April 12, 2015
Anytime we explore something new or different, we are opening Doors to Life. Leading us Somewhere, or to Something. Learning New things. Going where No One has gone before.
The conversation in the cockpit the other day went something like this.
"So, how did you enjoy the Tektite Museum?" asked Wendy.
"Oh I absolutely loved it" I replied, with the biggest smile. "It was, the whole concept is, fascinating"
I'm a fan of the mysterious. Conspiracy theories are sometimes fun to investigate. I love Science Fiction. Which segued us into a conversation about the new Star Trek movies, which led me to pronounce with absolute passion,
"If Star Fleet academy existed today, in the real world, I would have been first in line to enroll!!" Which then led us to count how many of us could do the "Live Long And Prosper" Vulcan hand salute, made famous by Leonard Nemoy in Star Trek.
Extra-terrestrial exploration. The psychology of culture, the interaction of societies and people. Experiments such as the Bio-Sphere. And Project Tektite.
"I mean, who knew that this underwater experiment was happening at almost the same time as Man first Landed on the Moon" I continued, rather excited to recount our adventures while in Lameshur Bay (St John, USVI).
"These aquanauts made history by staying underwater for 58 days. And did you know that it took them 19 days of decompression time before they could return to their lives on land" I continued, on a roll. "Why, Golly Gee Whiz, that's almost 1/3 of their total time underwater! And yet why is it that not many know of this, or better yet, could name these brave and intrepid Men?" I asked. "Why everyone knows the names of the Astronauts that made the First Landing on the Moon!! Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Lightyear".
And then loud laughter erupted which shall probably forever have my name etched in the Hilarious Hall of Memories. I think it was sunrise by the time we all stopped laughing at my faux pas (and I will be the first to admit that there may have been a couple of rum punches involved).
And the conversation turned to how I was obviously not a child of the 60's era like my fellow cockpit friends sitting beside me (all of us still giggling!).
"You were barely 2 1/2 when man landed on the moon" said Izzy. And today as I redo the mental math, realize that no, I was not even yet 2 !!
I was too young to be aware of the politics of that time frame, of the turbulence and changes brought on by those years, of the Kennedy's and the others, how history grew by leaps and bounds and Races to be The First. I may have studied certain significant events while in school, perhaps retained the knowledge in some instances past the day of the exam, but that certainly did not give me the memories that I might have had had I sat, like Izzy described, with eyes peeled at the sky imagining in wonderment at the spacecraft flying to the moon, or perhaps watched, on black and white T.V., as Dave recounted, the step by step footsteps into the future that were being made.
So back to Buzz Lightyear, a fictional cartoon character of Pixar's Toy Story fame, who was actually based on the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin. And how does this somehow congruently happen and correlate with the four, rather unknown men, who on February 15, 1969, descended into the beautiful crystal clear waters in Great Lameshur Bay, to begin a 60 day experiment, that was, linked to the race to space.
To live underwater they needed a home. And the Underwater Habitat, designed and built by General Electric,
for these scientists-in-the-sea, whose mission since they had chosen to accept it uniform and all,
included the study on the individual and group dynamics, and their work habits, over a "long period and hazardous environment".
"Maybe they had never heard of two people living in 40 feet of space called Banyan" I jokingly said to Dave.
They called this home Tektite.
"Tektites are gravel-size, composed of black, green, brown or gray natural glass formed from terrestrial debris ejected during extraterrestrial impacts"
"Tektites can often rain down on Earth when asteroids or comets collide with our Earth, and are made up of melted terrestrial rock".
So they are not UFO in origin. Too bad. There goes my conspiracy theory.
The Habitat looked like two large silos,
joined by a tunnel in the middle and the whole thing resting on top of a large rectangular base from where they emerged to study the murky depths where their home lay.
The circular doorways were bound by large grill fences in order to keep out the beasts of the deep.
And so, on a hike that morning, we followed the road and turned left into the woods, the only knowledge that this was the way to go, thanks to our friends Catherine and Henry, who had been there before and showed us the rather hidden entrance.
Before long we emerged into an opening, somewhat resembling a boy scout camp. Cottages that had, way back when been built in a 24 hour timeframe by the Navy SeaBees, and kind of reminded me of the M*A*S*H compound.
There was a bit of a Time Warp going on here. Seeing the abandoned car of back then laying beside a growing garden of green lettuce that might be served up for lunch,
that is today, all part of the VIERS (Virign Islands Environmental Resource Station) Museum.
As we entered, the sign asked us to turn on all the lights, and upon exiting, turn them all off. As the lights flickered on and illuminated the hallway, the photos emerged to recognizable images as we began our walkthrough.
Stopping to absorb the information, smiling at the oldness and frailty of the newspaper clippings, magazine covers,
the personal letters etc, all dating to 1969,
in typical old school typewriter font and complete with images of what must have been, back then, quite an alien world to imagine, and explore.
Even looking at this apparatus, a rebreather, they had me questioning whether I would have felt comfortable using it for experiment type purposes.
Project Tektite 2 included ten missions carried out in the 1970's, one of the missions was actually an all-female team, that interestingly enough outperformed the men's team in all areas of their mission.
"Their superb performance paved the way for routine inclusion of female aquanauts in future undersea missions and female astronauts in space missions"
There was a third Project Tektite, but it all fell apart due to lack of government funding. And so the Tektite was taken to Fort Mason in San Francisco where it became a museum showpiece. In 1980 the Habitat was fully restored, and actually certified to be used underwater, however, due to lack of funding, it all stopped there.
In 1991 it was disassembled and the metal recycled.
And what were some of the conclusions? Too many to note, but I did smile when I read that the dinner meal, lasting sometimes as long as three hours, was a "source of relaxation, work planning, and group interaction. The crew often performed housekeeping tasks that had not been assigned".
"The aquanauts feld a strong need to escape into the water, but felt that the habitat was home and security."
It truly is amazing what you see when looking through the windows of time, learning about things you didn't know you didn't know.
Amazing people doing amazing things in amazing places.
Just to note, for personal interest, the first four aquanauts in Tektite 1 were Ed Clifton, Conrad Mahnken, Richard Waller and John VanDerwalker. One woman, Syliva Earle, applied to to be part of Tektite 1, who was interestingly enough more qualified than any of the men, was rejected. However, she was later hired to head the all female team in Tektite 2, along with Renata True, Alina Szmant, and Margaret Ann Lucas.
April 10, 2015
In the Caribbean countries a Jumbee is a type of spirit. To escape from being possessed by this evil shapeshifting entity, you should consider walking past a river, or a pond (would sailing on an ocean do?) as legend has it that Jumbees cannot follow you over water.
We made our way to the salt pond, well hidden just behind the beautiful idyllic white sand beach lined with palm trees.
The sense of foreboding of something creepy should have assaulted our senses by this point, somewhat like the pervasive smell that assaulted our nostrils as we hiked in the afternoon heat, every inhale akin to walking through a hot fish market perhaps.
This area is, believe it or not, below sea level, and as such water (from the breaking surf perhaps) collects here. With the intense sun and heat, it would begin to evaporate leaving behind some real sea salt crystals, free for the scooping.
"Look guys", I said, "Let's collect some salt" perhaps a bit excitedly, as my eyes scanned the edges of the murky looking pond, except that what I thought was salt,
was disappointingly not. Perhaps it's just as well, as we didn't quite like the look of the quite ugly looking mud where the salt would have collected, much less sprinkling any of this white stuff over food we might be serving.
The wind blew a gusty gust, and the salty foam that had gathered there just wispily blew away and disappeared over the flatlands.
The bed of water had an eerie reddish to dirty brown hue,
probably a result of the red algae on the seabed bottom, as the water, if you approached the pond, was quite clear to look through.
Quite pretty all of it, in a mystical and magical and eerie sort of way.
We hiked on following the trail,
in the heat of the afternoon sun, the otherworldly silence sometimes broken by the birds sweeping their way across the calm pond. Our noses full of the odd smell, our eyes saturated with the strange colours.
We reached the end of the trail and the wind instantly slammed us backwards in greeting.
As if to say, beware, all yee who enter here.
The rugged nature of this coastline a sharp contrast to the calm and tranquility we had just walked through.
The shoreline is littered with boulders and rocks and coral and perhaps even some flotsam, no swimming or wading through the water here.
But, wait. There's some else. Something that takes a moment for your eyes to adjust to.
Do you see them?
Allow your eyes to focus for a moment,
and you start to see things.
And at first you question yourself, saying, hmm, did I just see that?
And this ?
A haphazard collection of corals merging into a form, a shape?
Jumbee's are known to be shapeshifters.
And you may have read earlier that they cannot cross water,
the salt pond probably keeping them at bay,
as they lie here on the beach, waiting for unsuspecting visitors to come their way so they can enter your body and take possession.
There are large shapes,
even some Erotic ones?
Teeny little ones.
Look, but don't touch as Jumbees have a habit of taking on animal like shapes,
or perhaps disguised as turtles,
with a pretty shell.
in the hopes that if you touched them, they could merge into your body and take hold of you...
As we walked away from the area, smiling and laughing at our discovery, we were also a little spooked.
And so, "just in case" we made sure to walk pas Salt Pond Bay, just in case some evilness was wanting to follow us home.
Or perhaps it's just Drunk Bay Art??