My son Ted had seen and heard reports of great white sharks being caught in the fishnets off Point Judith. Now he was out there foil sailing. That would have been good, only the wind dropped to under five knots and he lost power. The tide was carrying
My son Ted had seen and heard reports of great white sharks being caught in the fishnets off Point Judith. Now he was out there foil sailing. That would have been good, only the wind dropped to under five knots and he lost power. The tide was carrying him out. He needed to get beyond the nets in hopes of catching some breeze and heading back into shore. He was prone on the board paddling. From below he might be mistaken for a seal, a favorite great white food. Ted’s friend Dave Charlton was well ahead of him, standing in chest-deep water. He was gesturing to something in the water. It was a pointed fin coming in Ted’s direction.
This happened about three weeks ago and seemed like a good introduction to the topic of relating to animals. Our pets, whether of the canine, feline, avian, reptilian or fish variety, all have a place in our hearts. For me, dogs offer the greatest bond, although as a child with a couple of tanks of tropical fish I’ll never forget Archie. Archie was an Archer fish, which are native to Indonesia. He was no more than 3 inches long with black bands on a yellow background. He was shaped like a spear point, sleek and fast. But that is not what Archer fish are known for.
They catch flies and other insects by shooting them down with a precision stream of water. I built a screen dome over Archie’s tank introducing flies when I could catch them. We were hunters together. Archie darted about his tank when he spotted me approaching. You don’t think of fish getting excited about your presence the way dogs do, but Archie did. It made me feel needed.
Archie was with us for at least a year. His skill was an attraction, giving me status among friends. He’d put on shows for my parents’ visitors provided I could catch flies, spiders or bugs. When he died, I gave him a proper burial in the backyard, not down the toilet as the case for other dead fish.
Turtles have always had a special place. I can’t define the connection. It’s just one of those animals that I like, although in no way do I feel there’s communication. Maybe it’s that they apparently feel at peace with life, a steady even pace, albeit usually slow unless you’re trying to catch them in a pond.
Then there are horses. I’ve never owned one, but cared for them as a ranch hand as a young teenager. Not all horses are the same. They are characters. I quickly learned they could read me. Some were docile, accustomed to the routine of being saddled and accepting of the handful of hay I held out. There was the one or two in the coral that greeted me, shaking their heads up and down and making a point of coming over to be talked to and stroked. Then there were the ones I learned to be careful of, especially when they flattened their ears. After being sent to the ground by a kick, I stayed away from their hindquarters. I had my share of bites, too while turning my back to lift their feet to check their shoes. And if you ride horses, you’re bound to have been thrown at some time. I had my share of retrieving my hat, dusting off my jeans and walking back to the ranch where I found my steed looking in control with an empty saddle.
It was a horse far from the west that stands out.
One school break my parents treated us to a vacation. This wasn’t a trip to Disneyland, although I’m sure the kids would have loved it. Rather, it was a week on a remote Caribbean island with accommodations separated by a long and empty stretch of sand. We stayed in a couple of cabins while my parents were a good half-mile away in more of a compound where we would join them for meals.
Where we stayed there were several horses – clod hoppers – that the kids got to ride and we led around by their bridles. And then there was this young stallion, a beautiful animal, smaller than his companions. I watched him stamp his feet and went over to stroke his head that he tossed. I sensed the energy. I asked if I might ride him. I was given a quizzical look. Was I serious?
The horse looked at me, seemingly for the answer. There was a connection. I said something about having ridden horses before. I was handed a bridle. I looked around. There wasn’t a saddle. The horse shook its head. Was that an OK?
Do you really want to do this, I muttered under my breath more to myself than the horse.
Carol was watching me. The kids were watching me. The horse was eying me. Was I going to chicken out now? With the reins in my left hand, I grabbed a handful of mane with my right and swung my right leg over his back.
I had hit a button to a rocket. The horse took off for the beach. I didn’t attempt to hold him back. I clamped my thighs on his back, held tightly to his mane and leaned forward against his neck. He was flying, his hooves splashing in the shallows of incoming waves. I felt the rhythm of his body, his rapid breathing, the wind and the occasional spray. I had no fear of being thrown. It was quite the opposite. We were one. He ran the length of the beach, coming to a stop when we reached the compound. He was winded and wet from sweat and spray.
He turned to look at me, our eyes connecting for a second. It was time to go back. He settled into a gentle gallop. It is the one horse and the one horse ride I can’t forget.
Ted didn’t get to ride the fish swimming in his direction. It was about eight feet long and his fears of a shark quickly melted when he recognized it was a dolphin. Ted kept paddling and when he reached Dave, he stopped. The dolphin circled them and turned its head to look Ted directly in the eye, a split second connection. It happened only once.
Ted and Dave stayed on the water and in the course of 15 minutes the dolphin would swim out of sight into the waves and return to circle them within three or four feet. Then it was gone.
I would have loved being there to share that moment of communication with another being. But then I have Ollie, our coon hound rescue, whose beseeching eyes say he’s happy to see me or that he’d like my dinner plate. It’s usually the latter.