July 30, 1995 in Features

Day Of The Dolphin Close Encounter On High Seas Changes Life Perspective

Alan H. Brown Special To In Life

“Dolphins, dolphins,” squealed a passenger. “In the front.” Quickly I made my way to the front of the bouncing MV Dream Too. Sure enough, six or seven of the mammals were swimming effortlessly, surfing the ship’s bow wave. As I hung over the gunnel, feet spaced wide, my body in rhythm with the boat’s movement, I recalled my wife asking with childlike enthusiasm for me to join her on this cruise.

Six months ago she had muttered about interfacing, networking or whatever one does with these sea creatures. Something to do with spirit or finding one’s self. She wanted to go into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, north of the Bahamas, with no land in sight. This from a person who gets seasick on the Queen Mary, the one anchored in California. How could I deny someone that focused, that determined?

Twelve of us on a 65-foot, rocking socking, yawing, pitching steel-hulled boat. Captain Scott, who had been swimming with these same dolphins long enough that he had names for more than a hundred of them, gave us a briefing. We would be swimming with the spotted dolphins. The bottlenose species are not as friendly, although easier to train in captivity. He told us that the number of spots show their age: few spots - children; many, many spots - adults. The spotted dolphins relate better to those showing signs of affection and he suggested that we hold hands while swimming. He reminded us that we were in their environment. If they felt comfortable in your presence, they might let you touch them. If they didn’t, they would swim away. Or they might tail-slap you.

The noise of the anchor dropping into the water brought me back to the present. The dolphins stayed and continued to swim around the boat. They were going to allow us to play with them.

We all rushed to the fantail, each wanting to be the first to swim with the dolphins and maybe even pet them. I felt enthusiasm build in me as I took one giant step into the water. Ten feet below swam the dolphins. As I jumped, I noticed how shark-like their dorsal fins looked. Suddenly the water got colder. Not to worry, I told myself. We all know that the mere presence of dolphins scares those mean old sharks away. Don’t we?

A dolphin’s dark eyes peered into mine, questioning my intentions. We stared at each other like two gunfighters tensed for a draw. With a flick of its tail, it swam off and then slowly circled three times. I looked at my wife, her eyes wide and blue as the Bahamian waters. I reached out and held her hand.

The dolphin moved closer and allowed my wife to touch and run her hand gently down its side. I thought it was foolish to touch a fish, but I had come all this way and why not. I thrust out my hand. The dolphin swam away. So much for that. My wife always related well with children and animals so I backed off and let her do her thing. She petted the dolphin several more times, before it grew bored and swam out of sight.

The sky darkened. The wind blew white caps across the ocean. The anchor was yanked up and the ship headed for the safety of the Jack Tarr Marina in the Grand Bahamas. Later that night, one of the crew cooked several fish that he had speared and the conch I brought up from the bottom. Doesn’t get any fresher than that. Our stomachs full, my wife and I went topside to enjoy the sunset, hopeful that her dinner would stay in place. On the way over from West Palm Beach, my wife had interfaced with the ocean, for about three hours. She was most thankful for being in port.

It had been a fun day. But I didn’t feel like I had received any great message from the dolphins. I needed to know my wife’s thoughts, for I noticed that her skin had turned from seasick green to a healthy pink.

She exuberantly began to tell me her experience. “The dolphin’s eyes searched the depth of my soul, reading every cell of my being. I felt in that instant she knew me better than I knew myself. She was awakening something deep down inside me. I trusted that I didn’t have to know right then what it was all about. I felt her sonar echoing through the water, standing the hair up on my arms. The sound was hauntingly familiar to me, but way back in time. It still echoes in my ears now. I was filled with intense feeling of complete, unconditional love. A love that went both ways, giving and receiving.”

That’s nice, I thought. So now her husband of 35 years was being replaced by a dolphin. Well, was the dolphin at your side when you bonded with the ocean?

My wife continued, “I came out of the water feeling more loved than I had ever been before. And with a sense of anticipation of more to come. I felt giddy and wanted to dance and hug everybody. And I did.”

At the airport, I tried to make sense of the week’s events. I turned to my wife and saw that she was frantically writing. That wasn’t unusual, for she journaled all the time. I looked closer. She was writing poetry. This from a teacher whose poetry experience consisted of “roses are red …” She told me to be quiet and wait. The poem ended up being five pages long.

The first awakening, her poet’s voice. This truly was a magical trip for her. As I watched her, my new-found Longfellow, I couldn’t help but wonder what had been awakened for me and what else was to come from this trip.

MEMO: Alan H. Brown, a market researcher and Coeur d’Alene resident, is in the process of writing a novel.

Alan H. Brown, a market researcher and Coeur d’Alene resident, is in the process of writing a novel.

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