The sunset that night does not spread itself out like a stain across the sky; it does not explode into great symphonies of crimson and mango but remains strangely minimalist, like a Japanese flag, a simple red disk descending beyond the Pacific. Our boat captain signals its primal retreat with the call of a conch shell and on its note we prepare our own descent into the waters below.
On our journey out to this spot, earlier that afternoon, just off the black lava cliffs that edge the Kona airport, a troop of dolphins had raced our hull, breaking away to leap and spin in the air like exclamation points to the anticipation that we all shared staring out over the bow. For we were going out to night dive with manta rays, a major notch on any diver’s bedpost; an experience that defied comparison I had been told, that was “of an other world.”
“Mantas are most commonly black dorsally and white ventrally, but some are blue on their backs. A manta’s eyes are located at the base of the cephalic lobes on each side of the head, and unlike other rays the mouth is found at the anterior edge of its head. To respire, like other rays, the manta has five pairs of gills on the underside…Distinctive “horns” (from which the common name Devil ray stems) are on either side of its broad head. These unique structures are actually derived from the pectoral fins. During embryonic development, part of the pectoral fin breaks away and moves forward, surrounding the mouth. This gives the manta ray the distinction of being the only jawed vertebrate to have novel limbs … These flexible horns are used to direct plankton, small fish and water into the manta’s very broad and wide mouth. The manta can curl them to reduce drag while swimming.”
We have placed lanterns on the ocean floor within a tight square of rocks. Like a campfire around which 20 of us will swim down to and sit, each with our own torch shining up towards the surface; meanwhile, a handful of snorkelers circle above us, they too baring torches that they shine down, all of this creating a concentrated single column of light amidst the fathoms of black. Into this column swarms plankton, the moths of the deep, tricked into the worship of a false god, they in turn become the evening’s sacrifice as we summon our own winged spirits.
And they come, appearing like phantoms from above, like the bat signal over Gotham, soaring in and out of the light and then, suddenly, they are directly in our circle, two rays spanning 8 and 10 feet across swoop down, at times mere inches away, their wide gaping mouths all but swallowing us up along with their microscopic prey. So eerie in the glow of the torches, our campfire ghost stories come alive. And yet they are gentle, nonthreatening, even delicate in the way their hulking bodies navigate the space. At one point the larger of the two begins swimming in grand backward vertical loops, to such an extent that one could almost begin to believe that it was for our benefit.
Our two species make strange bedfellows, and yet there is an amiable exchange between us: an easier night’s meal traded up for a glimpse into a different realm; Never has the world seemed more alien to me and yet at the same time never have I felt more aware of its wider plan. To be a stranger in this world and realize that it is not ours. To be the humbled guest in another creature’s sphere. And so, with our tanks at half, we bid farewell and kick back out into the jet black depths.
Photos (hopefully) to follow. In the meantime, makai.makai’s collection of videos on Flickr does a damn good job of capturing the surreality of the evening. For more info, rates etc. check out Jack’s Diving Locker
“This collection of screen shots from over 250 news sites around the world was taken on Sep 11 and 12, 2001. We hope the archive will serve the education of the online news industry and further its quality. Our logs tell us that it also has helped historians, researchers, students, teachers, journalists and many others.”
I stumbled upon the above image while researching a project that I am currently working on for a youth organization based out of Rwanda (Note: the above image is not in the least related to or suggestive of the direction that I am going on that project. Think complete 180°). I guess Boing Boing threw this photo into the blog feedpen a couple of years back causing a bit of a frenzy and inciting a number of very wrongly assumed explanations for why this man is standing in the middle of the street with a chained up hyena for a pet (a particular favourite caption was that he is a debt collector; another alluded to undisputed “badassitude”).
The photograph is one in a series by Pieter Hugo called The Hyena Men of Nigeria. Turns out that the subject is a member of a group of entertainers from Nigeria, who travel across the country with three hyenas, two pythons and four monkeys. As innocent as that sounds (well, more innocent than the debt collector scenario at any rate) I can’t get over the apocalyptic vision that is composed in these shots. Totally surreal.
Other work by Hugo can be found here.
A current favourite online visit, Bryan Finoki’s Subtopia is a discourse on military urbanism, the architecture of occupation and oppression, and the overarching question of why we, as humans, have it in our nature to build walls between ourselves.
To give you an idea of the subject matter, a recent entry features Jonathan Olley’s stark, haunting photos of Northern Ireland’s police stations, barracks and watchtowers; structures from a troubled past that are quickly disappearing to progress; to be too readily forgotten rather than stand as a reminder/memorial of how very wrong the world can sometimes turn.
“While [these] photos are evidence of a distinctly terrorized Irish landscape the more frightening truth about them for me is that they could almost be, in so many regards, the filmic traces of any number of places around the world today.
If we were just to focus on the brutish walls and violent features of defensive accouterment, it wouldn’t be that inconceivable to mistake N. Ireland for, say, parts of Jerusalem or Gaza, or even Johannesburg, maybe downtown Manilla for that matter – possibly a neighborhood in central Egypt or Lebanon; conflicted places which are facing some of their own most cruel histories with political walls and entangled battle urbanism still today.”
“The first video news I watched on a cellphone was a smoke signal. I saw it in the back of a cab. The Pope had died, and CNN had its cameras trained on the chimney over St. Peter’s Square. Viewers were told to expect white smoke when the cardinals had elected his replacement.
The sight of this primitive signal on a screen the size of a Saltine in a taxi in New York City was mind-blowing. I peered into the machine in my hand. I could make out the image. I could understand it. It needed no translation.”
Can inspiration occur after the fact? Yesterday’s post, the first in a new series entitled “Art I Pass By On My Way To Work” could very well have been born from a website that I stumbled upon today. Written On The City, a project by the troublemakers over at Language In Common “celebrates the conversation that’s happening on the walls and sidewalks of the places we live.”