01 October 2015

Wild child

"The things that we love tell us what we are."
-- St. Thomas Aquinas

As mentioned in previous posts, Surprise and Nicky + Missel were the fan favorites to everyone.... except me.  I too wanted to adopt Surprise and shower her in affection, but juvenile Piccolo was my lodestone because she exuded many qualities I see in myself.

First, I liked Piccolo merely because she was not the popular vote.  None of the vollies a.k.a. volunteers ever voiced wanting to work with her... and I love rooting for the underdog.  In preparing to race Hermit Crabs in Nacula, Fiji, many guests at Oarsman's Lodge chose the most muscular crustacean or one based on their lucky number.  In no rush, I was the last of the visitors to near the pool of Hermit Crabs where 3 out of 20 remained.  The leftovers.  At 5 feet 1 inch tall I am often the shortest person amongst my friends and co-workers back in the U.S.A.  However, I am such a pistol I've managed to scare 6 feet 3 inch tall boyfriends with my intensity.  I had a hunch a smaller crab would be quicker and have that winning spark.  .  I gravitated toward one that was significantly tinier than the others. Paradoxically and ironically, on its shell was painted "#0." Now I really wanted that particular crab.  I imagined the others taunting it "You're just a zero, you'll never amount to anything" but [in art] zero is infinite.   #0 started off slow, but -- sure enough -- the larger oafs moved erratically or not at all and my little zero crossed the finish line, qualifying for the quarter-finals!

Rewind to Western Australia & the beginning of my 50 days overseas: it was my third day volunteering for DPaW a.k.a. Department of Parks and Wildlife and for the first feed I trudged as deep into the Indian Ocean as I could go despite the chilly morning.  So deep, I might as well have worn my swimsuit bottoms because my shorts and knickers a.k.a. underwear were soaked.  A strong wave might have washed me away, but I learned after day 1 that the deeper I went, the more room there was for the female Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins to maneuver, and that equated to more interaction!  I felt an instant predilection to Piccolo our first time together because the second I stood still, she inserted her rostrum between my legs & nuzzled the inside of my left calf.  It was an interesting and unique experience because I had never been touched inside my legs by the ladies.  In fact, that encounter signified the most I was touched by any of the dolphins throughout my week at Monkey Mia Marine Reserve.
Piccolo's physical contact was extremely out of character [though I didn't know it at the time].  Before I knew anything about her personality, I decided to take a gamble because she continued to nudge my left leg.  If she was going to be super touchy with me, then I was going to rebel & mirror her actions.  As Piccolo circled me again, I surreptitiously lowered my left fingers into the sea to my first joint/knuckle and they caressed her smooth right flank as she, in turn, grazed my upper leg.*  I wouldn't change that moment for all the riches in the universe.

My adoration and veneration for Piccolo grew exponentially after we both became better acquainted with each other.  During that same, momentous first feeding with Piccolo I selected a young adult from the crowd who wore plaid, black & red board shorts with a GoPro.  Despite being instructed how to approach Piccolo -- and then, forcefully told to "let [the fish] go" -- the skeevy guy dangled the Yellowtail above the water's surface, out of Piccolo's reach as if he was the ringleader & this was his circus animal.  With the impudent man's GoPro front & center, in the game of Cat and Mouse, I watched him assume the role of Cat as he tried to foist Piccolo into submission.  She had her mouth open and he often touched the tip of her beak but refused to let her have it. Interestingly, Piccolo also refused to close her mouth around the Yellowtail.

Clever Piccolo played the game, staying attentive, letting the man think he had the upper hand.  The supervising ranger intervened, grabbing the man's hand and shoving it into the ocean as she slid the Yellowtail out of his grip. As soon as the thawed fish was released, Piccolo shot one look and snubbed the man by abruptly swimming off.  The entire feed, the stupid human thought he was the Cat, but in his arrogance, he never once contemplated that he might be Mouse.  Piccolo lured him in and as soon as he broke/was forced to concede, she proved that she was ultimately in control of her thoughts and body.  I stood in awe.  Not of the tourist's audacity but of Piccolo's cunningness!  Had I just witnessed a wild animal use reverse psychology?  I chortled to myself at the guy's moronic behavior.  In the standoff of wills, Piccolo won.  I was inexplicably proud of her for not allowing herself to be manipulated.
Like me, Piccolo has always been recalcitrant.  The first of Puck's children to survive weaning, Piccolo was untainted by a human presence at Monkey Mia (unlike her mother). Therefore, she is a skilled huntress & does not rely on meals provided by DPaW. One instance, after Nicky stole food from her, Piccolo simply moved on by socializing with friends. In my mind it was the ultimate revenge on Nicky, as in "I'm Piccolo & I'm too skilled to be troubled by losing one tiny fish. If I want a snack, I'll make it happen."

I once became infuriated with a mate a.k.a. close male friend who extended his arm to prevent me from [possibly] getting run over by a speeding car in a parking lot.  I wriggled out of his reach and continued to stomp across the lot in temerity.  I argued that I saw the advancing vehicle & did not need saved.  I was insulted that he impinged on my independence.  I should have thanked my date for the protective gesture.  Probably to the bane of the money-driven higher-ups in Australian government, Piccolo refuses Yellowtail more than any of the 5 irrabugas a.k.a. dolphins.  I envisioned her thoughts at the feedings: "Ohhhh you want me to act like a domesticated mammal and perform tricks?  Go to hell."

Piccolo also asserted her independence by doing whatever she darn well pleased. She's so over the whole program. That's why she turned up daily at feeding time only to swim around, no doubt conversing with friends in the vicinity. Towards the end of my week at Monkey Mia, a male vollie finally worked with Piccolo.  Since she had become my obsession, I inquired whether she ate the offered Yellowtail?  I howled with laughter when he recounted "She slept!"  Despite the frenzy of swarming pelicans, other dolphins, crying calves, stealing of fish, and tourists entering the water with vittles, Piccolo quiescently napped.

Because she was raised in the wild, it took years for Piccolo to understand exactly what the rangers at Monkey Mia wanted from her.  In another inadvertent twist on Cat & Mouse, Piccolo originally brought food to shore and offered it to the staff, instead of the tourist-centered, other way around.  She also called her own shots.  Finally agreeing to eat Yellowtail in 2004, Piccolo never received it by hand; the fish had to be released underwater.  I'm telling you, Piccolo stands firm in that which she is.  She will never bend to be what DPaW desires because she was born of the sea and the very core of her is untamed.

I frequently wondered if Piccolo ever felt misunderstood? As in, WHY are you rangers presenting me with this dead fish when I hunt tons of fresh food when I leave here?  WHY do all the other females eat their rations from a human hand?  I have asked myself the same questions.  WHY does everyone think I should want to own a house?  WHY is most of society unquestionably willing to conform to the status quo of working their life away and birthing calves children?  The root of Piccolo's and my dissonance is simple: we were created as free spirits.

Somehow, it suddenly was my last day volunteering with DPaW and living in the Shark Bay region altogether.  As a courtesy, the other vollies let my mother and I participate in all the feedings with whichever irrabuga we fancied.  Without a second thought it was Piccolo, but she hadn't been spotted near the shore yet.  I didn't mind.  I would pass on an opportunity to get into the water with Nicky + baby Missel or reliable Puck or lovey-dovey Surprise all day if I had to.  I would wait ashore with my metal bucket for one last send-off with my soulmate, Piccolo.
Fortunately, she swam in for the first feeding so my wish was granted.  As I stood alongside Piccolo, her swirling round and round in the water, I had a conversation with her the way I would someone dear to me, without fear of who heard.  I called her "a naughty girl" and asked whether she felt like eating?  A few seconds after my brief confession, Piccolo bolted towards the other dolphins and joined the milieu. I wasn't disappointed nor heart-broken.  On the contrary, I was infinitely happy to see her again & say a proper, final goodbye.  Moreover, I was glad she couldn't muster a care about me and sped off to frolic with peers.  I accepted and loved that Piccolo was sovereign.
 My last chore before I turned in the baby blue, vollie, DPaW polo & packed up the campervan was dusting shelves in the marine reserve's gift shop. To this day, it feels a little spooky that this should be my last impression of Monkey Mia. I stumbled upon one of the most magnificent photographs I have ever laid eyes on; more awesome than any sunset or panoramic landscape or portrait.  There, in all her unfettered glory, was Piccolo soaring some 5 feet above of the ocean.  Nose aimed at the heavens, wet body reflecting the bright sunshine, she was stunning.  She basked in her freedom & though dolphins don't change facial expressions, she looked happy.  She looked wild.







* Afterward, I was reprimanded for my actions, but you know the saying: it's better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.