Looking into the eyes of an animal is an absolute honour, for when you do you are looking into the very essence of life and, ultimately, your own soul. Such a gift is one I do not take lightly nor am quick to dismiss. This, of course, was no different with the manatees I encountered.
One manatee that kept coming back to me was very interested in my mask and snorkel. He/she would go right up to my face and we’d lock eyes. When you see the pupil of a wild creature so closely and intimately, to the point you can watch it dilate and constrict, you immediately start to question all that is wrong with the world, in particular, why these creatures are forced to fight for their lives. This feeling is much more cemented, I feel, when you are looking deep into the eyes of an animal that has a permanent spot on the endangered species list. How certain people still maintain the mindset that animals do not have emotions or do not feel pain is an absolute mystery to me.
The same manatee who I made a strong connection with would constantly try to grab my hand/arm with his flippers. Several times he/she would grasp my hand and put both his/her flippers together around it, kind of like a manatee hand shake. I was absolutely fascinated by this behaviour as it went on for several minutes – we literally just floated there, “playing” with each other’s “hands”. Later, after I had drifted too far from the rest of my human group, the boat Captain swam over to bring me closer to where everyone else was. On his instruction, I grabbed on to his foot as he pulled me back to shallower waters. The entire swim back the same manatee that I was holding “hands” with swam underneath us, surfacing to breathe and for little “tickles” every now and then. Both the boat Captain and I kept laughing at the sight of this manatee. The sheer power of that moment was so overwhelming for we clearly had been accepted as “one”.
Another encounter I accidentally came upon was a group of manatees circling each other. I kind of got caught up in the mix and wasn’t fully aware of what was happening. I never once felt threatened or that my presence was an unwelcome intrusion (in fact, I was barely acknowledged) however, when I saw the male expose his penis I knew I needed to give them immediate space and privacy. I had inadvertently come upon a mating/courting ritual. Oops!
It really bothers me when certain people adopt the attitude that the earth is a product and that each of us can stake claim in its ownership. We are just inhabitants, visitors of this rock (to quote a line from the X-files), just like every other creature who walks, swims, or flies across this planet’s vast landscapes and waterways. Animals are intelligent, aware, and manifest emotions in their own way. Humans, however, choose to use their intelligent design as a means to create destruction and hurt. Those that choose to use their minds in empathetic ways are routinely met with obstacles of power and indifference. Every time I think about my happenstances with the manatees on that warm January day I only reaffirm my unfaltering belief that we are all meant to reconnect with our natural harmony to the earth. The more I practice this methodology and make the effort to be aware of the sacred balance of nature, the more I feel a sense of peace and wholeness. While stress can be entirely subjective and cause fettering anxiety, what it does gift us with is the desire to find connections that limit such suffering. The more in sync I am with the natural rhythms of the earth, whether it be the food I eat or the respect I give, the better I feel. While such maintenance is a constant work in progress, it is most definitely worth the added effort.
The greatest lesson I learned though was one of forgiveness. It is one thing to be accepted and welcomed into a wild species’ territory, but to be granted permission to trace the deep scars left by long gone but not long forgotten boat propellers is another thing entirely. It is the human species that has put a death warrant on these creatures, yet, despite having every reason to be angry and vengeful, I was treated with nothing but kindness and gentleness. If only we humans could be so forgiving of our enemies.
No doubt you’ll experience what I mean if you too are given the rare opportunity to look into a wild creature’s eyes. Or, if like me, you are gifted with a gentle hug from a manatee.