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Limited Horizons of Perception

The dolphins play in the bow wave of the Moira

Strains of Japanese flute music float outward from the underwater speaker, penetrating the clear blue ocean water in the pass. The dolphins don't know what to make of it.

They swim slowly back and forth about 100 meters from the Moira. Freddy and I relax on deck, watching them. With the binoculars, I see several tiny babies in the community. They are so small they could be newborns. They are oceanic dolphins, so perhaps they come in here once a year to have their young.

"Boy, would I like to get some photographs of wild dolphins giving birth." I whisper to Freddy. My camera gear is all loaded and my underwater housing ready. We just drift, playing music to the dolphins, gently telling them we are friends and will do them no harm. Slowly, ever so slowly, they are coming closer.

When we sailed here this morning, a group of three large adults came to play off our bow. They tried to lead us away from the main body of the congregation. Now four adults and a little baby one, surface, slowly, about 10 meters away. "Ohhh, look at the little baby, he's cute," Freddy breathes. Walter Cat sits with us, spellbound by the sounds of the breathing of the approaching creatures. His ears radar forward, snapping into focus with each `puahhhhaaaa' from the dolphins.

The team of three large dolphins comes streaking in and heads off the approaching group. Whatever they say or do turns the group away. The trio stands guard on Moira, 15 meters upwind, as the main group slowly swims away.

I ease out a little headsail and Moira begins to follow the dolphins. The trio tries to lead us away again but we maintain our course for the main group so they come back and loaf along just off our bow. I go forward and take some photographs of them, talking softly, "Hi, dolphins, what a lovely morning. Are you having fun today? You are very beautiful." One comes up to have a better look at me. His eye is only two meters from mine as I lay on the deck looking down. I softly whistle at him and he whistles back.

In the center of his eye, I see the blackness leading down inside the mind of the dolphin. Here is the interface between the core of being: the great divide between self and other, the leading edge of awareness, the entry portal of visual perception.

"I know what you are thinking," my voice is soft and even. Walter Cat appears next to my elbow, looking down on the dolphin. Freddy is right behind me. The music flutes into a higher register. "You see us as something apart from you, an alien from the land. But we are not. Moira is a sea creature like you."

Moira is moving about two knots in the light breeze. The school keeps almost exactly 100 meters away, swimming in a circle around us. The leaders stay just under the bow looking up at me once and awhile, taking my image into their minds and comparing it with their memories of Man and then perhaps broadcasting some analysis out to the other dolphins. "What memories of Man are inside you?" I murmur. But my speech is far, far beyond the fields of dolphin perception. As their communications are far beyond my own. The dolphins gracefully ignore my question and communicate instead by staying there, playing with Moira, whistle-clicking and snatching glances at Freddy, Walter Cat and me.

"Fields of perception, my dolphin friend, are all those areas of your world your behavior zone can reach." The dolphins change places at this comment and another one looks up into my eyes. "Didn't know that, did you?" I glance up to check on our progress. The group is fractionally closer. Freddy has gone back to steer and Walter has gone with her. Just me and my pals, here.

"Beyond the horizons of your perception there are all sorts of things you guys don't know about. What horizons? Oh, well, some things are too far away for you to perceive. Some things are too small for you to know about. Some things are too big for you to perceive. And there are horizons in time, too, with events so quick you don't even know they happen and other events which take so long you can't perceive them, either. Lots of horizons of perceptions." The dolphin rolls on its side, looks up at me, and rolls back, ducking close under the bow.

"I know lots of things you don't know: things and events beyond the horizons of your perceptions. Should any of these appear in your field of perception and change your life, they would seem like something magical happening." The dolphin comes up and whooshes at me with his blow-hole.

"Like what?" The first example I think of is a fisherman shooting a dolphin with a rifle. The rifle would surely be like magic to a dolphin mind: totally inexplicable. But it's hardly a nice image. Something more natural, then. "Good question, dolphin. Hurricanes. For you a hurricane is a mystery, maybe some kind of Sea Spirit, huh? You get to see only a part of it so you don't know what it is or how it starts or why it behaves like it does. It is a capricious, unpredictable monster roaring over the open sea. But I, through scientists, magazine articles, photographs and drawings, satellites and high flying aircraft, know what the whole hurricane looks like. I know how it starts, where it goes, what forces drive it from one place to another."

The three dolphins surface at the same time and pooooooof at me. "Of course, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you guys know more about hurricanes than I think you do. Say, I've got a question for you. Are you aware your bodies are made of trillions of little animals all acting together?" The dolphins all swim down deep, one of them turns and shoots off into the clear water. "Didn't know that, huh? What about DNA? Know about that?" The other two dolphins vanish. The wind has died. Moira has almost stopped.

"I think I'll try getting in the water from Zod and have a little swim with you," I softly pad aft and gather up my gear. We are sailing for the pass through the reef and the water is very clear. I'll use the 21-mm lens on my Olympus in its underwater case. I get into the Zodiac and start the engine. Freddy rolls up the sail. Slowly, I motor off towards the main body of the dolphin community.

They are all around me. Easy now. Flippers on. Mask and snorkel. Camera ready. Rig a line to Zod so I can tow it like a rubber ducky. Slide slowly into the sea. Get my thoughts running like theirs so I move right.

I am immersed in Sea: a liquid life in myriad forms. Sun shafts ripple into the blue void, vanishing down, down, into the darkness below. Dolphin voices wash over me, illuminating my body as I move slowly ahead, looking out of the water to see their fins. Wouldn't I like to have sonar? Their voices guide them through even the darkest sea. I wonder how far they can see.

Singing, they hear Sea as a symphony of their own perception. Their sonic bemusements and loving playfulness are the peak of the leading edge of Sea's awakening mind. I get a mental image of the sound, itself, as the black nothingness in the pupil of the dolphin eye. The leading edge of awareness projected out into the body of Sea, not a thin lens of cells with an adjustable iris cameraing perception into the eyes. I hang onto the image until it snaps away from me - come back to it later.

"Dolphins, I am blind in your domain. I can not see you. I do not share your sonic vision. I am slow and clumsy. But please, won't you come play with me?" I whistle softly in what must be complete dolphinese gibberish.

No use in swimming, they just move farther back. I stop, float, peer through the water. There! At first just a shadow, gray on gray. The sunlight shifts, focuses, shifts again, creating form and movement. Memory. A way of behaving. Atoms of Sea reacting with energy from Sun. Learning to become dolphins in the giant web of a living Sea.

They hover on the edge of the flickering blue, sending a high-pitched thread of sound beaded with clicks. The knife-sharp awareness of Sea penetrates me, blooms into a bright echo on my lungs, mask and camera case. One mind approaches in the form of a hundred dolphin bodies communicating tunnels of mind in a web of sound within Sea's greater body.

Come, I won't hurt you, come closer. My camera case, filled with air, must be a bright target for their sonar, a magical man-thing. Danger is what lies beyond the horizons of perception. Maybe I should put it back in the Zod. Once they get accustomed to me, I can get it again. Slowly, I float over to the inflatable and put the camera inside. The mind of Sea watches me do this. I turn, empty handed, and slide smoothly into a dive, leaving even the tether to the dinghy behind. I dive down and down, feeling free and somehow clean, like I've done what they wanted.

Yes! They emerge from the blue two, three, four, twenty of them. Oh, they are everywhere around me! At first I see just the light spots of color on their bodies, the tips of their noses, the edges of the fins, like turquoise lights glowing in the dusk of Sea. You are so wonderful, so beautiful. They swim like the waves, perfect and effortless, smooth silky skin and powerful fins move in total harmony. What can it be like to hear your friend, to know love as a reflection of your own perception?

How do you, great dolphin mind, know Sea? Are you the eyes and ears of Sea? Do you remember when your DNA formed lesser creatures? When you walked on the land? When you were once dancing Sea atoms in the form of primitive fish-like creatures eons ago, even before you ventured onto the land? Does your genetic memory recall its days as single-celled beings within Sea?

They echo-range me and I feel it in the highest ranges of my hearing. They are so beautiful. One swims straight down and rolls over on its back, white belly up. It looks up at me with both eyes at once, seeing me backlit by the sun. For a moment I feel as if I can almost perceive what the dolphin sees, looking at me in Sea, the dolphin's own, greater body.

Lungs bursting, I surface, breathe, and dive again, plunging straight down with a smooth dolphin kick. I roll over, look up and a dolphin - the same one? - slides into position over me, backlit by the sun. We have exchanged positions. We have exchanged perceptions. It is a communication, no doubt about it.

I surface, buoyant with joy, and talk to them by imitating their whistles through my snorkel. There are thirty or forty of them around me now. I look carefully for the baby dolphins. The mothers are probably keeping them well away from me, but I'd love to see one nursing. Should I go get my camera? Or would they be frightened and leave? I'm so excited I don't know what to do except dive and swim and do rolls and whistle and laugh with joy.

When I dive I hear the faint sounds of the flute music. Combined with their squeaks, whistles and clicks it is an awesome symphony. I am in their field of communication, awash in their perception. Sounds from the whole community weave through me, rebounding to tell everyone about me. The sonic web is part of their behavior zone, extending out, making their sphere of perception into a big ameboid creature sensing Sea in all directions.

Their community is one being, each dolphin a knot of I Am in the net-like field of sonic dolphin communication. The greater being exists as information flows through it, marking differences, reflections, from Sea.

The group around me positively jumps to attention. In the time it takes to think about it, they are gone from view. The trio of big dolphins does a fly-by and the sea around me is empty. Maybe I whistled something wrong? I look up, over the calm surface of the ocean pass, and see the dolphins leaping out of the water, swimming headlong, as fast as they can go, towards the open sea. Damn.

wild dolphin in fiji


I turn and head back towards Zod. It has drifted about 40 meters away. Moira is about the same distance, drifting on the calm sea, Freddy on the bow watching me. What did I do wrong? How did I frighten them so?

Whoops. Maybe I didn't do anything wrong. Maybe... I spin around, looking everywhere. Nothing but empty sea, but I have no feeling for how far I can see.

Years ago, in 1967, I made a 600 foot deep open ocean dive in the Gulf of Mexico. It was 4 AM but at those depths it is always night anyway. There were three of us in the submersible dive capsule, lowered down from a deck chamber mounted on a 300 foot barge. I went through the hatch first followed Westinghouse Cachalot Deep Diving System by my buddy. The first task was to check each other for leaks. We were using closed circuit rebreathers so there should not be any leaks at all.

We sat on the big iron weight below the capsule and looked at each other. My buddy had a small leak from his mask and I indicated this by pointing to it and then wiggling my fingers like bubbles rising. His eyes bulged, he made a gurgling high-pitched scream into the intercom and vanished back into the hatch. My first thought was, he sure overreacted to a little leak. There was lots of squeaky helium talk on the intercom but I couldn't understand what he was squeaking about. Finally, when he didn't show up again, I poked my head inside the capsule. My team mates grabbed my harness and yanked me into the capsule.

With hand gestures and helium voices, my partner explained. When I gestured to him about the leak, a monstrous shark appeared out of the blackness, rushing up behind me in the glare of the 600 watt searchlights. The last thing he saw as he leaped for the hatch was an enormous mouth full of jagged teeth opening right behind my head. I never knew the shark was there and I have not the slightest idea what changed its pea-sized mind about eating me. My buddy had been bit by a shark about five years back. He had a chunk gone from one arm. There was no way he was getting back into the water. So the safety diver dressed in and we went ahead with the dive. I never did see the shark.

Horizons of Perception, huh? I send out imaginary sonar waves and reflect on all kinds monsters lurking close by, looking in at me in my own, limited field of communication. Now I'm convinced I did not alarm the dolphins. I'm quivering sure they took off to protect their babies from a big mother of a shark. A shark contemplating extending its behavior zone to include me. Thinking about digesting my fields of communication and joyously dissolving all the little beings of my cells.

I continue swimming slowly for the Zod, dive and pivot. Nothing. Not that I could do anything if there was a big shark there. My imagination is working overtime and I feel something big out there, down below me, just there. A big shark. It thinks I'm a sonic blind, injured dolphin. An old, sick dolphin hardly able to move. Yum, yum, yum. It smacks its jaws and its stomach rumbles hungrily.

My imagination places the shark deep, near the bottom, where I can't see it. But I know it can easily sense my movements by subsonics created by my movements in Sea. So I swim smoothly, confidently, saying with my body, "Grrrrr. I'm healthy, strong, dangerous, and alert." My hand touches Zod and I'm inside it, standing up, in one not very graceful lurch.

"Did you see it? Wasn't it cute?" Freddy is jumping up and down as I come alongside.

"Cute?" I'm still thinking of the giant shark.

"The baby! It was right behind you. It kept following you around. It was so tiny. You didn't see it? It was right between your legs once. I thought it was going to try nursing on your pecker. Hoooo ha, ha, ha, haaaa."

"Very goddamed funny. Did you see them take off? There was one monster mother shark out there and you stand up here laughing at me stranded out there with a hungry ocean-going dolphin eating shark."

"Really? How big was it?"

"Well, I don't know," I put my camera aboard. I didn't take a single picture of the dolphins. "I mean I didn't exactly see the shark."

We sail Moira to the small island and anchor in its lee. Freddy and I take Zod to the reef and snorkel around the shallow coral, waiting for the dolphins to cool off and come back. The reef is not very exciting. Mostly dead coral and rubble. We play for awhile in the shallows and then walk up the white beach to dry off and have a look for the dolphins. We see them swimming slowly in through the pass. "Let's go," we race down the beach and out to the dinghy.

Moving slow so we don't scare the dolphins with the propeller noise, we head back to Moira to put the speaker in the water and turn on the flute music again.

"Oh no!" Freddy groans. An outboard motorboat full of tourists appears over the horizon, engines roaring, headed right for the dolphins. The tourists are screaming like demented apes. The Fijian guide at the wheel plows straight into the dolphins with the big twin 50 Evenrudes wide open. They are moving at maybe 25 or 30 knots.

"The babies!" Freddy screams at the top of her lungs. Dolphins leap from Sea in every direction, panic stricken. I power up and race to cut off the boat. He makes a sharp turn and heads for a smaller cluster of panicked dolphins. "No! NO! You BASTARD!" If Freddy had a gun, the guy would be dead.

We converge, the Zodiac doing about 20 knots, the outboard - slowed by the sharp turn and its load of screaming tourists - maybe 15 knots. He sees me coming, I hold on a collision course. I can see I'll cut him off before he can hit the dolphins a second time. The adults can get out of his way but the babies might not. The guy acts like he does not see me but I saw him glance at us. He keeps coming, powering up, his bow lifting as he tries to get by us and into the dolphins. Son of a bitch!

We angle in towards his bow, only inches away. He is still powered up, working to get his boat up on a plane. The tourists shut up and goggle stupidly at us. The aluminum boat is bigger and heavier than our inflatable. The Fijian looks ahead at the dolphins and ignores us. I cut under his bow and, turning back instantly, reach out and as his bow climbs my wake I shove up hard on his starboard gunwale. The boat heaves to port and the tourists fall sideways, the whole boat lurches and nearly capsizes in its own wake as he slams the throttles down. Without a word he turns and heads away towards the beach.

I follow, trembling with rage. We anchor right next to him and the tourists go ashore casting nervous glances at me. The Fijian guide refuses to look at me. He goes ashore too and I follow, all the time forcing myself to cool off. He doesn't know, I tell myself. He's a good guy, but does not understand.

I corner him on the top of the beach. He is really worried, confronted by a mad man. I stop about two feet from him and quietly, calmly explain about the baby dolphins and why he should be careful and quiet when he takes the tourists to see the dolphins. I explain how a slow, quiet approach will enable his passengers get better photographs and assure the dolphins will return here next year. He is happy I don't want to fight him and gradually seems to accept what I am saying. But I think he is more swayed by the naked hate and anger he sees in my eyes than by my measured, professorial lecture. I realize he can't begin to imagine why I would risk injury to myself and Freddy and damage to my boat to stop him.

When they leave, they go slowly towards the dolphins but the dolphins are not all that stupid and the instant he clears the reef they take off for the open sea. Freddy and I watch them roar off towards the big island. They are my own species. How can hominids, with the most extensive perceptive system on our planet, be so eternally blind?