Wednesday, October 13, 2010

We Are Pod: Dolphins as Elders and Teachers

Dolphins Leaping in California surf

My new Huffington Post commentary is out as a featured post on GREEN and on WORLD/Japan. Please send this around to your contacts, post to your FaceBook pages, and comment on the Huff. It lets the Huff Post know that readers care about our oceans and wildlife. And for readers of this blog, I’ve added an excerpt about Hawaiian spinner dolphins I encountered that first appeared in my book, Sister Stories (Viking/Penguin paperback)

OCTOBER 13, 2010

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Brenda Peterson, 10.12.2010
Author, "I Want to Be Left Behind"
Instead of changing their environment to fit themselves, dolphins have adapted to a changing ocean.
That's what wise elders teach their young: Cultures change. Oceans change. We must change, as well.

Why Dolphins are another Reason to Be Left Behind

(Excerpted from Sister Stories “Sister as Pod and Pachyderm” (Viking/Penguin)

While on a humpback whale research trip in Hawaii, I had the great good fortune to kayak into a warm-water bay and find myself suddenly surrounded by a pod of sleek spinner dolphins.
            “We’re in the middle of their nursery,” our kayak guide whispered as we paddled slowly through deep, turquoise waters.
            Six dorsal fins swam close behind me, their twoosh, twoosh, a fast, intimate exhalation, like a musical, synchronized sigh.
            Then there were more dolphin inspirations as thirty or so spinners swam close, circling us. At the sight of so many wild dolphins, I leaned over in wonder and capsized. Plunged underwater, I was laughing so much I swallowed salty gulps of ocean. Then I heard them, that familiar, high-pitched click and whir like a cross between a Geiger counter and a small jet engine. I floated, holding my breath and listening and smiling as the nursery pod circled me, spinning through the waves.
            Whenever I encounter wild dolphins, I can feel the communication. First, there is that calming quiet of my nervous system as I leave gravity above and float –- warm water like an intimate second skin perfect and complete embrace of me.
Then there is the dolphin signature whistling and sonar like a much-loved song, lulling and caressing my body from the inside outwards, along each limb until my fingers and toes feel radiant, electric. Ecstasy eases into every ache and hidden hurt in my body and I stretch out as if in a serene, flying dream. Only, this rapture is underwater and accompanied by the clicking, kind scrutiny of an alien intelligence I can only begin to fathom.
            The dolphins always surprise me with their tenderness. I tried to synchronize my breathing with the dolphins and when I lifted my face, I saw several spinners leaping up, somersaulting, then diving back into the sea, their wake splashing over my back. I attempted my human version of a signature whistle, complete with rapid-fire gurgles and bleeps. It seemed to amuse and interest the nursery pod because they all suddenly cruised closer in a dazzling display of acrobatic dolphin dance.
            Imagine dozens of dolphins speeding by in a blur of silver and gray skin, ultrasound, and curve of fin, streaking past in one breath, as if one body. Inside my body their speed and sound registers like a trillion ricochets, tiny vibrations echoing off my ribs, within each lobe of my lungs, and spinning inside my labyrinthine brain like new synapses.
            Then I was alone for a moment. I drifted through the depths so lost in this watery dreamtime that my mind was also adrift. It is always during these meditative underwater moments that the dolphins seem most to cherish their human companions. Suddenly I saw out of the corner of each eye three dolphins flanking me –- and among them were several tiny dorsal fins –- newborns guarded by their nursery pod.
I was accepted inside their pod, surrounded by fast spinners who slowed to accompany my pace. They kept me in their exact center for what seemed an hour, and it was only then that I understood what it feels like to be fully adopted into the deep, welcoming physical communion of dolphins.
            I am pod, I felt, with no sense of my single self. I belong.
            Mystics may call it divine union, this melding of minds, bodies, and souls, this solitude that suddenly opens into the solace of We are one.
            Dolphins are known to be self-aware; they also show us this soul-mingling and connection, which our human species only glimpses in rare spiritual insights. Perhaps this is what dolphins have spent their long evolution achieving:
Instead of changing their environment around them, they have changed themselves; those big brains are attuning themselves to one another and the natural world. Maybe that’s what they’ve been doing these thirty million years longer than humans have been around: seeking to survive together as a whole. Meanwhile, we’ve been battling and selecting who among us will survive, never imagining that we are all humans, all one pod.

(Excerpted from Sister Stories “Sister as Pod and Pachyderm” (Viking/Penguin paperback)

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