Brigid Schulte, left, and daughter Tessa Bowman snorkel on at one of three dive sites on the reef off Port Douglas in Australia. Picture: Wavelength Reef Cruises photo

Standing on a steel platform at the top of the arch of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, suspended 430 feet above the water, palms sweating, knees unsteady and feeling lightheaded, I turn to my daughter and, weakly, try to smile.

The Sydney Harbor Bridge is the tallest steel arch bridge in the world. I am afraid of heights. Far, far below, the famed Sydney Opera House looks just like the clump of artful orange peels - tangerine peels maybe from this height - that the architect originally envisioned, and a huge cruise ship docked in Darling Harbor below looks like a tiny toy. In the distance, I can see the hazy Blue Mountains and follow the equally blue harbor as it winds its way out to sea. But while I feel nauseated and shaky, my daughter, the wind whipping her ponytail, looks utterly exhilarated. That alone - seeing her so alive in the real world rather than lost in a virtual one shut up in her bedroom - is worth all the vertigo in the world.

Brigid Schulte, left, and her daughter, Tessa Bowman, near the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the tallest steel-arch bridge in the world. Picture: Bridge Climb photo

Before I knew what I'd gotten myself into, I'd been thinking: "This will be important. My teenage daughter actually wants to do something with me." 

I also thought, "My daughter will get to see me as someone who doesn't just nag her to pick up her room or get her homework done, or who stays up late folding laundry, paying bills, catching up on work or busily tidying up after a long day at work." She tells me, "You get so tired and cranky." She thinks I don't enjoy life, that I don't have any fun.

And maybe she's right. I brought Tessa along with me to a conference and, as much as I've worried about her being lost in the virtual world, it took her natural curiosity and sense of fun to get me to take a break from work and zip over to the Taronga Zoo on the ferry to marvel at the kangaroos, koalas and the amazingly choreographed bird show. She also got me out on the double-decker bus to carom around town just for the heck of it.

 We later  flew to Cairns on the North Shore to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world - the Great Barrier Reef - before climate change and warming waters forever alter it, as several scientific studies predict. (Two mass bleachings in 2016 and earlier in 2017 wiped out an estimated half of the coral cover off the Queensland coast, although a field survey in September by the Australian Institute of Marine Science found hopeful signs of recovery.)

We stayed just outside of Port Douglas at the Thala Beach Nature Reserve, an ecotourist lodge and magical place on 145 acres of rainforest on an undisturbed peninsula just south of town. We woke every morning in our Jungle Walk bungalow to the boisterous calls of a laughing kookaburra just outside our window. And on a nature walk through the property, we watched an agile wallaby hop lazily through the underbrush.

Brigid Schulte, left, and daughter Tessa Bowman snorkel on at one of three dive sites on the reef off Port Douglas in Australia. Picture: Wavelength Reef Cruises photo

When it came time to explore the outer reef, we chose to go with Wavelength Reef Cruises, one of the longest-running reef operators and a pioneer in eco-tourism. They take only small groups. And a marine biologist accompanies every outing, so we not only saw amazing underwater sea life and whole worlds of coral, but we learned about them, and about how, with climate change and sea warming, the whole ecosystem is under threat.

After a 90-minute boat ride, we donned our snorkel gear, which, because it was jellyfish season, included Lycra suits. Then, Tessa and I plunged in. For hours, we swam side by side, marveling at the strange and wondrous exotic fish, brightly colored coral, giant clams and even a lumbering sea turtle.

I couldn't stop smiling, even as I breathed through a snorkel. I was not only lost in a timeless world, feeling vibrantly alive and in awe, I was sharing it all with my daughter.

Source: The Washington Post.