September 11, 2022

Today is the Best Day of My Life

Carina Frankal

A few weeks ago I was diving with my husband in the seaforest close to our home. The conditions were not ideal for free-diving – pretty big swell, water churned up, minimal visibility and the underwater forest a blur. The stipes bent and buckled, and the light-reaching fronds swirled above. 

We went into the water each with just a mask, snorkel and hoodie. Without a weight belt the only way to stay underwater for a while is to hold onto the kelp. I found myself suspended upside down and I just let myself ride back and forth with the surge. The swirling sand in the water, combined with dense effervescent air bubbles, encapsulated me and my surroundings, as a miniaturised scene in a shaken snow globe. I’m sure the marine life sensed my gleeful inner shout as I surrendered completely to the present.

For some perspective, I’m not quite in my golden years, but nevertheless a ’mature’ fifty-plus woman at play. This play seems to come out in all of us when we are in nature, especially when near, or in, the ocean. The cold seawater also has a way of making you super present, super alive, and sometimes super silly. Play is something babies, irrespective of species, innately come into the world with, but somewhere along the way, we human adults forget.

I live in Cape Town, which has many beaches and tidal pools that are increasingly becoming more popular year round.  When I first started swimming and free-diving 6 years ago, it was always thrilling, but also quite empirical. I was on a mission to know as many of the animals and plants as I could. I would take photographs, consult marine guidebooks, and often canvass my colleagues in the Sea Change team for further clarity. I took a free-diving course (recommended) and learnt as much of this ‘serious business’ as I could.

Photo credit: Faine Loubser

I’ll interrupt myself at this stage to add that I find ‘free’ writing extremely difficult. I still can’t quite fathom what possessed me to volunteer at a team meeting to write a story for this month’s newsletter, the focus being on marine protected areas (MPAs) and biodiversity. My knee-jerk reaction was that I wanted to share my joy, in particular, of community, and the appreciation of what I experience when I dive in MPAs. I raised my hand and said “I’ll do it, I’ll write this month’s blog.”   When I finally sat down to commit pen to paper, I think the difficulty in communicating my thoughts lay in the simplicity of it all. Just playing. This was the advice given to me when I joined Sea Change as a precursor to any pursuit I would undertake for myself and the organisation – play. 

In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed more and more groups of (predominantly) women bathers at the local swimming spots I frequent during the week. It’s usually quite early in the morning, irrespective of the weather or season, where you start to notice the die-hard regulars. These groups can be up to 30 women strong, characterised by mostly unbridled laughter, and sometimes also by their distinct fashion choices.

I am a part of this community. I am one of these women. I have my own little cohort; we are four women who meet each week on a fixed day and time, throughout the year, to swim and dive. Connecting in the water is our preference for social contact with one another. We all hold this appointment sacrosanct, knowing that we always leave markedly better than when we arrived. For me, this is not so much about connecting with nature, but connecting in nature. I cherish our friendship, the wisdom, the creativity, the laughter. Thank you. 

Impromptu warm-up boogie post swim and coffee in the sun

Biodiversity is the immune system of our planet, and together with the diversity of cultures we make up the Living Planet. There truly is no ‘other’.  I’m not about to launch into a lecture, but do want to say that we are all part of the matrix of life. A book by Wade Davis, “The Wayfinders: Why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world” recommended to Craig Foster, and making its rounds within Sea Change, ignited something within me. The Wayfinders explores different cultures’ answers to what it means to be human and alive. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal the book’s findings: all cultures are valuable contributors to worldviews and environmental knowledge that is critical to our (living planet’s) survival today. 

Shark egg casing; a colourful sea fan that I visit frequently - spot the cloaked sponge crab.

The climate crisis is, I think for most of us, quite terrifying and possibly also very overwhelming. The Sea Change Project recently took a deep dive into our messaging. We questioned who we are, what we do, how and for who, and with what impact.  

Our small 8 person team debated whether our immersive style of environmental storytelling actually constituted us as a conservation organisation. Our aim ultimately, to build a deeper connection between humans and nature, to inspire and motivate action that allows the living planet to thrive. 

Case in point: here I am telling a story inspired by my connection to others, to myself, through my reconnection in nature. I have developed a real heart connection to the places I frequent, and as a result care deeply about protecting and preserving them.

There is no moonshot solution to leaving a better planet than we have now for our children and the next generation.  

While my story talks about a local community, and my heart connection to the small satellite circles of friends with whom I meet up for play, our reconnection to the wild and care for nature has a positive groundswell that is massive and global. Much more powerful than planting a trillion trees; as each locale supports the unique and sometimes endemic intermix of biodiversity, of which we humans are a part of, that comprises life on our planet. 

I now understand the dictate to go out and play in nature given to me so many years ago. The work we do at Sea Change aims to build on this heart connection with nature, where each and everyone of us is inspired to look after the natural places we enjoy.

Singer Tom Odell has a song titled “I believe today is the best day of my life”. This comes to mind when I’ve spent time playing and connecting in nature – almost every time, whether a big experience or small, is the best day of my life.


Photos by Carina Frankal & friends

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