It’s all too easy to find fault and I seem to make it a habit. Although my friend Nynke would probably say it’s not an either or question. She finds interesting things where ever she goes and then is perfectly happy to move on. She’s simply mobile and rarely malcontent. But Nynke is a rare person. She called from Australia sometime last year and casually mentioned she had a little trouble on a scuba dive. The cave she was exploring, deep in the ocean, became too narrow to turn around. She had to remove her tank to do a claustrophobic summersault so she could backtrack out of the cave. Right there, I would not be doing well. No wait, I wouldn’t swim into any narrow, dark tunnel in the first place. And please, the person who swam into the cave ahead of her had already mentioned the caves were the favorite haunts of Wobbegong sharks so I know I’d have something different to do that day.
The sharks grow up to nine feet long and when they bite will not let go. Which definitely adds insult to injury, a shark that bites viciously is terrifying, but Wobbegongs clamp on and then what, go to sleep? One article says they “are harmless unless trapped in a cave and cannot get out.” Nynke knew all that before she lay pressed to the floor of a cave so narrow she could not turn around in it. And she was still working out what to do with her scuba tank as a fully grown Wobbegong shark wriggled over the top of her to get out of the cave. At the first glimpse of the shark's strange bearded face, I’d have hyperventilated the rest of my air out of the tank, but of course I would never be there.
The point of Nynke’s story was about how narrow the passage was, not the fact that she had the guts to go in there knowing about the sharks and had managed to stay calm enough to let a great big one squeeze over her after they met face to face. She relayed the challenge of simply turning around to me, because it was complicated by having to remove her tank. For Nynke there was never any cause to fear the impossibility of completing the maneuver with a stubborn shark locked onto a limb because her imagination doesn’t run wild when she meets monsters in dark underwater caves. She really isn’t like the rest of us. I thought about her shark adventures, the tango with the Wobbegong being only one of them, because it rained all day and the only thing I bothered to do was husk a coconut and think about going somewhere else.