The Passing and Passion of Mike Degruy Touches the Life of This Writer Who Barely Wets His Toes in the Wide Open Ocean

Do you like to go in the ocean?

I don’t.  I don’t even like going into lakes.

There’s something about not being able to see the lower half of my body or know what is swimming around my feet that makes me feel a bit strange.  I remember water skiing in Lake Powell one summer and when I went down and found myself floating there, helpless, until the boat could swing around, I got a good case of the willies.

I was fine, of course, but we all need a good dose of faint fear a few times in our lives!

I’m not anti-water, mind you.  I just have this…thing…about dipping into large bodies of water.  I’d certainly be first in line for a sightseeing excursion (like Captain Andy’s in Kaua’i) or Caribbean cruise, but when it comes to divin’ in head first, well, I’ll be last.

However, there is another part to this story of water.  I love shows about the ocean.  I love Blue Planet: Seas of Life and documentaries about sharks.  I am especially partial to shows about the deepest depths, including Challenger Deep and the Mariana Trench.  Challenger Deep and the Mariana Trench are the deepest of the deep on this earth, almost 7 miles down each.  That’s deep.  And a lot of pressure.  Tons of pressure.

But yet, life exists down there.  Of course it does!

My love for and interest in the things of the ocean was the reason I considered for many years a career in oceanography.  I eventually took other paths, but that fascination has stuck with me, even if I still don’t like the thought of actually going in there.

All of this was the reason I was so sad to recently hear of the passing of Mike Degruy (December 29, 1951 – February 4, 2012).  Apparently, Mr. Degruy and a friend were killed in a helicopter crash in February of this year while working on a new production.

You likely have never heard of Mike Degruy, but he was a figurehead in ocean exploration, cinematography, and study.  I only knew of him because of my love for shows about the ocean.  He and his camera were a staple in these, and I always enjoyed his personality and absolute passion for his subject matter.  As much as I detest the thought of being submerged in the ocean, Mr. Degruy was just the opposite.  It was almost as if not being in the ocean gave him the willies!

There was almost no coverage of Mike Degruy’s death.  I only heard about it accidentally while reading random comments to one Internet posting or another.  It saddened me, and I took a moment to think of all the interesting things he has shown me over the years through his camera.  It make me also consider the life of someone like Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin – another figure who let nothing stop him from his passions.

I admire passion.  People with passion do not need a social blessing or tons of money to find their bliss.  Often, fame bumps into them, quite accidentally, while they are busy with other things.  When power or fame adorns a passionate person, these become only the causal accoutrement of a life of joy and zeal already in progress.

Take writing for example.  If you write because you love to write, then status on the New York Times Bestseller list isn’t the accomplishment of a goal, but just another validation that the writing path is the one for which you are most passionate.  I write because I love it — because not doing it gives me the willies.  When I don’t have time to work on the novels, I blog.  I seek outlets to create with words because words are my joy.  They are their own rewards.  In my dream world, I work with and explore creating with words the way Mike Degruy explored the ocean’s depths.

I imagine it was the same for men like Degruy and Irwin.  Oceans and animals – these were their joy and passion.  Conservation, preservation, and education – these were the goals.  Any fame, fortune, or recognition on Discovery Channel or was just something else along the way.  Just another method of realizing their passions on a grand scale.

There’s a new show coming up on Discovery tonight called Frozen Planet.  I have it slated on my to-watch list.  There will be more great photography and exploration by other great men and women with passions of their own.  People likely inspired by the Degruys and Irwins of the past.  I’ll sit.  I’ll watch.  I’ll become enthralled.  I’ll be inspired to write and create because of the creative passions of others.

But each time I see a show about the deepest depths, I’ll remember Mike Degruy – a man who gave me a chance to see my untapped passion for the ocean through his eyes…even if I only dip my toes in at the coast.

Rest in peace, Mr. Degruy.  You live on in how your passion inspires us.


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