October 25, 2014

Breakfast with Dolphins

Things had been busy-hectic, crazy-the way things sometimes get. We needed to blow off stress, my wife and I, put ourselves on an even keel again. We'd been looking forward to a good long walk on the beach, with the backdrop something warm and sunny, one of those quintessential springtime Florida days.

But by the time we got to the beach, a front had blown in; the sky was a sad gray, and it was drizzling. Typically, we take our chances finding a space along

the public access points off Gulf Shore Boulevard North, but on this particular day it was easy pickings. I parked the car, and we sat there, windshield wipers wiping, while we debated what to do, each of us blaming the other for not remembering to bring the raincoats.

"Looks awful out there," said my wife.

"Rain seems to be coming down harder," I said.

"We'll get soaked."

"And we'll come down with pneumonia."

"Probably die."

We gave each other a look: Would you just listen to us? When did we get to be this way? Then we opened the doors and went for it.

I have a friend, a hardcore sailor, who says the best days he's ever known on the water are the ones that began most inauspiciously.

"You have to head out in all conditions," he says. "You have to take it the way it comes at you."

And that surely applies to walking on the beach. Our heads are turned too easily by the complexion of comely days-dazzling glint off the water, puffy clouds against blue sky, warm sand on bare feet. Yet pallor and squall, damp and dank, days such as that can be no less seductive. Or so I'm told, anyway.

We were drenched before we made it past the dune line, but there was not another soul to be seen in either direction, and in these times, and in this place, that is rare circumstance indeed. We headed north, into the wind, and almost immediately we saw the dolphins. Not an uncommon sighting. In fact, rare is the day along the Gulfshore when you go to the beach and do not see dolphins. But these dolphins-there were two of them-were mere feet from water's edge and gregarious as all get-out. They sliced through the waves, rolled up on their sides to eyeball us, played bump-and-go in the shallows.

"Probably dolphin mating season," said my wife.

Turns out I'd read an article about the Atlantic bottlenose-our kind of dolphins-which said they enjoy a "promiscuous mating season."

I said, "That means they like to fool around 365 days a year."

"How nice it must be for them," said my wife.

We kept walking. The rain didn't let up. It got colder. We kept telling ourselves we weren't miserable.

And then my wife said, "Look, they're following us."

True, we'd gone a half-mile or so, and the dolphins had kept pace with us, still just a few feet offshore. And when we decided to turn around and head back to the car, they turned around with us.

We walked now, the wind and rain at our backs, and tried to put some connection to it: Maybe they really were following us; maybe we had forged some precious dolphin-human link. But just as we were pondering the peaceful wonder of the moment, the water erupted with a fury, and the dolphins zoomed toward shore, corralling a school of menhaden and feasting madly upon them. We stood there and watched for at least 10 minutes. What a slaughter it was, and what perfect predators those two cheerful dolphins.

Then we headed back to the car, flipped on the windshield wipers and sought out a breakfast of our own.

Bob Morris' Bahamarama is a finalist for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery novel. 

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