. That’s what killed all the survivors. The Roper didn’t have a choice. It started crisscrossing and dropped depth charges everywhere for fear of another U-Boat. It was just one of those casualties of war.”
We finalized our agreement to dive together. My first dive would be with Craig, Ashley, and Arjie. This would be a perfect four-person dive group: two sets of two buddies. We started our dive a half-hour later after we each had a freshly grilled hamburger to fill our stomachs. Craig had already been down once earlier in the day and hadn’t yet carved a pumpkin. He would be taking three pumpkins down with him. I planned on taking one. I asked how the temperature was, and Ashley advised that it was “really cold.” It was good that I had a full body length 7 mm dive suit, hood, gloves, and booties to cover every inch of my body in the cold water. This was not going to be like diving in the Caribbean. Ashley and Craig and Arjie would also be wearing a 7 mil dive suit.
Craig, Arjie, Ashley, and I geared up and made our way to the dock to make our underwater pumpkin carving dive. Craig went in first then his daughter Ashley. Ashley dropped her knife in four feet of water and had to retrieve it. Craig had three pumpkins and the rest of us had one each. Craig had his pumpkins in a mesh bag. The rest of us carried ours by hand. Craig and Ashley were dive buddies. Arjie and I were dive buddies. Arjie’s two-pound weight fell out of his pumpkin and he had to retrieve it from the water. We were all masked and ready to swim. We swam 30 feet out then made our descent: Craig and Ashley first, Arjie and I second. I had eighteen pounds of weights on me to make me sink—10% of my body weight, plus a two-pound weight inside my pumpkin. We exhaled and descended, free-floating down then climbing down, hand-under-hand, on the rope towards bottom, 40 feet below. We equalized on the way down and arrived at the bottom. The water did not feel that cold. We gave the “okay” hand signal to each other then started our task.
Arjie lost his grip and the weight came out of his pumpkin again, settling on the bottom. Arjie’s pumpkin started floating up and I reached up and grabbed it before it got way and pulled it back down and returned it to Arjie. As I looked at his mask, I could see that his mask was filling up with water. He needed to clear out the water. I pointed to his mask by making a vertical V-sign pointing one finger at each eye of his mask telling Arjie to clear out the water from his mask. My mask was working fine. I had smeared Mask Defog on my mask before going down and cleared out all the gooey substance before going down. Visibility for me was fine and no water was leaking into my mask. Arjie could easily clear out the water from his mask by lifting in and exhaling vigorously from his nose blowing out the water.
After using up 1500 psi of tank air, I hand-signaled Craig one right-hand finger on my left arm then five open fingers, informing him that I had 1500 psi of air remaining in my tank. On my pumpkin, I had cut out two eyes, two ears, a nose, and had yet to carve out the mouth. My brand-new dive knife was a “thresher knife” with a 4.75-inch blade. The leg straps made retrieving and securing the knife in the holster attached to my lower leg easy, even with wearing dive gloves. It’s not that hard to work with gloves on. My dive knife had a jagged edge, so cutting was fairly smooth. The diamond-shaped tip made it simple to pinpoint where I wanted to poke the knife in. Smacking the back of the knife was the best method of getting the knife through two inches of pumpkin. My pumpkin was complete.
Although Arjie was my dive buddy and Ashley was Craig’s dive buddy, Ashley and Arjie traded buddies and ascended together. That was a first for me: trading dive buddies underwater? NAUI never trained me for that. NAUI would never approve of that. What was I to do? I couldn’t refuse Ashley and Arjie wanting to go up, but I couldn’t leave one member of our group of four by himself. NAUI might approve of switching dive buddies underwater, but NAUI would never approve of leaving one member of a group of four behind. Should I stay with my original dive buddy Arjie and surface with him? Should I insist that all four of us stay together? Should I let Ashley and Arjie leave and stay with Craig?
Craig was obsessed. He had not one pumpkin, but three. He was digging through them at such a feverish pace, surely sucking in and draining twice as much air as I was. He was exhaling gobs of bubbles, intently and passionately staring only at his three pumpkins and the gourds that he intended to insert into one of the pumpkins as ears. Ashley and Arjie had already given the thumbs-up and were halfway to the surface. They had made my decision for me: Craig was my new dive buddy. My original dive buddy was gone. I couldn’t go after my original dive buddy and his new dive buddy. I let them go rather than join them. I did, however, wait to see them surface and start swimming towards the dock. They were safe. That’s the NAUI motto: Dive Safety through Education. Dive Safety.
I rejoined my new dive buddy, Craig, at the bottom. My pumpkin was finished, but Craig still had one to go. Craig also had wire-clippers and was clipping wire clothes-hangers to connect the gourds to the pumpkins making them secure. I could hear the sound of the metal being clipped underwater. I was down to 500 psi. 500 psi is the danger point. All divers have to end their dive at 500 psi and focus on safe return to the surface. Craig wouldn’t move an inch. He would rather run out of air rather than surface without finishing his masterpiece. His masterpiece might very well cost him his life. Nothing else existed for Craig, only his pumpkins. Nothing would get him away from his new lady for whom he had a brand-new bikini waiting on land. I tugged Craig on the arm and gave him the five-finger signal for 500 psi. He wouldn’t move his eyes away from his pumpkins. He gave me the thumbs-up signal telling me to leave and surface on my own. I wasn’t concerned about going up 40 feet alone without a dive buddy. I had done that once before when my dive buddy and I had become separated on one dive 30 years ago. At that time, instead of surfacing, I wound up in three-feet-thick kelp that almost kept me from surfacing. That’s the danger of being alone underwater. There was no kelp in this current body of water, but I couldn’t risk running out of air 40 feet down with a carving fanatic who was breathing twice as much air as I was and who was likely down to 100 psi of air. He didn’t care. Craig’s only universe was creating his new lady. He had to bring her to life. He had to have her.
I was under 500 psi at this point. That’s it. NAUI training or not, I was playing poker with my life and risked running out of air. My new dive buddy would not have air to share if I stayed. I couldn’t let a crazy man obsessed underwater prevent me from getting to the surface. We would both run out of air and we would both not be able to do anything for each other. I had to leave. I started making my ascent. This was contrary to all my dive training: dive buddies must always stay together, no exceptions. As I started ascending, I noticed that my new dive buddy had a spare air tank with him. He had extra air. He would be safe. He didn’t need me. If his current tank ran out, he could use his spare pony air tank. He had probably brought the pony along for his new lady and would likely be feeding her air on their way up; she was now his dive buddy, not me. Imagine changing dive buddies twice underwater. Crazy!
Five feet on my way up one of Craig’s three pumpkins got loose and started floating up. I caught it have swam back down to give it to him. I was at 300 psi at that point. I began resurfacing. Ten feet up, one of Craig’s gourds stuck in one of the pumpkins came loose and started floating up, too. I was able to catch that one, too, and swam down a second time to give Craig his second errant limb back. I started my third and final ascent. I was down to 200 psi. I wouldn’t catch anymore limbs if they started floating again: 200 psi was nearing a no-air underwater situation. I had that happen to me once before at 30 feet underwater. That last gulp of air is the scariest experience anyone can have. All you can do at that point is exhale and risk the bends by surfacing without a slow, off-gassing ascent clearing all the pressurized gas out of your body. Who wants to implode like a bottle of Coke all shaken up and having nowhere to go but having to get out? Danger, danger, danger! The founding member of NAUI would surely be rolling over in his underwater grave if he knew about this. You can’t play Russian Roulette with a handgun underwater since bullets don’t travel well underwater, but running out of air 30 feet underwater is like playing Russian Roulette on land with a two-shooter pistol with one bullet in it: you have a 50% of surviving and a 50% chance of not surviving. Any diver, no matter what his or her experience level and no matter how many dives he or she has can drown in just ten feet of water. The water makes the rules in the water, not the diver.
At 20 feet, I had 100 psi of air remaining. I gave one last look at Craig who was still relentlessly carving away and tending to his new lady. He couldn’t be drunk on nitrogen at 40 feet. That was only equal to one Martini’s equivalent of alcohol. Something else had taken over. Twenty feet to go and I would be at the surface. “Don’t panic. Breathe slowly,” I reminded myself. I didn’t panic and I continued breathing slowly. Ten feet underwater and I was down to 50 psi: just a few breaths left and only ten feet to go. I was almost there. Up, up. Slowly, slowly, one breath, two, three. I exhaled for the last time.
I was at the surface. I was above the water. There would be no going back for Craig. There would be no looking down to see if Craig was alright 40 feet underwater. I traded my regulator for my snorkel and started the swim 30 feet back to the dock. Craig had made his decision. I arrived back at the dock. No one was around. Ashley and Arjie had gone back to the party area up the hill away from the dock. They were not concerned. I joined up with Ashley and Arjie and told them that Craig was still underwater. Ashley said, “Dad’s always doing that; don’t worry about him.”
I went back to the dock and Craig was back with his new lady. He was fine, and he had a new girlfriend made out of pumpkin. What a dare-diver. What a nut.
We made a second dive later that day. Before the dive I looked Craig right in his eyes and said, “We’re staying together this time, right?” Craig agreed. We were the last two divers to go in that day and stayed underwater a full 41 minutes, one of the longest dives I’ve ever had. Forty-one minutes dive time is a long dive indeed. We didn’t take pumpkins this time. Instead, we bonded like soldiers in battle and stayed true to the sacred rule of diving: dive buddies are one, always. Once we surfaced, everyone in the group was gone. Their former presence was nothing but a ghost. The only reminder of their visit was the innards of the pumpkins they had carved earlier in the day strewn throughout the field. Nothing else remained. Only the whisper of the water in the background could be heard.
#Unreal #PumpkinPieTastesBetterThanSourGrapes #Folklore #Essay #PumpkinCarving #Japan #Okinawa #WashingtonDC #NorthernVirginia #Traditions #Ocean #Halloween #Underwater #Adventure #Photography #Vacation
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