I’m relatively new to snorkeling. I’ve only done it three times: twice in Mission Bay in San Diego and once at Devil’s Den in Florida. I yearn to snorkel in tropical, warm waters where fluorescent-colored fish dart among the neon coral, but for now, I must content myself with the taupe and maroon colors found in our local bay. Here are my reflections on a recent trip.

The water is ice-cold as I slide in, but somewhat refreshing on my scalding skin. Just after I secure my mask and mouthpiece and float dead-man style, there’s an instant of panic where I think I can’t breathe. Then realize I can.

There’s something so completely insular — and comforting in the isolation — of propelling myself along the bay, even if my friend’s pink-flippered feet are just out of my peripheral vision, blocked by the blue of my mask. I am alone in this nearly silent underworld.

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We spend so much time above the surface, and think we know the ocean, based on appearances. It appears calm, or rough and choppy. It appears a single thing. But the truth is, it is myriad worlds. Just in a 30 minute survey of the rocks that line the bay, I discover stray sea anemones (I like tripping over the pronunciation of that word) dancing to a beat only they hear. Long coarse seagrass murkily and somewhat drearily waves at me from a large patch on the ocean floor where I’m quick to kick my feet to pass over.

Occasionally a school of nearly translucent fish sway by, with no particular agenda and no interest in the large creature who stares as they pass. A good-sized fish with dark brown mottles darts in between the algae-encrusted rocks. We hear there are garibaldi, a bright orange member of the damselfish family, nearby. I like saying damselfish. I’m the first to spot one and come up to wave my friends over. This one seems to be hanging out on his front porch, a cute cave with a great view of the seagrass. Prime real estate. I wonder what he paid, and if real estate is as valuable below the sea as it is above. Later I spot a pair of garibaldi, but they vanish before anyone else see them. Ghostfish.

The temperature of the water fluctuates. In some places, it’s as warm as pee (and very well could be, with the groups of children in the area) and in others as cold as iced sweet tea on a hot Southern day. I’m like a stingray (heard those were present as well, but no sightings from me) happily wriggling in the water, absorbing the filtered sun that sneaks in among the murk.