As air fades to liquid, we are cradled by the crystal clarity of spring water.
Masked ninjas fluently fly by, suspended in what appears to be thin air. Most wave a friendly hello as they effortlessly squeeze through tight limestone tunnels, following guidelines into the darkness.
These mesmerizing tunnels extend for miles. Carved by the greatest sculptor, their intricacies are unparalleled – tirelessly weaving its way through the passageways, water ever so slightly shapes everything in its path - drop by drop, gallon by gallon, day by day.
We are suspended in the water that will soon appear at the downstream springs – before it appears at the vent, it winds through the puzzle-like underworld that forms the world’s most amazing (and perhaps most advanced) playground. It's time to play.
Pushing our way through the flow, I clutch my camera. Kick, pull, kick pull along the left side of the wall after our initial descent into the cave. I breathe slowly and steadily but can feel my heartbeat increasing as I push against the invisible force that is doing its best to expel me from its rocky home. Finally we duck out of the flow, as we arrive at the Catacombs – time to play with light.
We station the four lights like torches in the hallway of a medieval castle. But instead of illuminating eerie stone walls and suits of tarnished armor, we illuminate the aquifer. Harry helps me set up the lights in a way that brightens the walls in a magnificent pattern – his years of experience and thousands of dives have taught me so much and this dive is no exception.
As I set up the camera and peer through the viewfinder, I feel an overwhelming sense of happiness – I can feel the excitement flowing through my veins like the water rushing through the catacombs and miles of caves that surround me. But it’s a different type of excitement – it’s a calm, collected feeling of ultimate relaxation. It's my form of meditation.
It’s practically impossible to imagine that 65 feet away, there is a rambunctious party – country music blares, monster trucks rev their engines, and the crisp sound of a freshly opened beer accompanies laughter and singing. It is the middle of a sweltering summer afternoon, yet as we switch off the lights, it is pitch black. Despite our apparent proximity to a raging party, the world is silent. Hidden below your feet, we are weightless and free at an underwater disco. Reflections of light dance to the rhythm of runaway bubbles and we swim to the sound of silence.
Recounting this story is serving as my Monday morning meditation - as I scroll through and edit my photos, I can practically feel the crisp spring water on my face. As I fell asleep last night, I could see divers floating around behind my eyelids, suspended in a dark night sky. While the caves are beautiful and exotic, they are also incredibly dangerous without the proper training - but whether you relax and reflect by the ocean, on the river, in the springs, or in a hammock by a lake, it doesn't matter... any water is wonderful for a morning meditation.
Also, this week marks exactly three years since I packed up the Prius and drove 22 hours south to Gainesville. I planned on staying until I could find a way to move closer to the ocean. If you had asked me 5 years ago what I would be doing now, I never would have said cave diving or studying freshwater, only ocean diving and marine biology. Now, I wouldn't trade my freshwater world for anything and can't imagine what life would be like without the amazing people I have met and places I have been during the past 3 years - it has been an incredible adventure, thank you!