One Word

or, Dolphin Delight

Dolphins play off the Dominican coast.

Dolphins play off the Dominican coast.

By Jackie Leavitt

I look off the back of the boat, staring at our lifeless lures trailing behind us, bobbing along in the deep blue-gray water. We’ve had no fish action yet since we left Portsmouth, Dominica, a few hours earlier. Bueller leaves a faint foamy wake as we slowly sail south down the island’s west coast. My eyes aren’t focused on anything in particular when I think I spy a black back arc out of the rippling sea.

It’s a brief glimpse — the type where you question if you just saw a dark wave or if it’s actually what you wish it is. The brain whispers it, but the heart adds a question mark, barely allowing hope. Dolphin?

But then, in the next few seconds, the back rises out of the water again, but this time accompanied by two more fins flanking him on each side. The question mark straightens out into an enthusiastic affirmative that escapes my mouth in a gleeful bellow to everyone else on-board. “Dolphins! Dolphins!” It’s a ring that seems impossible to cease. The whole world now revolves around this one word. “Dolphins!” No other declaration, concept or comment seems possible, and I just continue to shout and point in the general direction of the increasing numbers of fins that crest out of the water, following the boat.

My world is reduced to this one, essential truth. “Dolphins!” Not one, not three, but about 30 of them, cascading through the water like playful, synchronized swimmers. I run back and forth along the sailboat, staring at the sea creatures now surrounding us on all sides.

Each time they come up to the surface, they give a distinctive, audible puff of air, alerting you to their locations even when your eyes are elsewhere. They poke their glistening, gray noses toward the sky. Their flippers flap and smack the sea’s surface. A few roll over like dogs begging for a belly scratch.

All four of us on-board hang over the side rails, peering around the sails to gaze upon the frolicking creatures. I’ve been traveling for two and a half months, cruising almost 1,000 miles through nine countries from the Dominican Republic to the Lower Antilles, and, except for the briefest of glimpses as we passed a dolphin in the Virgin Islands, the waters have been disappointingly void of this joyful sea animal.

It’s so simple — a dolphin — yet for some reason elation surges through my body, disproportionate perhaps to what was expected. There is a kindredness to the sight: Another hyper-intelligent mammal splashing through the ocean water, just like you. Even as the pod fades toward the horizon away from our sight, the word rings like an echo in my brain in a statement, as if confirming what now feels like a dream. Dolphin. Dolphin. Dolphin.

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