Often it is the day to day experiences that trigger stories.
This morning I was afraid to go into the water. What if Musk duck was there? I had never seen a Musk duck in the canal before and he really was quite an ugly specimen. Half cormorant, half duck with a bulbous flap of skin under his chin. I was worried that I’d given him the wrong impression. I certainly hoped not, but research had revealed that inadvertently the way my flippers slap the water during my early morning swim could echo his mating ritual. Standing on the sand, boogie board under arm, I scanned the water my imagination going wild. Was he paddling around out there just waiting for me? I nearly turned around and went back inside.
But how many times have I been told, ‘Why do you travel by train at night? And alone. Aren’t you afraid of being mugged?’ I’ve done it for years without a hint of trouble and to stop now would be ludicrous. Talk about clipping your wings. Maybe one day I’ll live to regret my rashness, but so many magical city nights would have been lost if I’d stayed home because I was afraid of what might happen. It is so easy to give in to fear, but one thing I’ve learnt is be prepared, then face the fear and move on. Scared? I’m often scared, but if fear takes over, opportunities are lost. I remember the time I went swimming with the dolphins. The experience will delight me for the rest of my life.
SWIMMING WITH THE DOLPHINS
He knocks on the door and waits for me to hurry up the hall, turn the key and let him in. I see the familiar mischievous gleam. What has my married son dreamt up for me this time? A new computer? Learning to kayak? A trip to the Air Show? He is always trying to take me out of, what he calls my ‘comfort zone’. He hands me a ticket, saying, ‘You’ll love it Mum. And don’t worry, we’ll be with you.
I stuff bright bathers and a large towel into my beach bag and on the way to Sorrento I keep asking myself, “Why am I doing this? Dark clouds block out the sun and my stomach churns when I see from the top deck of the Queenscliff Ferry the Pope’s Eye. This manmade horseshoe of rocks in the middle of Port Phillip Bay has formed an artificial reef. Already many boats nuzzle it like a litter of piglets. Soon I will be joining them and the water looks deep and cold.
My first challenge is when I’m given a level-five full-length wetsuit. I squirm, pull and tug, trying to get my body encased neck to ankle in rubber. It’s worse than a full body corset and I breathe in as I pull the zipper to beneath my chin. Young swimmers eat your heart out. This aging body can now blend with yours. Hidden is the cellulite, wrinkles and dimples that reveal my senior years. I sign the consent form. Am I on any medication? I proudly tick, no. Is there anything that can make it difficult to climb over the side of the boat? Yes. I’m certainly not as agile as I once was and I treat my new titanium hips with care.
The sky lightens as we speed towards the Pope’s Eye to practice our snorkelling skills. My nerves are as agitated as the wake of the boat and it is forbidden to wee in the wetsuits. There is a toilet on board but the trip, and my emergency, would be over before I managed to struggle free. There are sixteen on board and five crew. A German couple, Israeli family, a father and his two boys, a mixed bunch of Australians, my son and daughter-in-law and myself. I try to spit professionally into my mask to prevent fogging but find my mouth dry.
Our instructor informs us that there is no guarantee that we will see Dolphins but if we are fortunate enough to spy a pod there are strict rules. We must not swim towards them and if they become curious and come over to investigate we must not touch them. While she is speaking the cry goes up Dolphins, and is echoed by everyone on board. The engines stop and the crew shout instructions, “Mask and snorkel only. Stand at the back of the boat. Quick. Into the water. Now,” Two lines with white floats are thrown overboard. “Get on the platform. Jump in. Move down the line. Don’t let go of the rope.”
I plunge in. Through my misty mask I see a dolphin heading my way. “Put your head under the water,” my son says pointing down with his thumb to make sure that I understand. “ Look down,” but the rope is swaying in the current and I feel as if I could be swept away by the tide. I look back at the boat and see the crew excitedly pointing, “Look down.” I plunge my head under and at first see nothing. My breath is rasping and echoing in my ears.
Suddenly, below me I see three dolphins swimming lazily towards me. Two adults and a baby tucked in beside them and I forget everything as I watch them swim past and out of sight. Their sleek bodies, their closeness and the rhythm of their passing takes my breath away and I raise my head. My son is shouting, “Did you see them? Did you?” I can’t stop smiling and give him the thumbs up before plunging my head under again, struggling like a fish caught in a net to keep my body in position. A large dolphin effortlessly, sensuously glides past. His flowing movements and majestic silver body are so perfectly in tune with his environment that I feel tears sting my eyes.
On board everyone is wide-eyed and smiling. Our multi lingual babble releasing our excitement and tension as we are bonded by the experience. We crowd to the side of the boat when we see flashes of silver as frantic garfish leap out of the water trying to escape dolphins hunting below. Occasionally a dolphin soars out of the water, and flops back with a splash. Two were not feeding. They were intent on procreation.
On the trip back I try to get my shoulders free from the wetsuit but only manage to pin my arms to my sides. My son and his wife pull and tug and finally rescue me from the top. I roll the suit down. The result is a lump of black rubber around both ankles. After much tugging I finally pop free, totally spent and thoroughly exhilarated.
Today I enjoyed my swim. Musk duck turned up but viewed me with a wary eye. I swam to shore, stood up and showed him that I was definitely a much larger species. I waved my arms, shouted and in my full length wet suit must have been a formidable sight. He sped off down the canal as fast as he could paddle. Very effective, but I can’t help wondering what the neighbours now think about ‘that crazy woman’s’ unusual and unexpected display.