Swimming with Wild Dolphins


     How did I lose my courage?  The first day we came out, I was the adventurous one, jumping into this northern Florida bay enthusiastically when Richard, our French-Swiss guide, would call, “Here they come; off to the left!”   Nat was seasick and threw up all afternoon. I didn’t come here because this was one of my own heart’s dreams.  This is one of Nat’s things-I-want-to-do-before -I-die adventures, but it was I who’d quickly put my fins and snorkel and goggles on and plopped right in, heading off wherever Richard said.  Once I jumped in too soon before he’d slowed the pontoon, and I got a hard smack on the head from the boat.  Undaunted, I headed off towards the dolphins.
    I tried to do all that Richard told us:  “Be graceful, and playful.  They’re attracted to playfulness.”  That was difficult; to remember how to breathe with the snorkel, swim fast towards where we see them, but try to swim “gracefully”, and also be “playful.”  I suppose I actually looked ridiculous trying to do all that, but I gave it my all that first day.
      Yesterday Nat participated more.  She took medicine so now she could begin doing what we all came for – that Natalie could swim with the wild dolphins.  She can’t even swim!   All she can do is dog paddle, and here we are out in the ocean!  But this didn’t hold her back one moment yesterday; she has cancer, her days might be numbered; she’s not going to let fear hold her back from living fully now.
      Yesterday was warm but windy and choppy; we left the secluded sand bar area where mostly the dolphin mothers and babies are found and we spent a lot of time out in the open ocean. What luck that we’re here in May, ‘cuz it’s mating season.  We even got up close to see them in threesomes playing together, so engrossed in their own mating games they didn’t pay attention to us.  We saw marvels:  the “walking on water” phenomenon, lots of leaping out of the water and lots of cavorting around together.  I was more used to the snorkel yesterday, but Nat was still learning.  We all gave up on trying to dive down to see them underwater.  The coordination of breathing with the snorkel and diving down is too much to remember in the hurry of the moments when the dolphins are coming. 
      Actually, I think I’m a bit exhausted today from this thing of swimming in the choppy ocean towards the direction they’re coming.   They change direction fast, and they’re swimming about 20 times as fast as I am; then all of a sudden they’re somewhere else so we change direction and swim hard again; then they change direction again.  I think that’s part of my problem today – I cannot keep up swimming with wild dolphins!
     Today’s a little calmer.  Richard has sent Chris, the Canadian intern, out with a bubble machine to swim around us.  “They’re curious about bubbles,” he says, “and they may come around more.” 
    Here they come, just as he said!   OK;  in I go again.
    Yay,  they ARE here! 
    Whoa!  Oh my God.  One just touched me; he swam right by my elbow.  Oh my God!   They are BIG; they are really BIG!  They’re swimming so fast around us.  This is scary!   Oh crap!  Another one below me; I’m trying to look down in the water.  Here it comes,  – beside me!   Oh my God again! 
Whoops.    I think-  this is- enough for me.  I’m heading for the pontoon.  This is a little closer to wild dolphins than I want to be.
    Whew.  I can just sit here with Richard and watch; watching satisfies me fine.  I’ll take photos.   Nat is loving this!   Look at her.  This makes me happy; Nat is truly in her element.  I suppose growing up on a farm gives her a different experience with them.  To me, they’re too big, but she’s used to being around big friendly animals like cows and horses.   Not me; I’m used to feeling small even around other humans!  I know these dolphins are friendly, but their speed and size are – well, beautiful to watch.  Makes me think of being in the middle of a herd of gentle friendly excited buffalo.
      Well, I haven’t failed at a thing, because I didn’t come here at my own initiative.  I came because of Nat, and she’s having her marvelous experience.  This is a whole lot better than back when she stayed at my house through chemo and radiation.  Back when she’d cry in agony between vomiting and constipation, when her mind was so muddled she could hardly stand up at times, and her spirits were crawling along the bottom of the ocean.  Now she’s finished all that and they say she’s clean; now she’s here swimming at the top of the ocean with beautiful creatures, and it gives me joy to be with her.
    Now she’s already said what the next thing is she wants to “do before she dies.”   Hmm.  Can I see myself in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, in a harness, flying like Tarzan through the canopy of the trees of the jungle?  I, who am afraid of heights, who don’t even like big Ferries wheels anymore?  Hmm.  But on the other hand, can I say No to someone I love so much?  We’ve been friends for 40 years; sometimes it feels like we’ve known each other “always”, like in many lifetimes.  I cannot yet picture myself swinging through the trees in the jungle, but I also cannot picture myself not going with Nat, not supporting her in her longing, not being with her in her special experiences, as we both approach the finishing years of our lives.                                2005

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