Monday, March 15, 2004

Touched by an Bat Ray

Yesterday Ryan and I had a really lovely day. I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around it... words fail me. It was just beautiful.

We spent Sunday at Sea World with the family (happy birthday, Dear Brother!) and it was really a noteworthy day. From time to time, Ryan and I would break away from the group and wander the exhibits on our own. Every time we did, the fates delivered us something miraculous. It was astounding. No matter where we were, we were alone... it was like having the aquarium to ourselves. Every creature in the water was interested in us... we were in complete awe.

We walked into the manatee exhibit and were still adjusting to the darkness when I laid eyes on the first one. Gently bobbing through the water, it swam from the bottom of the tank to the top... twisting and rolling. The audio track explained that the manatees here were rescued after injury. That's when I saw her tail. It was less than half intact, the rest a swelling of scar tissue. Tears sprang to my eyes. I couldn't help myself... I felt her pain and I choked back a sob. She swam up the glass and twirled around next to me. The second floated to the top of the tank and grazed aimlessly on the fresh lettuce provided. Ryan and I sat on the floor and just watched them. My heart swelled and pained. We sat there, totally alone for nearly 20 minutes.

Later we wandered to the dolphin pool and three dolphins came up to be pet by us, even though we were the only ones without fish for treats. We watched the killer whales in the tank and they swam by to see us... bring their small eyes closer and closer, to rub up against the glass. We stood alone next to the glass wall... smiling uncontrollably. We visited the seals and sea lions who all met our eyes. The sea lions trumpted back to us and flipped into the water. It was amazing having this time all to ourselves.

But the highlight of the day, by far was the Wild Arctic attraction. It begins with a flight simulator "helicopter" ride to the arctic and when you exit, you see the exhibits of the arctic animals. There were very few people on our 'flight' and wouldn't you know it, every one of them ran ahead of us. They peeked into the beluga whale pool then ran on... glanced into the polar bear exhibit, nothing, ran on... pointed and laughed at the walruses, then ran on... Ryan and I walked slowly. The theming of the exhibit was really cool, actually. We stopped and watched the belugas swim, then slowly made our way to the polar bear exhibit. One loan bear was splashing in the pool, and when he saw us, he came out of the pool. As he passed the cave, two more bears came out. All three wiggled their noses, they smelled something. We stood astounded. They sniffed toward us - was it us they smelled? No. Instead they smelled something (cream cheese maybe?) that was smeared on the inside of the glass. Clearly a ploy to get the bears to come near the people. And it worked. All three walked along the ledge, just inches away from us. They came face to face and looked at us. The largest one got there first, and started licking the snack off the glass. His nose was tremendous, his head unbelievable. Here was one of the greatest creatures in the world. He has the ability to hunt, track, and devour seals 5 times my size. He could easily fit my shoulders into his mouth with no effort. And he rose to his back legs, licking the treat off the glass. I squeezed Ryan's hand tight. The tears in the corners of my eyes were threatening to flood. My heart was racing, my hands were cold. I have never in my life seen anything so powerful. So threatening. So riveting. I have never been so in awe of anything. So moved by the grace of a beast. So mesmerized. So glad. So... I don't have the words to describe. All I know is that I truly felt the movement of the earth yesterday. For the first time. In the most over-commercialized, unexpected place. And I wept at the serenity of it all for hours last night.

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