It’s early, but after the sunrise, and already warm and muggy. I’m in deep water. I can’t see the bottom, only my black fins reaching into the blue as I kick my feet lazily beneath me, trying to stay in one place, eyes wide and working to see through the depth. When I look up to check my position relative to my classmates, I see Manuel five or so feet away. He asks if I’m ok and I nod yes. That’s partly a lie. I’m not struggling in the water. My mask is not filling up like it did the first day, salt water burning my sinuses.
But I am not ok. Inside, I’m a freaking wreck.
I know they’re out there. I know they are big. I know there are many. And I know they are headed our way. In part, I’m terrified – on one hand, because I have a healthy respect for wild animals, and on the other because I know how I will respond to this encounter, and I know it will be mortifying. But the other part of me – a much bigger part – is so exhilarated, awed and humbled by what I know I am about to experience, I’m nearly crawling out of my skin.
A few moments later, my face back in the water, straining behind my mask to see past the deep, dark blue, I see a silhouette coalesce beneath us. Followed by another. And then another. Long, sleek and graceful. Soon we are surrounded.
Have I ever mentioned how much I love cetaceans? I love them. I am drawn to them. I have been since I was too little to know that Sea World is mostly bologna, and watched in absolute wonder as immense members of this order flung their giant, graceful bodies out of their tanks, soaking us in the audience when they landed back in the water. Later, as I learned more about them, I grew to love them more. Whales or dolphins, toothed or baleen, big or small – I love them. They possess some seriously old knowledge and wisdom. They are so much more intelligent than humans want to give any wildlife credit for. They are beautiful, powerful, sensitive and fierce.
Have I ever mentioned how excited I get to see wild cetaceans? I’ll tell you now.
When we lived in North Carolina, Paul and I saw a pod of dolphins probably a quarter mile off shore during one trip to the coast. I cried while Paul laughed at me.
And guess what? I cried this time, too. As the Hawaiian spinner dolphins swam and played around us, I cried. So hard that my mask repeatedly filled up with snot and I had to regularly rinse it out. So hard, I scared one of my classmates. I experienced what was easily the ugliest ugly cry of my life.
Dreams really do come true.