Welcome to my first blog post in “Geeking Out with Deb.”
I’m so glad that you are here! Let’s start our journey together by visiting one of my favorite spots. This is an area relatively close to shore, but you do need to swim to it underwater. That’s all fine of course, because, well, we’re merpeople. Let’s slowly and gracefully descend together to about 20 feet below the surface of the water. Remember to breathe – it’s magical to breathe underwater.
Welcome to this mermaid’s garden – isn’t it beautiful? It belongs to everybody. Down here in mermaid land, everything is shared. I took this picture off the shores of Jamestown, Rhode Island. Just imagine about 100 square feet of boulders just carpeted with these creatures, creating this beautiful garden. Every surface, every crevice, above you, below you, in front of you. You can barely find any bare rock.
Of course, some of you may know that I’m using the word “garden” incorrectly, because a garden has plants and … (insert dramatic pause here, wink wink) … these are not plants!
Do you see those yellow tubular things with the openings surrounded by bright yellow rims? Those are animals! The orangish/salmon colored things that look a little like asters? Animals! The globular whitish things with the little dots? Yup – Animals! The white starlike things in the bottom left? Also animals! The brownish muck-like stuff that fills in all the rest of the area? Not a trick question. Yes – also animals!!! Everything in this picture is an animal! Sooooooooo cool!
As we travel more together in the future, we will visit with each of these animals, and many more … and we’ll learn about them and get to know them. It will be beautiful, fun, and geeky! The more we learn about these fellow animals who live on this ocean planet with us, the more amazing it gets!
As I was thinking about this topic and about how this area looks like a garden, I remembered the famous Beatles’ song “Octopus’s Garden.” I googled “Octopus’s garden” and found lots of images and videos. Some were official Beatles’ images for the song – cheerful and colorful. I noticed two things immediately. First, all of these pictures showed mostly animals and very few plants. Second, the “garden” images were from tropical reefs. Tropical reefs get most of the publicity! We are New England merpeople! It is time for us to stand up (or swim down) for our New England oceans. Our home oceans do not get the publicity they deserve. Speaking of octopuses’ gardens, did you know that we actually have octopuses here in New England? I’m not just referring to the one’s you’ve seen at the New England or Mystic Aquariums, but living in our oceans. I have not personally seen one, but I hope to meet one someday and share a New England “octopus’s garden” with you. In case anyone is wondering, and so that any comments do not devolve into one of those spelling/grammar arguments that have no place in mermaid land, I did look up the proper word and spelling for the plural and possessive forms of the word “octopus”, and apparently, octopuses is the currently accepted plural word, but I won’t bet my fins on it. I’m sure there are many who will still insist on octopi or some other Greek or Latin variant that goes beyond this blog and, frankly, it makes no difference what you choose to call them because any conversation that involves multiple octopuses must be so cool that we certainly wouldn’t waste our time in a grammar debate.
All of that aside, we have so many adventures to go on together. Let’s get back to the pretty picture! While this picture is not of a garden, I do promise to take you to real underwater New England gardens and meadows with actual plants during our future journeys (yes, we even have meadows underwater). For now, let’s get back to the animals that look like plants!
I am absolutely fascinated by these animals. They are part of the reason that I am a wannabee New England mermaid. There are not nearly as many New England mermaids as there are tropical mermaids. There are so many tropical mermaid wannabees – that gets almost cliché! Those tropical mermaids do not represent their cold-water cousins. Most notably, here in New England, we need to wear more clothes underwater! We also come in a much more diverse style of shapes and sizes – and we are completely non-judgmental about that! Diversity is beautiful. We do not need to be tall and work hard to stay slender. We get to eat more cupcakes!
Ah yes, cupcakes … and pizza … and ice cream. There are so many goodies that many of us New Englanders enjoy during the cold winter. Every New England mermaid knows that our neoprene clothes seem to shrink over the winter, and we don’t worry too much about that – we can all use a little extra natural insulation around here in the early season. If you do increase your natural insulation and find it challenging to put on your neoprene mermaid outfit, aka wetsuit, do not fret. I have personal experience with this issue and know the solution. Simply find a friend who can help you with the zipper while you inhale and suck in your insulation. It’s just like zipping up a slightly over-stuffed suitcase –find a close friend who will help (and if you do not have a close friend nearby, you will have a new close-friend after asking for help, so choose wisely!).
Yes, those tropical mermaids tend to worry far too much about fitting into their clothes – if they even bother to wear clothes at all! Yes, you may frequently see topless tropical mermaids. There is nothing wrong with that, but this is generally a PG-rated blog, and you are very unlikely to see topless New England mermaids. Did I say PG? Well, mostly PG. There will be sex in future blogs! Yes – sex! Are you interested now? These marine creatures definitely engage in quite a bit of amorous behavior!
I seem to have digressed. I think that’s okay with mermaids. They seem to just go with the flow, wherever their brains and the currents take them. Let’s get back to the reason that I love these New England marine invertebrates so much. We can choose to enjoy what is available to us. I love scuba diving, New England is my home, and I am not one of those mermaids who has discovered treasure (which would pay for a lot of dive vacations). If I want to dive a lot (and I do!), then I dive at home in New England.
Learning to love that which is around us is, in this mermaid’s opinion, one of the keys to happiness. Why limit ourselves to loving and yearning for dives that are out of reach or can only happen occasionally? Yes, let’s love those too – yet “too” is the key word here. We have often heard it said that people protect what they love. (Please bear with me as I am going to overlap my thoughts a bit with the “Ocean Musings” portion of this site, but that’s okay – we can break the rules – mermaids can be rebels, or at least flexible). As I was saying, people tend to protect what they love. That is why education about the oceans is so important. We know that people easily fall in love with dolphins, so they want to protect them. That often leads to wanting to protect the obvious areas where dolphins live. Let’s fall in love with the creatures right off of our shores – and not only the adorable seals (though of course we love them!), but also the fish, the snails, the sponges, the lobsters and crabs. When we fall in love with these creatures, and we share this love with others, more people will fall in love with our New England waters and want to protect them too!
Some people will dive in New England and say that they have seen nothing of interest. They know not what they have missed! I have learned that the more I know about what I am looking at, the more I enjoy my diving. It is no different than exploring on land. When I wander in the woods, some days it is wonderful to simply enjoy the big picture and not focus on the details. Some days I choose to examine individual things that I see, and the more I know about them, the more interesting those adventures become.
When floating over a tropical reef, sometimes it is wonderful to just take it all in – and not get caught up in the details. Other times, it’s fun to stop and watch an individual creature, large or small, and learn about it’s identity and behavior. In New England, we don’t have as many opportunities to see large underwater vistas. The key to enjoyment is learning about what we do see. But yes, we do still have vistas. When I come upon a wall of boulders like the one in the picture, I love to gaze upon it and take in the overall beauty. I love to gaze up from the depths, following the magnificent, graceful lines of the seaweeds, and see the sunbeams come through the surface of the water. I could do this for as long as my air and my dive buddy would allow. I also love to stop and watch the individual creatures that I have the joy of spending time with, in their home. I know that this mermaid, despite my wishes, cannot live there forever but can only visit. So let’s continue to visit together and see what we can learn.