Coral Gardening

Somehow, my flashbacks weren’t done with.

A coral garden. That’s the only way I can describe it. The Andrea II dive site at 9am: no one else around. Jack and I (no prizes for guessing that the girls were still sleeping) tied up Edna to the dive buoy, and jumped in.

We knew it would be special straight away. Firstly, the water was really clear. Secondly, we could see the diversity of corals from the surface. Colours and types and actual coral trees. Soft corals in Barbados were hard to find. Maybe an odd waving soft coral, or half of one. Here? A whole forest. And corals are animals not plants – so that makes this an animal forest.

It took me straight back. When I’d finished mountain climbing with my Polish grandma, Wanda, I was sent for the second part of my school holidays to Suffolk to hang out with my English grandparents. My Grandma Ivy loved a garden. We went, with my Grandpa Harry to so many gardens, We examined flowers, walked around hedges, strolled through National Trust properties.

A couple of days ago, I saw the Polish mountain chains, the łańcuchy at Buddy’s Reef. They seemed like inverted mountains with those steep coral fringing walls.

Today it was a garden. An animal garden – but still a garden. It was as though someone had gone around, saying, ‘I’ll plant this soft coral here and that one there.’

Statues of hard corals, some of them as high as a plinth, were dotted around the soft corals. And the grass was bright white sand.

We dived it quietly. Slowly. There was so much visual panorama, you couldn’t rush it. You’d look up and see a huge parrotfish in the distance – a three-foot silhouette move behind a coral tree. Then you’d turn around and see another parrotfish chewing on a piece of coral right by your leg.

A couple of times I couldn’t resist. I reached out and touched their fishy flanks. They weren’t particularly bothered. I did wonder if they might turn on me with their toothy and rock-hard mouths, but they didn’t seem to mind. Perhaps because this garden is their garden.

Counting roughly, we saw three dozen parrotfish. And this was just the rainbow kind. There were black and white ones too, and the kind who look as though they have oriental-style body paint on. This garden is nipped and crunched on by these piscine architects. Parrotfish are a delicacy in the Caribbean and are often hunted to only a few, small ones left living on a reef.

Here? Here the three-footers rule. Obviously creating a coral maze, or a kitchen sponge garden.

It’s made me think how flashbacks are funny things. I feel the things now that my grandparents were passionate about. Mountain-climbing in sneakers (mostly walking). Beautiful gardens. I carry them close to me now. In this way, love beats time. Almost.

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