Kelp Forest, Channel Islands, CA

A chance to pause and reflect on what it is I think I’m doing. Writing about myself looking at places and creatures I’m not supposed to see. Looking at myself looking at things, my favorite pasttime. The kelp sways back and forth in the current, ribbons of amber glowing with rays of sunlight that penetrate the surface of the water. A swirling sound of bubbles sounds prerecorded, canned but peaceful. The blue is that very imaginary blue that children think of when they see the sea in their mind’s eye. I think I’m the one layering artifice onto this. The camera moves separately from the current, apparently inside some kind of clear protective box, judging by the detritus stuck too close to the lens that sometimes comes into frame. A fish’s back, a stray fin just out of view, a shadowy profile in the distance that quickly disappears—the general absence is a good opportunity for me to admit that I’m trying to rid my writing of that cloying preciousness that invades when writing about animals, their secret lives and partnerships, a manufactured awe that obscures any real sense of connection or wonder and any attempts to look closely at that. It’s like the comments section in any of these streams which is filled with 10-second highlights of a seal nosing the camera or a dead black rat snake brought to a nest writhing, 10 seconds of excitement clipped from hours of monotony, and I want to say look, that’s cool, but you’re missing the point. When a fish swims through the frame and I follow it with my eyes until it disappears and I’m left bereft and searching, panicking with nothing to soak up my attention but the swaying kelp—that’s closer to the point of this, knowing all I’m missing and will miss. As if it can hear me, the stream cuts to a view of a small underwater cave surrounded by a crimson weed set to the soundtrack of loud mechanical crackling like a dial-up connection. A large fish swims by (I don’t know the names of any of the fish that might be here) with lips outlined in white like a clown, laughing at me. This clip plays several times on a loop: the red algae, the cave, the laughing fish, all crackling like a horror film, until it cuts abruptly back to the kelp forest, only now a squeegee on a timer blocks the view every few seconds, making sure we can see clearly.