A Dive I Remember

She pumped her eight little legs to propel herself out of harms way.  I caught her.  This was the first time I had held an octopus.  I welled up with empathy for the tiny squishy creature. I let her free, and she glided through the water, her legs like a squash blossom opening and closing.  We began to play.  And she came back to my hands, changing my concept of what it is to be alive with every flex of her chromatophores, and graceful swoosh of her suckers. Her calm stillness as her bulb head swayed slightly with the surge led me into deep concentration. 

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A well camouflaged octopus. See the eyes on that orange thing?

I studied her little eyes, just bumps, that couldn’t even see the colors she imitated so closely.  She was a mystery.  Rhabdoms sprinkled across her retina took in the e-vectors reflecting from my glove, my face, my bubbles, and the sand.  She sensed the delicate contrast between angles of polarization in the light she absorbed, rather than the hues I watched with amazement.  Like a dialogue spoken in two languages, neither person understanding the words, both parties understanding the content, we communicated through sight, connecting two biologically distinct perspectives through common experience.  She dazzled my idea of color and identity as she shifted between a swimming ruddy brown to a blackish, hugging my elbow.  Maybe she saw me as a silly seal, an unusually soft rock, a friend and fellow sea-dweller?

A few weeks later, my summer internship was ending, and my dad wanted to come down to Monterey to take me out for a dinner at The Fish House, a seafood restaurant renown among locals.  When the waitress told us about the grilled baby octopus special, we instantly turned to each other with wide smiling eyes.  Nine charred baby octopi sat upright on a perfect white plate.  Each one, eight slender legs, their tiny suckers still tiny nubs, splayed out from under a golf-ball sized body.  No breading, sauce, or garnish distracted from their perfect octopi form.  The simple preparation added to the resemblance of Ruby, her reddish brown pigment so similar to the savory skin before me, except these little beings could no longer camouflage or glide awayWe squeezed a lemon wedge over them, and devoured them.  We ate the little crispy legs, gingerly tugging them from the bodies with our teeth.  The heads were a scrumptious chewy mouthful, the mystery of their intelligence conquered in a single gulpThey were delicious.  It was thoughtless.  Dad and I smiled, savored, and enjoyed, as we had so many times before, bonding over plates of tender cephalopod meat.  We were so focused catching-up, we tossed back the little beings, barely touching the aioli dipping sauce in our flurry of conversationI told him about the wonders of the kelp forest between gnawing on grilled, crackling skin.  I told him about the gorgeous scenery below the algal canopy, that he would likely never appreciate for himself, comparing it to majestic redwood stands and mysterious old oak groves. 

***

My experiences with the ocean range from academic dives to playful splashing to eating it’s amazing creatures.  I am excited to further explore the interactions people have with the ocean in Monterey and Santa Cruz, from harmful runoff to educational outreach.  Looking forward to an awesome quarter with ASB!  What what E.Sys. 16!!

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