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  • Bruce Tate

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Childhood memories are funny things. Some are patchy or fading, like the time my father woke me right around the time a tornado passed over our house, toppling a 50 foot high oak tree in Pamela Mirehagen's back yard. Some are vivid, like my memory of the painting I made for my third grade art contest, with a trainer feeding a leaping dolphin. I can still see the hard edges and the bulging nose I couldn't get quite right, and the pleasing fade from grey to black on the dolphin's body.


I was obsessed with dolphins. I could tell you about how fast they could swim, that they were mammals instead of fish, that they were among the smartest of the Marine species. I could recite the one liners the dolphin trainer fed me when I was invited to participate in the Liberty Land theme park dolphin show, feeling the Dolphin's skin and passing signals at the trainer's instruction.


Yesterday, we played with the dolphins. Of all the looping experiences I craved, this one was at the top of the list. We'd been told that dolphins like to surf on the pressure wave at the bow of a boat. That's not what happened for us.


We were running a little faster than our optimal fuel economy to make it in to a marina before nightfall, about 9 knots or just over 10 miles per hour. That means our wake was absolutely huge. We noticed the dolphins coming in, and I moved to our cockpit, the open area at the back of the boat to peek up to the front where I knew I'd see dolphins.


Nothing.


Disappointed, I turned around to stare out at the wake, just in time to see a dolphin do a half-pirouette and fall back in just below the surface, surfing our wake! I exploded with involuntary laughter. The raw joy of the moment was indescribable. I sat for two minutes, and then ran inside and took the wheel so Maggie could experience the same thing. When you love someone, you can read joy by their very posture, the shape of the shoulders, the excitement in the movements. Even a quick glance at her back told me what she was experiencing.


The dolphins leapt, spun, surfed, and twirled a mere ten feet behind the boat. Little did I know that this was the warmup act.


Today, we knew how fast to drive the boat. When we saw the pod of dolphins, we slowly adjusted the speed and let the dolphins fall in. A full pod of them came in to play! Three adults would leap in unison close enough to touch, a shocking two feet behind the boat. We could see their blow holes clearly as they angled from one side to the other, surfing our wave just as our daughter had done on a kneeboard the previous summer.


The whole encounter moved me more than I expected it to. I don't know what I imagined or what was real, but looking into the eyes of those beautiful acrobats touched my soul in ways that absolutely floored me. With this second encounter, I put down the camera and allowed the joy to slowly seep in, cracking the ice that had formed in the past three frigid weeks, and even over the past two years of this great pandemic. Even now, as I write, I can feel the tears sneak out as I thaw.


Today, we played with the dolphins. Yes, today, we played with the dolphins, and I can feel the joy seep in.


Wherever you are, thank you.





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