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Fox Hill - All Around Me
All Around Me
Fox Hill, Freelance Writer and Photographer

Freedom is a thing so clear and light, that you don't notice when it starts to slip away; and once lost, it's not easy to find again. I'm waiting at a corner for the light to turn green. A scooter goes by with a family of five on board. Dad is driving; Mom is sitting sidesaddle; the eldest son is behind her, holding the baby; and finally, the youngest boy is sitting between Dad's legs, and apparently helping to drive. Next, it's a worker on a scooter carrying a seventy-pound tank of propane, three bags of cement.and an extension ladder. Neither scooter has a working muffler, and there isn't a helmet in sight. But no one is surprised, or even paying any attention as they buzz down the street. No police officer is writing them tickets for moving violations, and there are no traffic cameras taking photos of their license plates. Nearby, a street vendor is standing at the busy intersection, holding out bags of brightly colored fruit for sale to passing motorists. I doubt that he has a business license, or submits to health department inspections. A pretty girl crosses the street, and earns an appreciative whistle from a driver. She looks back at him over her shoulder with a smile, and keeps walking, the compliment graciously accepted. The traffic light changes, and as I pedal my bike down the street, I smile and take a deep breath, feeling the unmistakable presence of freedom all around me.

One of the first things I noticed during a trip to my hometown last summer was how many signs there were telling me what I couldn't do. It seemed stifling. My notion of Mexico before I moved here was always one of a police state, overseen by leering Federales, where freedoms were few. This couldn't be farther from the truth, and indeed, I am freer here than I was back home.

Although Mexico is a socialist country, in practice the socialism is so poorly administered that it grinds to a halt about three levels of government above the average person. It's the opposite of Sweden. I can do pretty much anything I want here, as long as it isn't bothering somebody. By which I mean really bothering somebody.a lot. For instance, the entire country is a smoking area, and people own cars that would never be allowed on the roads north of the border (literally held together with duct tape and wire). One local character drives a car that is inches from the wrecking yard, his dog balancing on the hood like a surfer everywhere they go. There is none of the constant, nagging worry of somehow offending someone, or of breaking some little rule. The men and women here are free to be men and women: they are attracted to one another, and not afraid to show it. Children play in the street without knee and elbow pads, fly kites near power lines, and life goes on just fine thank-you-very-much.

I steer carefully around enormous potholes in the street that threaten to engulf the entire bicycle tire. Another cyclist pedals along beside me, drinking a cold beer as he heads home from work. I avoid riding over the metal sewer grates, as they can't be trusted to support much weight. I cycle past a playground full of children, all laughing with delight as they crawl across the monkey bars, and spin on the merry-go-round. I see construction workers climbing ladders at a building site while carrying five-gallon pails of wet concrete: with no hard hats, safety glasses, or steel toed boots. In fact, they're wearing plastic flip-flops -- OSHA would have a field day here. Passing the supermarket on my way to the dock, I see men working for tips, stopping traffic to help the shoppers back out their cars. Everyone is in shorts and tee shirts, free of the restrictive clothing of a winter climate. Pedaling past a busy taco stand, I notice people eating the carbohydrate laden official diet of Mexico. Sometimes called Vitamin T, tacos and tortas (meat and cheese filled sandwiches similar to a hoagie) are a favorite. No one seems to have a guilty conscience about the carbs either. There are cigarette smokers everywhere -- and they know that smoking isn't good for them -- but they aren't being hounded about it.

If you are hurt while tripping over a crumbling sidewalk here, don't bother reaching for your cell-phone and your lawyer's business card. The local response would be to suggest that you watch where you're going next time, and not to ask, "How big do you think the settlement will be?" I grew up during a time when our lives weren't yet ruled by fear of litigation, and governed by a system intent on rubber padding everything, everywhere, so that no one can get hurt doing anything. As a child, I played with lawn darts, firecrackers, wood burning sets, and real playground equipment (the kind made from heavy steel bars). Yet I survived, and so do they. Ridding our world of danger does not make us better people, and probably makes us weaker. The folks here go about their lives with a fearlessness that is invigorating; getting to death safely is not what life is all about.

As I ride along, other kinds of freedom come to mind as well. There is freedom from fear of violence, as it is almost unknown here. A woman can safely walk alone at night with a confidence that is long gone in the city I came from. And there is freedom to work. The man that makes a living bagging soil from the jungle, and selling it for gardens, is not likely to be filling in many government forms. (Several years ago, I tried to run a small business from my house, but the red tape and fees were crippling). There's also freedom from stress, because if something doesn't get done today, there's always mañana.

The language barrier makes it easier to escape the grip of television, and its constant outpouring of fear and bad news. We even have freedom from watering plants (usually), and shoveling snow (always). My thoughts turn to the day of diving ahead as I arrive at the dock. I wave to the captain of the dive boat, and see that the
marinero is loading the air tanks aboard. We're almost ready to leave.

Cozumeleños understand the connection between action and responsibility. They know that if they fall off a scooter without a helmet, they're in serious trouble. Living without a safety net teaches you the importance of being careful. This notion of taking responsibility for oneself is something that seems to have been watered down north of the border. I believe that given the choice between any two paths, the one that's freer is probably correct. Recently, we have been seduced into believing the opposite. That any restrictions, no matter how severe, can be justified if a single life is saved, a single injury prevented, or worse, some money is saved. For example, mountain sports have come under fire recently because of the cost of rescue, or medical care, when things go awry. To remove opportunities for adventure and personal growth because they're costly, or involve risk, is wrong. It's like arguing that downhill skiing should be banned on the basis that such a ban would save lives, money, and strain on the medical system. I assure you; those who don't ski would have no problem with this apparently common sense reasoning. Remember, it's worth it if a single life is saved, right?'s not.

On the boat, I prepare and inspect my own SCUBA equipment: my life support for the next hour. Once at the dive site, we back-roll from the side of the boat into the turquoise sea. I watch my computer as we descend, while rigging my camera and equalizing my ears. Down we go, the current sweeping us north along Cedral Wall, the scene around us darkening with the depth. Soon, we approach our goal: an enormous amphitheater shaped overhang. Incredible corals reach out like tentacles for the light they need to survive. I turn on my video lights and ignite an explosion of color on the wall: reds, oranges, yellows, and blues. My depth gauge reads 153 feet, and I'm working hard to get the shots. I'm too busy to worry about the danger, and my diving skills run on automatic. We have only a few minutes on site in this dynamic environment, but these minutes are the purest expression of what I seek: freedom, balanced by responsibility. My life rests in my own hands. Passing the end of the formation, we begin our careful ascent. I have time to think about the experience now, and I'm vibrating with exhilaration. I never feel more alive than when my life is at risk. As participants in a self regulated sport, we are assumed to be capable and responsible adults. We are treated like we know what we're doing, and can take care of ourselves. We are treated the way that everyone was treated not that long ago. I know it might not last forever, but I relish this return to a life like it once was; a life lived with the clear light of freedom all around me.

Breathe... ©2005 Fox Hill  
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Fox hopes to share his view of Cozumel with you through his column and photographs and welcomes your comments.
 Fox Hill - Under the Big Top
The hands of the clock don't move any slower here, they just don't matter. If you're married to the idea of firm schedules and on-time performance, you'd better stick to Cozumel as a tourist destination.
 Fox Hill - Jewels
The color is so intense in the setting sunlight that it doesn’t even seem real. The locals are fearless about their use of color in decorating, with vibrant yellows, blues, and reds everywhere. My neighborhood back home was brown and gray.
 Fox Hill - Tapestry
Cozumel is draped in a rich tapestry woven from sounds, ranging from the annoying to the sublime.
Personal Experiences
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It is clear you have a love of teaching as an art in addition to photography... My expectations for this course were only slightly more than: This is a camera, point at fish, shoot...However, this course was outstanding and could appropriately be titled: An Introduction to Becoming a Professional Photographer. Fox Hill Underwater Photography Class Rory Tucker ~ Not Given

The material presented was so much more than I would expect. Everything was explained clearly. The manner in which it was taught made the concepts easy to understand and follow. I learned a tremendous amount and I look forward to significantly improving my photographic efforts and experience. Fox Hill Underwater Photography Class Ryan Meglathery ~ Not Given

As a published underwater photographer with 15 years experience, I was amazed by how much I learned from your underwater photo course. Your depth of knowledge, friendly teaching style and technical tips made the day a great investment for me. I would highly recommend your course! Thank you! Fox Hill Underwater Photography Class M. Cowman ~ Fla

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