The bewitching ballet repeats itself again and again. The movements of the mantas are both poetic and precise - they loop, they bank, they veer - a languorous melee that we divers applaud by kneeling reverentially and occasionally toppling over. The mantas lift and soar. My heart follows suit.

When we return to the boat, everyone is surprisingly quiet. Something special has just unfolded, and there are no adequate words for it.

Finally someone softly says, "That was the most amazing thing I've seen in my life."

It could have been any one of us.

Man has become distant from the animal kingdom. We live in a world nature rarely brushes - a place of clamor and artifice far removed from the natural world. But nature can be front and center, and Kailua-Kona's waters are just one stage. Opportunity for similar magic and communion exists elsewhere with grizzlies, white sharks, roan antelopes, cheetahs, Galápagos penguins. The experience you choose is up to you. But choose you should. Because a brush with wild things is not merely a passing encounter; it is a reminder of how things truly are, and a chance to be forever altered.

MANTA RAYS
While there are no guarantees - that's why it's called wildlife - the mantas show more consistently in the waters off Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii than anywhere else in the world. Most dive boats out of Kailua-Kona will take you out to dive with the mantas, but no one knows the creatures like Keller Laros, who has been diving with Kona's mantas for almost 20 years. Look him up at Jack's Diving Locker, www.jacksdivinglocker.com, (800) 345-4807. The trip runs $105, including tanks and weights.

AFRICA AS IT WAS