There are a handful of moments where I've felt like everything was exactly right, where I was aware that something important and good had happened that would change everything for me.
I think the first one was the first time I was ever in a rowboat and looked over the side into the water. I was scared to death, being unable to swim at the time. I might have been 5, I dunno. About 5 minutes after I got in the boat, still unhappily nervous, I realized I was going to be making my living off the ocean in some form.
About 2 years later, I swam out to a swim platform about 100 feet offshore by myself. I still didn't really know how to swim with my head above water. I put on a mask and snorkel, and spastically kicked my way to the platform. I was so tired I could barely get onto the little raft. I knew something important had happened. I was no longer afraid. Perhaps I should have been, but it was a moment for me. A few months later, I'd be swimming for hours every day.
Insanely stupid of me but I wasn't a particularly smart kid when it comes to self-preservation. The winter before, I had fallen through the sea ice after a friend and I walked about 1/4 mile offshore. I was lucky enough to pop back up in the same hole I made. I nearly died of hypothermia walking home. I got frostbite on my hands and ears, woke up fully clothed in the shower with my parents yelling at me.
The first time I stepped onto the lobsterboat, a year later, I knew something special had happened. I was enraptured, just absolutely with child to go fishing. When the old timer who taught me to fish sold the boat, 10 years later, I kept working on it with the new owner. It still felt just as right and exciting as it had when I was 8.
I was walking across a dam at a local pond a few years later, and stopped to look down and watch the fresh water fish swimming through the plants. I was taking my parrot for a walk. He never learned to fly, so he liked riding on my shoulder while I walked in the woods. I had always liked tending to animals. At that moment, with the sun angled just right so I could watch the fish, and my bird whistling nervously about me leaning too far forward for his comfort, it was a near-perfect moment and I wanted to be a marine biologist.
I never did get that perfect moment as a scientist or a science student. I did have one, up in downeast Maine, when I visited an offshore salmon farm with a class. I was way more interested in the animal husbandry side of it than the hard science- the moneymaking, and the practical part of it- how the pens were built, how the feed was acquired, the economics of it all. Watching guys flinging buckets of feed to the penned salmon, I knew I was seeing something exceptional. About 18 months later I was living in Scotland and talking to the salmon farmers there peer-to-peer.
The moment I stepped on a ship for the first time as a mariner. The smell of musty old ship and scorched oil. That was maybe the strongest moment I ever had where I knew that everything had just changed for me forever. . I think it has something to do with situational awareness, the coincidence of happy accident and ignorance, when I realized that had stumbled into something that would change me forever.
I wonder when or if it'll hit again? It could be when it's time to retire, I dunno. I'd imagine that last walk off a boat would be a significant moment.