October 19, 2013 1:38pm

For Stephen because he dances under the sea too


I am at the beach waiting for the government to reopen. I know that millions of folks have been inconvenienced by this shutdown. My upset is negligible but still incredibly disappointing. I was scheduled to be a park ranger at Cape Lookout this week. I’ve been planning it for months and looking forward for longer. I cancelled and rescheduled all my patients, dug out my long underwear and hiking boots, planned meals and packed a blanket. Then I started praying for the park to open so I could actually go.

You can’t imagine the number of scotch bonnets you can find on Cape Lookout when you ride out on a four wheeler early, just after high tide. It will knock your socks off, it’s so bountiful. The scotch bonnet is the North Carolina state shell.  Who knew North Carolina had a state shell? I didn’t until I went to Portsmouth Island. You can’t find them on the main island. They are fragile, like children. They crack if you’re too rough with them. But go to Cape Lookout or Portsmouth and they practically jump at you. It’s divine being anywhere at the beach. Really, you don’t have to climb the lighthouse and monitor the tourists, or count birds to enjoy the ocean. But it surely is fun. Unfortunately the government reopened the day after my volunteer stint. Doggone it.

For this reason, I’m at the beach instead of the national park and after a glorious respite filled with painting, writing and soaking up the sun, eventually I must leave. I am contemplative as I pack the car preparing to drive away from my first love the ocean. It’s difficult even though I only drive three hours west now and never fourteen north. Looking on my last morning and awakening to gray clouds, a wet dock and drenched chairs, I realize rain has soaked everything. It was not possible to sit on the dock and listen, so I decided to walk on the beach instead.

When I got there, the sand was smushy soft such that you really had to work to get any traction. It was still so overcast, no one was on the beach but three fisherman. “Wonder if they ever catch anything because I know I’ve never seen it,” my friend asked. “I think they are catching some alone time not really caring how many fish they hook,” I answer. As we overtake them, they continued staring at the ocean, not recognizing us or bothering to register our passing.

After a while, sinking in the sand got old, so I jumped into the ocean and of course the birds came to say hello. I sing to them and they swoop nearby as if I’m a fish. When they get close, we swerve off each other. Then they slip down under and come up with a mullet. I sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” and they go nuts. It’s fun. Even my friend who was watching, tried to take a video saying, “How do you like all those birds flying around, Julia?” and what could I say but “fine, I like it.”

When we get home, I decided to kayak one more time. Jumping on my sit-on-top and heading straight across the sound toward the new duck blind, I beckon for dolphins. Longing to paddle in a dolphin pod, I chant, “Today is my lucky day, as soon as I circle the blind, they will come.” And that is exactly the way it happened. When I got there, I whispered, “Alright, I didn’t come all the way out here for nothing.” And barely had the last words left, when three dolphin nosed up beside with their spouts blowing. For a second, I got scared. Correcting myself immediately, I thought, “You’ve wanted this for a long time and now you’ve got it. You’re fine.” And I was. Really way more than fine if you’re wondering.

They frolicked and jumped and spouted and flashed their wondrous tails  in a delightful dance on, under and over the waves. At first I was mesmerized and quiet, afraid of motion. Suddenly remembering how playful they become in wakes, I splashed and chased, paddling slowly toward and then even faster into and on and on. The fun commenced and lasted at least an hour.

One time there would be twenty, then twelve or eight, circling in groups of threes or fours surrounding the kayak. Fins protruding the flat line of the water holding such allure, your eyes and ears scanning the surface for the next break until it happens and you praise God that you got to see their grace again. Then as if teasing, they would slip under and away, flipping their tails goodbye in perfect unison only to dance back and forth once again. Finally, in surrender, theirs or mine we aren’t telling, eight dolphins escorted me into the bay, close to our dock.  Wishing I could show you how lovely and fluid that prancing was, wow, now three are riding a wave, spouting and blowing in concert, skipping on a course, then whirling away only to ride closer by later.

I sang to them, partly because I was so grateful for the company. Partly because I like to sing and partly because I was hoping we could hold each other captive a bit longer. Remember, the hundreds of butterflies lighting in the mimosa this summer? I do. We’ll probably never forget that either.

They say birds sing because they’re happy but I hold that birds sing because they’re birds. They make a song particular to their species and gender creating beauty for us by being themselves. When I was out there watching the dolphins dance it seemed like they were jumping because they were joyful. That their dance was one of celebration but then I figured they dip and sway not because they are happy but because they are. Just are.

The sea is vast and primarily unknown. Dark, undisturbed places in water exist where current does not flow, wind does not rock and storms hold no influence. When the deep sea is dredged, it’s plant life demonstrates characteristics of being untouched for thousands of years. My phytoplankton daughter tells me that no one knows this deep deep dwelling place. Even though 73% of our planet is water, it is mostly unexplored.

While dancing with the dolphins, I felt that deep, quiet, unexplored surface in myself, touching and releasing it before coming up from complete submersion. I don’t remember breathing while I was out there but I must have because they chaperoned me safely home. I never lost consciousness although it felt like it. The calm of the deep sea mirroring tranquility of life in the spirit. This gift received on a ride into the sound when I thought I was searching for bottle nosed dolphin but discovered something unspeakably still in it’s motion, something far more profound.

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