An encounter, in the wild

For as long as she could remember, she was captivated by dolphins. The girl was in awe of them. This was more than a fascination. She loved them. Her room was painted to look like the ocean, she had dolphin coloring books, and, one Christmas, her parents gifted her a small lamp of a dolphin riding a wave. On the bottom, in her father’s handwriting it said: “Follow your dreams.”

The girl knew she would grow up to work with dolphins. She thought she might become a dolphin trainer. Her parents, seeing how passionate she was, brought her to the Shedd Aquarium anytime they were in the city. They even arranged for her to meet with one of the dolphin trainers. The girl told the trainer of her hopes and dreams of working with dolphins. The trainer replied that the girl had a better chance of becoming a professional football player, but that if she tried really hard in school, she might achieve her dream. A professional football player? The girl knew that there were no women or girls who were professional football players. Did this mean there was no chance that she would meet and work with dolphins someday?

The girl and her family often visited her grandparents in Florida for spring break. She loved getting to be near the water. She and her mother, kindred spirits in their love of the sand and waves, would take afternoon walks on the beach. This afternoon was not particularly out of the ordinary. It was neither hot nor cold. It was not windy. The white sands of the beach seemed just as the girl had remembered them. The pair walked near the water’s edge and looked out over the inlet where the boats were returning to the marina. There were often pods of dolphins following the boats, and the girl knew this. There were none today.

They continued down the beach alternating their gaze between searching for seashells in the sand and scanning for dolphins on the horizon. To the girl’s delight, there was a pod of dolphins near a sandbar close to where they were walking. The girl and her mother walked out toward the dolphins, trying to get a better look. Secretly the girl imagined some scene from a movie. She knew just how it would go. She would continue out into the water. One dolphin would break off from the pod to check her out. She and the dolphin would greet each other as the world stood still around them, and, just like that, the dolphin would head back to the pod.

The moment had arrived. The girl and her mother walked toward the pod. The dolphins charged toward them and spun around just six feet from where they were standing. These creatures were not being playful. They were powerful. They were fishing, and the girl and her mother had wandered into their space. The girl fled back to the safety of the shore, her mother running right behind her. The girl had never felt so small.