-page 1-3- I swim straight out into the open ocean, two hundred yards from shore on this becalmed, coral-studded, blue-green sea. I'm not much of a distance swimmer, so I'm only too happy to be able to support my weight by cradling a stainless steel and brass, hollow, sound sphere known as a waterphone. The waterphone is a musical instrument.
Directly in front of me I suddenly spot twenty or more fins rolling out over the ocean surface in close formation. These are spinner dolphins. All of the accounts say that they are both highly intelligent and friendly to human beings. But still, this is the first time that I have ventured so far from shore, all alone, with so many large sea creatures about. One small part of my media-cluttered brain brings into focus various shark-infested movie-set oceans from my childhood. These are not sharks, I repeat over and over again They are dolphins. Dolphins may like music. They may even communicate to a person if the tune i right. No, not in English. I don't know how. I do not know exactly what I am trying to say, either to myself or the dolphins. Communicate what?
I begin stroking the main tube of the waterphone. If I catch its surface just right, the whole sphere vibrates. Cradling the instrument properly this vibration courses clear through my body and so into the water. The process tickles.
But the dolphins seem totally uninterested in this sound as they continue about their business of travelling into the middle of the bay. The Groote Islanders, who probably invented this idea of communicating to dolphins through music, always succeed. Or do they? I stop playing the waterphone and stick my head into the water to hear. I can hear nothing but the lingering wwwwwhhhhoo of the waterphone.
So I change my approach to a shorter, more repetitious tune by rubbing my palm directly across the prongs which rim the equator of the sphere. Now the rhythm is clear and simple: five seconds of sound, and then five seconds of silence. Once again I stick my head into the water. Now the sphere is vibrating so intensely that it actually hurts my ears. I am told that sound is five times more intense under water than above. Does it hurt the dolphins ears as well?
If anything they still seem uninterested. So I change my tune a third time. By striking the centre tube with a mallet while simultaneously immersing various parts of the sphere into the water a ringing tone is produced which rises and falls dramatically in pitch. WhhvvvooWHHVVAAU.
Immediately, I sense a change. The dolphins turn from their path and now swim straight towards me. Just fifty yards away they form into a tight precisely patterned circle. Now they turn and turn on the axis for a minute or more. The movement reminds me of nothing so much as Israeli folk-dancing. I recall a wedding two years earlier. All my cousins circled and kicked, circled and kicked. while a brass band played the Hava Nagila.
Eventually the dolphins break from the circle, one at a time. They move in very close; thirty-five, forty feet away. It is difficult to accurately judge distance with my eyes just inches above the water's surface. But their eyes are quite visible as several of their number lift their heads high above the water surface to examine this strange vibrating being who swims in their midst. They are about the same size as me. I am mostly struck by the immense power of their breathing. It is like champagne corks: PooPoooPhoo.
And all of the time I continue to play these long sliding notes on the waterphone. Once more I stick my head into the water. The sphere sounds clear and sweet; now like an oriental gong, now like a church organ. I open my eyes. There they are; six or seven blurry figures. They seem so much closer under water. Next time I must remember to wear a mask. Or is eye contact more important?
I listen for twenty seconds, come up for a deep breath of air, stick my head below again; up and down, over and over. This technique seems so clumsy. I must find a better way to get sound into the water. I feel inadequately built to the task of communing with these creatures of the sea. And I still hear nothing except the sound of the waterphone. I had always thought that dolphins vocalized all the time. Perhaps they are vocalizing, but at a higher frequency than my ear can hear. Yes, that must be it. But does it matter to me that I can't hear them calling to each other? It will probably matter eventually; but certainly not today.
But if I'm feeling somewhat inadequate to the task of communicating with the dolphins, the dolphins themselves seem to want to help me out. One of them darts directly beneath my feet. I'm still smiling, that's a good sign. I've heard so many stories about the psychic abilities of dolphins, that maybe there really is something to it. Some people believe that the dolphins can enter a person's head at will, look around inside, and then leave you with a distinct tingly feeling like when you drink too much ginger ale too fast. But why is it that so many of these stories are told by people who have never never swum with dolphins?
All of us are quite together now, one human and twenty or so dolphins sharing one little corner of the ocean. And now, so suddenly as to make my blood rush, one of the dolphins jumps six feet clear of the water, and just a few feet away. In another moment, they are all jumping clear of the water; spinning and somersaulting about. That one must have jumped fifteen feet straight up before spinning twice, somersaulting, and then re-entering the water with nary a splash. Bravo! All I can manage to do is keep my head above water, and watch them with a big foolish grin on my face.
And from the shore, so very far away, an audience of human beings has gathered to watch this freeform interspecies theatre. And now they too are all jumping about, laughing and clapping, slapping each other on the backs, breaking out the cold beer. Everyone, everywhere is carrying on like a group of silly children.
I have been a musician all my adult life. Now I can see why dolphins themselves do so well as entertainers. They too are performers, born performers. Someone on the shore blares out a charge call on the trumpet. Someone begins to bang on a conga drum. And the next series of dolphin jumps and spins seem just that much more animated. The people on the shore cheer even louder. The dolphins try to jump higher. What more could any musician ask from a performance? Maybe dolphins should become the Totem of all human musicians, gymnasts, and clowns.
The animals frolic about for no more than ten more minutes. Soon the dolphins move off and once again form into their precise tightly knit circle, turning and turning about. Then they break from the circle. Now they are gone.
This human being suddenly feels freezing cold in twenty-five feet of water; much too far from shore for his own comfort. Kicking with his rubber frogman's fins, he slowly paddles back to shore. There other humans stand ready to talk to him about what just happened.
Typed by Cheryl Vega 3-18-95