In her book, Beautiful Minds, Biologist Maddalena Bearzi recounts an unexpected detour as she and her team of scientists were trailing a pod of dolphins while they hunted, eventually narrowing in on a school of sardines. One dolphin abruptly shot out from the pod at high speed, beckoning the rest to also forsake their meal and follow. The scientists sped along behind, curious to discover what prompted such unusual behavior. When the pod formed a circle a couple miles off the coast of Los Angeles, the crew of scientists were shocked to find a young woman in the center, moments away from death. Acting quickly, they were able to retrieve and revive the teenager. She had attempted suicide, but woke up to hear that she lived because of the vigilance and benevolence of dolphins.
As I painted this scene, I wondered what it must have been like to have taken to the ocean with the intent of ending your life, experienced in that salty immersion what you thought would be your last moments, only to awaken and hear that dolphins haloed around you as your life teetered on the edge. I hope the dolphins rescued her spirits as well as her life. And I hope we as people can learn how to care for and respect these mysterious creatures.
I first read this story in Susan Casey's Voices in the Ocean, a fascinating, wonder-filled, and at times, horrendously sad account of the history of our interactions with dolphins: scientifically, commercially, in culture and lore, as well as eye witness accounts in the wild.
I am continually amazed by the depth of all we don't know about other creatures with whom we share this world, especially as I collect these stories. To think that miles away, dolphins could be cognizant of a woman in distress, understand and care enough to bring help to her....we have no way to explain this scientifically. And the people who bring us this story are biologists, strictly trained against humanizing the animals they observe.
How beautiful. How sacred.
I sat on this piece for quite a while, because I'm so in love with this story. Could anything I make come close to doing it justice? But I remember that this is not a question for me to answer. My job is to honor this love with what I can offer. When I let go of that pressure, I can once again enjoy the challenge of telling these stories in my own voice and happily seeing bits of the light that drew me to them in my paintings.
And now process shots (for those folks who are into that kinda thing):