By Bruce Stambaugh
I love it when I can walk with the dolphins.
The time of the day is insignificant. I consider the stroll up or down the beach a blessed and rare privilege. The bottlenose dolphins don’t seem to mind at all. I doubt they are even aware of my presence. The closest ones surface and resurface just beyond the breakers.
If the relentless waves would soften their drumbeat upon the sand, I might even be able to hear the dolphins’ high-pitched squeaking and chatter as they undulate north or south, feeding, playing, the young ones occasionally showing off, jumping out of the water like flying fish. The rest of the pod continues with the business of foraging in the giving sea. The youngsters circle back, never far from mother’s side.
We watch for the dolphins from sunrise to sunset. With below average air and water temperatures this winter, the walks with the dolphins have been fewer than previous snowbird ventures. That only heightened my joy at each opportunity. Once I spot the dolphins, I hurry down the steps, across the wooden walkway to the gritty beach sand and begin my stroll.
I walk fast trying my best to stick to the wetted sand where footfalls are firm but pliable. I have learned that my natural striding equals that of the dolphins’ cruising pace unless they change course or have their routine interrupted for some reason. I assure you, if they do, it’s not because of me. I watch them more than where I am going. They, however, don’t know I exist, which is my preference.
When I pass other beachgoers, perhaps walking their dogs or also just out for a morning or afternoon stroll on the beach, I ask, “Did you see the dolphins?” There are only two possible answers, whether verbal or nonverbal. A nod or “Yes” and I smile and keep walking. A “No” often followed by “Where?” and I point and wait until they, too, see the rhythmical appearing and disappearing fins, thank me, and walk on.
Dolphins are smart. They most often appear when the weather and water agree on calmness rather than a calamity. The dolphins slip through the water silently, hardly making a ripple. We seldom see them during a nor’easter, where the waves and wind collectively and relentlessly crash the shore.
I especially enjoy the walks at low tide when the ocean and the sky join forces to show all their true colors. Even on cloudy days, blues, pinks, purples, tans, greens, and frothy whites chase one another through the never-ending cycles of ebbing and flowing.
Overhead, Forester’s terns and squawking gulls trail the pods like kites on strings. The Forester’s hover and dive to the water’s surface, grabbing breakfast or brunch that have eluded the playful dolphins.
I inhale the sea spray and salty freshness simultaneously, joyfully, though I know my glasses will need a good cleaning once I return to our winter’s nest beyond the seashore dunes.
I stop to investigate a shell or take a photo with my cell phone of some artistic designs the sea and sky have jointly sculpted. I look up, and the dolphins are gone.
I retrace my footsteps, occasionally checking beyond the folding waters for any gray fins or reflective glints of the sun off wetted backs. Seeing none, I walk on, my heart and soul both warmed by the encounter that strengthened not only my muscles but my spirit, too.
That’s why I cherish each chance I get to walk with the dolphins.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2018