Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Swimming With Dolphins

I have some new and powerful images now that come to me unbidden and with a dreamlike and perspective-altering frequency and quiet joy.

In these self-starting little vignettes I am pushing quite quickly across the water in fins and a mask and suddenly three dolphins, two stacked to one side and one to the other, surround me, look right at me, and coast along side of me for a while. All of a sudden they curve away, all in one direction and I am able to follow that turn for a while… our eyes locked as if the directions have been passed to me through eye contact alone. Other little mind-embraced youtube-like inner videos also involve dolphins catching up to me under the blur and muffled silence of water to swim beside me for a while… always looking right at me.

I was a little ambivalent about paying to have this experience, the experience of swimming with dolphins. I have not been sure of how such activity affects the dolphins themselves. And I am not sure how one would guarantee such facilities are primarily dolphin-centered, no matter how much they claim to be research facilities from which their discoveries and studies are actually invaluable to finding ways to support the continued existence of cetaceans (dolphins and whale and their water-dwelling mammal kin) in the wild.

I have had experiences while swimming in the ocean in which dolphins, swimming by all day in groups of threes and fours, sometimes approach quite closely as I stand to try to catch the next wave. They always seemed to approach and continue approaching until a little fear rose in me that had something to do with their size and their wildness… and then they would arc away until the next group came by. Why am I, and many others, compelled to seek out the company of dolphins? Why are we willing to wait for them to come to us in the water?

I don’t know. I have had many close and moving experiences with wild life over the years. My swims in the north woods lakes with loons have always left me lighter and convinced of the evolutionary basis of inter species empathy…that it is not just the province of the supposedly superior human development. But my swim with dolphins was different than the others.

For one thing I love to swim. I am at home in the water and feel completely relaxed by it. I have relationship to beings that live there. Perhaps I am envious. Years ago I remember reading articles that claimed that humans had actually evolved to live in the water (long head hair was supposed to be an evolutionary adaptation so that young humans had something to hang on to) and remaining quite skeptical about that, but intrigued to the point of “what if?”… especially as I swam and dived in a favorite body or water or a newly found and exciting place to swim. Maybe it was possible?

The dolphins have in some ways renewed that feeling of a lack of clear divisions with other mammals that have successfully returned to the sea… and done it smartly and in a mysteriously cogent and sophisticated manner that appears to include very real systems of communication, emotional connections with others, as well as a wish to communicate, be with, other species… even ones like ours that threaten their very survival.

Did my swim with them heal me in some way? This is the myth is it not? I am not sure. Swimming with them was a real work out though… and while I was doing it I was so in the moment and completely rapt by the ways they would surround me in the water, swim with me for a ways (the ‘trainers” would shout out “Bob!, Bob! to your left… they’re coming to check you out again!”) and be off again beyond the point that I could see them, that I was unaware of how they were burrowing into some unconscious store of images… that is until a few hours later when the images of swimming with them kept rising up as I went about my other routine activities of the day. I kept seeing them seeing me, moving through the muffled syrupy world of the sea, acknowledging some relationship, wanted to see and be seen… wanting to know.

They have skin you know. It is quite soft. Like the feel of a peeled egg in a bowl of water. This has nothing to do with fish or scales. It could very well be our skin should we ever develop leg muscles that send us effortlessly through the deep at twenty-five mile an hour.

I suppose I should tell you about the barracudas I swam near as well. Toothy silver torpedoes that I did not recognize as barracudas (among the hordes of brilliant reef fishes and waving coral) as I arrived in the midst of about five or six of them, suspended in the water… one at least four feet long… I thought barracudas had stripes. But no, these hung nearly motionless as the water sloshed the purple fans and long tentacles of the corals nearby. I felt no threat. Not until I got back in the boat and was told what they were. I think they were watching me as well.

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