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beginnings and endings

Being in the ocean is a conversation with god. There is no other choice but to surrender and the outcome is never entirely ours.

Swimming at night approaches some deep, instinctual fears. I like meeting people in this vulnerability because no matter how confident they may feel at first, at some point that falls away.

That’s why I spend time on the water. I also love the physicality of working on the water, especially with people who make me laugh a lot.

Saturday was my last night on crew. I was dewy-eyed, sentimental, singing loudly along with the Stevie Wonder playlist, teaching kids how to surf the trampoline and bouncing around having fun.

Then there was a shark.

I was about 40 feet from the boat after sunset floating around near the mouth of the bay. The crew was on deck ushering people down the stairs to visit the mantas with me. I was stringing out light boards and heard someone say, “swimming behind you.”

I turned around thinking a Manta was coming. Then it passed in our lights, maybe 10-12 feet away. It swam along the surface of the water in a straight line, cutting a wake in its path. I saw the shape of its face, it’s flat head, a black tipped tail, larger on top and smaller on the bottom. Maybe 7-8' and moving fast, charging forward, not really looking at me.

I turned to the people on the light board and told them to scoot back toward the boat. I asked the crew to stop letting people in, made the shark sign on my forehead and tried not let my heart beat too fast or race in ahead of the guests.

When we reached the bow the captain leaned over the rail and said it was a just bottle nose dolphin that had been cruising around the boat, so we stayed in the water.

Then we saw the dolphin. It was a little shorter and fatter than what swam by earlier and moved differently. It circled us, clapping its tail on the surface. Sometimes it hovered low and still near the edge of our light. It stayed close until we swam deeper into the bay.

When I got home I told John about it. He said,

“I didn’t wanna say anything until you finished the whole story but think that was a shark. You know what they look like. I think there was a dolphin and a shark and that the dolphin was warning you. That’s one reason they do the tail clap.”

In the ocean, we are tiny and clumsy specks. Big things can reach us without us seeing them coming. More than once I’ve had 1,000lb.+ mantas appear and even run into me without my noticing anything leading up to it — no sense, no change in the water.

This is the surrender part, to the whole experience. Generally the reward in the end is worth the risk.

I don’t want to infer a meaning that isn’t there, but it isn’t a small thing that on my last night out, amidst waves of joy and grief, I would be met with that which I fear the most, on the rare occasion I wasn’t already thinking about it.

How it passed as I pivoted to face the open ocean felt like turning to face the unknown. I came out of it feeling more alive.

And now for a relationship with the ocean on new terms. Hopefully closer.


About the painting: charting water patterns, oil on wood panel (mock-up for a larger piece).


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