Friday, July 24, 2009

Rays, Part One

On the last day of our cruise, our Great White Whale of a ship was shouldering its way through the northern portion of the Sargasso Sea.

Evening was coming, and the ship was a bustle of different events and activities. There was last-night-bingo, in which someone was absolutely certain-tively guaranteed to win up to $2,500 dollars. The casino was glistening and clanking and chiming away in all it's neon crackhead glory. The mini-mall in the belly of the ship was offering special sale prices on everything. The buffets were pouring out their bottomless cornucopia of calories. The bars were pitching something called a "Coco Loco," and for those of us who prefer gin and tonic, the G&T's were a good 20 ounces, and at about a 50/50 ratio. I'm fairly sure those folks who created that quinine-based drink as an antimalarial tonic did not originally intend to kill the mosquitoes by getting them drunk and having them pick fights with dragonflies.

The ship was a wild whirlwind of bright distractions for every possible appetite. Of the three thousand souls on the ship, almost none had their eyes turned to the great ocean that stretched from horizon to horizon around us.

Outside, the sea was strikingly still. The surface of the water was gently undulating, disturbed only by the 170,000 ton object churning past. It was flecked by patches of floating seaweed. This isn't the goopy green stuff, but Sargassum, the fecund brownish organic matrix that gives this portion of the Atlantic its name.

From our balcony, my oldest son and I watched that glossy sea drift by, as we took a respite from the phantasmagorical feast offered on board. With the colors of sky and sea shifting towards the end of the day, and a cool wind flowing across the balcony, it was a needed moment of stillness.

From twelve stories up above the water, I saw motion, a splash of silvery dots flinging themselves into the air away from the ship, away from the great terrible thing that had disturbed their world. Look, I was about to say to the big guy. Flying Fish! What an amazing eye I have, thought I.

But he said, instead, "Dad! A Manta Ray!"

And there it was, perhaps ten yards from the side of the ship, as big as a dining room table, inscrutably, marvelously alien as it fed at the surface of the deep blue water two hundred miles from shore.

It passed to stern in a few moments, and was gone.

It's amazing what you can see when you're not distracted.