I knew it from the moment she was born she was no ordinary human. The midwife had worked with me through 22 hours of labor to honor my wishes for natural childbirth. Once born, my baby girl was placed in a tub of warm water and “floated”. I don’t know why the midwife did that, but it started something. As a young child, I pretty much just showed her the water. Nature did the rest.
Fast forward 12 years.
I had been there countless times, but this was Jelly’s first trip to the island of Kuaui. The ocean was calling to her. It was calling me too. Once the plane landed, we picked up our rental car and headed to rent snorkel gear. We were in the water before sunset.
Our first encounter was a sea turtle which she swam behind for a good long time. But the sun was falling and that meant feeding time for the most dangerous of sea inhabitants. We considered that swimming behind shark food in the failing light might not be the best idea. That didn’t scare her one bit. She was comfortable in that environment and had traveled a long way to answer the call of the sea.
The next week was filled with island adventures. We hiked, ate locally-made ice cream and enjoyed the visual paradise that is Kuaui. But the water remained the main focus of our trip. And she wanted to see “bigger” fish.
“Okay, let’s go into open water. But remember what we talked about.” She nodded, and looked at me like I was ridiculous.
The End of the Road is a place near the famous Tunnels, which is perfect for swimming, snorkeling and even surfing further offshore. But we were there for the twisting, turning cave-like paths that are natural in the reef existing just offshore under the blue water’s surface. Those underwater pathways were home to countless beautiful, colorful fish, such that your mind cannot imagine. I loved it there, and wanted to share it with her.
Having delivered my instruction on swimming in very shallow water atop sharp coral to get to the open water that lie on the other side, we both began to swim. Past countless sea turtles and fish, we headed for an area where the reef dropped sharply into the ocean and revealed a mass of open sea. Once there, we just backed up against the reef and watched all kinds of creatures swim past us. This was where the big fish hung out. We buried our faces in the water and breathed through the snorkel. Always, I was amazed at what nature presented in that spot.
As we watched the sea around us, a shadow cast darkness on the white sand below caught my attention. It was big. I knew in an instant it was a shark, and not the friendly kind that make you want to stick around and watch it dart at small fish. This was a “we should get out of the water” type.
I turned my head to my daughter, taking careful note of her reaction as it came closer to us. There she was, back to the reef, breathing calmly, and grinning ear to ear. No fearful reaction. No heavy breathing. She exuded calm, and that calmed me too.
That shark was a bull. A first shark siting for her, and the first time I’d been aware of being in the water with that type. It glided past us. True to her nature, she just turned, kept smiling and waited for it to pass. We signaled to each other to head back over the reef to safer waters. We were among many turtles and it was attracting hunters. Fear or no fear, common sense dictated we should not overstay our welcome.
Sometime that night, I woke up with thoughts about that shark, and other past experiences with my daughter that left me in awe. I thought about the time she crossed the acres of lawn surrounding our house to the field beyond where a local farmer’s cows were fenced. Standing on the stump of a felled tree, she somehow gathered 100 head of cattle and held their attention. She stood there at eye level with those animals, lecturing them about not hanging out so close to the house, as that was bringing too many flies around.
Other animals responded to her too. Dogs that barked at me, threatening bites, would come to her licking her hands, tails wagging. At state fairs, visiting the “big cats” was always the same. Tigers, lions, panthers – no matter the breed. The monster felines would come stand right in front of us, gazing at my daughter. Others would crowd around trying to take the animal’s attention, but never to any avail. Wild or tame, they connected with her.
I struggle to understand her natural abilities. It is a gift I cannot open, as it was not meant for me. Through the years, I have learned to trust her gift.
As for our future snorkeling and diving expeditions together, they will not be preceded by lectures or lessons from mom. I will feel comfortable swimming by her side. I will continue to watch intently at the way the animals at the zoo and fair respond to her. And I will feel blessed to be in her presence, just as they seem to be.
From the beginning, I knew she was something special. She just has a way about her.