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February 21, 2004
An ad on the welcome screen: a happy, bare-shouldered man and a happy, bare-shouldered woman smile at us from behind some palm fronds, with the sea in the background. And then, a poster on the train: no people, just the green jewels of islands studding the blue sea, the reefs around them a deeper blue.

Looks good.

I decide to head for the nearest big rock. As I come closer, I see the first parrot fish: turquoise and pink, with yellow rings around his eyes. And another one, mostly green and scarlet. Actually, it's a whole gang of parrots, but they ignore me, busy with the rock: I hear the sharp impact of the hard beaks for which, as well as for their colors, they are named, hammering at the tiny crevices for tinier bits of plant life to eat. Lower down on the big rock, the damsels are also at work: the juveniles, midnight blue shot with silver spots like stars; their elders, a muddy brownish-blue now, with only flat darker spots where their stars used to be. Gather ye roses while ye may, little guys, I tell them through my mask as I swim past them, it won't last.

The odd trumpet fish leads his long body with his horn-shaped nose down near the sandy floor, looking for little fish swimming in the wrong place at the right time for him, and the even odder trunkfish putts along behind him, his spiky exoskeleton too bulbous for him to keep up with the trumpet, but ample protection against any predator who might seek to take advantage of his slowness. Funny Trunkfish is perfectly safe. There is nobody down here who could peel him.

A messy pile of shells down at the bottom is really an octopus nest, and I hang above it for a long time, but I never see her. I suppose she is sleeping. I do see two sea turtles, though, a real prize, as fast and graceful in the water as their counterparts on land are slow -- people generally only see them from the back or from a distance as they swim rapidly away from us.

Someone lurks within a cave-like circle of rocks. A long, striped barracuda looks suspiciously up at me, and I do not approach him, although I know his reputation as a highwayman of the deep is undeserved. He just knows the value of a good defense. Instead, a rare lobster catches my attention: smaller than his North American counterparts, and more brightly colored, like everyone else down here except me, his claws do not seem to me to be large enough to nip anyone very badly. He waves them threateningly anyway. He is surrounded by a field of little rocks and brain corals, from among which peek the tips of black urchin spines. I have never received a sea urchin spine in my own flesh, but it can ruin your day. If you are ever stung by an urchin, do this: get out of the water and pee on the puncture. Truth.

Down here, it is another planet. If you think God has done a good job on the birds, you should see the fish. It is time to go, I suppose; Syosset is the next stop. I turn and swim for the beach. My knees hit the sand, and I turn over to sit and take off my flippers, rinse off my mask. I walk across the warm sand to where my winter coat and hat, my woolen shawl lie in a pile. Just where I left them.
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