Marshall H. Hawkins
Marshall Hawkins is a marine biology major from Fort Worth, TX. While at Texas A&M University in Galveston, Marshall has earned certifications from open water through cavern diver. As part of his Scholarship, Marshall spent 4 weeks in Bermuda in the summer of 2008 assisting with the Bermuda Cave Conservation Expedition. He plans to graduate in December 2009, and below is an excerpt from his time in Bermuda….
I can say without exaggeration that my time spent in Bermuda was one of the most important, greatest things that I have done with my life. It was such a step out of my personal comfort zone, to join a teacher on a lengthy research expedition in a foreign country. It turned out to be a great adventure, and is something I will never forget.
To say that my trip was an experience would be an incredible understatement. I got to see things that people never see, and most people never will again. Crystal Cave is off-limits to divers as it is, and to be able to explore areas in there was something I can brag about. While other friends and old schoolmates were doing the cliché thing of studying in Europe, I was under the planet, seeing truly remarkable things.
My first ever cave dive was as exciting as my first breath underwater using a scuba unit. When I tell people about how I was “swimming” through holes in rock not much bigger than myself, banging my tank against rock just trying to make my way through a passage, I can’t help but smile as their faces widen with shock, and explain to me that there is no way they could ever do that. Besides, how many of them have named a part of the earth? (If Terrence keeps his word/remembers, then there will be a room/section on the updated map of Crystal Cave named “Forest Fire”, a name that I coined.)
I also haven’t worked NEAR that hard since I was in drumline in high school, and even then, I wasn’t carrying 40-50 pound air tanks through the sweltering jungle while wearing a wetsuit and Underarmor. But the neatest part of that? I enjoyed it. A lot, actually. I mean, you can only enjoy being that sweaty and hot and dirty for so long, but in the end, I know I was a better person because of the work I put in. Plus, all that time in the sun, I’m pretty sure I reached the maximum darkness my skin would allow. My English ancestry only gets that so far, unlike Jenny the Cajun who doesn’t even burn.
I had some non-work related adventures as well. I got to go to Horseshoe Bay beach, supposedly one of the top ten beaches in the entire world. And even there, amongst the huge crowds, I found adventure for myself. I was crawling through more holes in rocks, climbing up monolithic rocks, dodging waves that rushed in, just to have an adventure by myself to see how far the beach went. Plus I took a number of pictures from that adventure that prompted people to put those pictures on their wall, and others to announce that they now wanted to visit Bermuda. Then there was the day when Rick Simon, another of Terrence’s assistants, and I went to Hamilton, and it started raining, and we had to drive around (and inevitably get lost) on a scooter in the torrential rain.
I also got to do some deep and blue water dives as well, dives that I had never been able to do until then. Blue water dives, which are dives in the blue waters of the open ocean, were quite exhilarating indeed. The schools of large fish (fish of size comparable to myself), more variety of fish, and of course the appearance of a school of barracuda, made that a tense and beautiful dive. You don’t grasp the scale of the ocean until you see fish your size far off in the distance look tiny. Then there was the nitrogen narcosis, which, although a very serious concern, made my dive on the Argus Tower at around 110’ deep, seem like the most epic moment of my life. Everything looked mammoth. According to Terrence, I had been in cave rooms bigger than the struts of the tower, but to me and my impaired mind and vision, it looked as if you could have parked 747s in that thing. It was incredible. Even the barracudas – which now looked to be about ten feet long – were awe-inspiring.
Those old schoolmates of mine can have their semesters in romantic, European cities such as Paris and Barcelona. My adventures under the sea, beneath the earth, and around the most beautiful country I’ve ever been in are all I needed. The only problem, really, was that when the time for me to leave did come, I was not at all ready for it. I had to leave amongst my teammates gearing up to go on a dive. Leaving was a very emotional thing for me, indeed. There were still a few things that I would have really enjoyed doing (although some of them I realized after the fact). There was a huge rock out in the ocean outside my hotel that I really wish I had gotten a chance to swim to. And in retrospect, I would have liked to go on a shark dive, if at all possible.
The significance of my time in Bermuda cannot be overstated. I know I grew as a person because of it. And I took home a very valuable lesson: Don’t wait until conditions are perfect to do what you really want to do.
– Marshall Hawkins, 8/24/2008