Since 1992 I have been swimming every summer with dolphins in Ireland. Until 2001 I went to Dingle, where, just outside of town, in the porch between Dingle Bay and Dingle Inlet, at the cliffs of Sladeen, Fungi has his refuge.
My very first image of him was quite overwhelming. He swam under me, making turns over the seabed, throwing a savage trail of sand. The second time I went in, we swam a few minutes loop, much to the amazement of the experts present.
Soon I learned to distinguish between the appreciation of the spectators and the response of the dolphin. To avoid the intensely obtrusive commercial dolphin-trip boating I mostly rose at 5 in the morning in the Ballintaggert to chance his presence until 8, when the swimmers boat came. A dolphin's attention, intense as it can be, is easily distracted and though Fungi always visits everyone in the water, transfusion with him becomes rather diluted.
Though over the years I made quite a few other friends and became intimately acquainted with Dingle's sublime natural surroundings, having plenty of time left, I became increasingly irritated with the boat situation. Someone mentioned this very friendly young female dolphin in County Clare and in 2001, after three fruitless attempts to swim with Fungi, I went, just to have a look, for a swim with Dusty. I never came back to Dingle, though I felt guilty towards Fungi for the rest of the summer.
From 2002 I started documenting my encounters with Dusty, mixed with the occasional peek into Irish every day affairs. I may not swim with her each day as I like to pick my moment. Often seemingly uneventful swims later ripen to wonder and amazement. It takes time to settle one's mind to the excitement about her presence, before one gets a grasp on the underlying spirit of the dolphin. It would be good to live here with my loved one, free from the pressure of time, money and accommodation, to meet her even more in state of mind. It seems so unfair, all these empty houses, left to ruin, but vehemently protected by ridiculous prices. But I count my blessings, with Verena and just this one dolphin.
Dolphin Address 36
December 31, 2004
Meanwhile the bitter decision has fallen. After many weeks of weighing arguments the outcome feels sudden nevertheless. We are back in Berlin. 1800 km in 3 days.
Being caught in Dublin traffic for four hours makes it emotionally easier to part with Ireland, though not physically. In the dead of night through the curvy mountains of Wales under heavy downpour and flooded roads, when in the middle of nowhere a highlighted Shell station provides drink and food for mental strength.
After 3 days of storm and rain there suddenly was a day full of sunshine and stinging cold. We already let two days pass by to test the two new waterwings. A cutting landwind was up and we had to apply all the rules of the art of changing clothes in order not to end up hypotherminated in our wetsuits. Meanwhile we saw exceptionally high waves with razor sharp ridges rolling over the reef. A heavy in and outflow was exchanging in front of our entrance gully. The variance amounted to about a meter and between in and out the water halted for a few precious seconds. Verena shouted: 'How do we get out again?' 'We see to that later!'
If you want to be kept informed about the cutting edge developments in Cetacean science you do well to subscribe to 'Marmam', which stands for 'Marine Mammals'. (send an e-mail to email@example.com saying 'subscribe marmam, your first name, your last name')
Mostly when you look up from 3 or 4 meters you see the surface break the light in undulating patterns. After the last storm I nearly bumped my nose against the seabed and only my own air bubbles indicated the way back. Hard to believe that the visibility once extended here towards the horizon.
Since our nasty landing (DEA 29) we have been looking for a safer place to enter and leave the water. We found a spot on the southern leg of Pollenawatch that, at least at the higher tides, is practically perfect. It is peculiarly sheltered from incoming waves and exits into immediate deep water. Between the rocks runs a rather hidden man-wide gully that dips into the ocean. There is sufficient support on either side to safely edge in or out of the wet world.
When I prepared to test the brand new waterwing I was met with unexpected curiosity. Dusty practically positioned her beak upon the ledge, leaving me no space to jump in. Carefully I sat down and lowered my monofin.
The dense drizzle on the wind shield is only just swished away by the overworked wipers. The headlights of oncoming cars glow in their nimbuses and the mountains are wrapped in a saturated haze. It is a sad Sunday.
At the air chute just before Black Head the wind brushes semi-circular frowns on an uneasy surface. The sea ceases to exist way before the horizon. Even the waves look tired in their never ending salutations to the limestone.
The water is getting colder; an icy wind is steadily chilling the brine. And this is only the beginning. So last weekend we went to Dingle. I knew four retail addresses for wetsuits so we surely would lay our hands on a decent winter suit. But we came out of season and could only choose from inadequate assortments that added nothing to our water wardrobe.
When you're leaving Ballyvaughan on the coastal road the first stretch of water is too sheltered by the mountains to asses the conditions for swimming with the dolphin. But when we rounded Black Head we knew for sure: the sea was flat, as flat as a cheap mirror. The air had just the nibble of a chill and the water, like two days before, would mostly be a mental threshold.
On the descent of the trip track we saw a lot of water moving in the lap of Pollenawatch. The reef slackened an inconspicuously carried mass of water and pushed it into clear cut wall of water that shouldered its crest nearly halfway the rocks.
When the sun is not blinding me over the edge of Mount Moneen, I can discern softer specks moving in the distance. Mostly rather close together, but there is also the occasional maverick. They seem to be hoofing across sheer stone. What can be so appetizing that they heave themselves all the way up to the summit?
Yesterday we crossed the spring green meadow and dipped into a whitethorn valley. As the long sharp thorns prevent passage we had to follow stamped out cattle paths that only too often converged into mud flooded corridors.
It seemed nothing more than an ordinary Friday. Grey skies with a persistent blue streak over Connemara. Yet Verena had a sudden premonition when we arrived at the Shelter rock: 'It's a Dolphin Day', she said, 'a Special Dolphin Day'.
I have learned to appreciate her sudden insights, she holds her own soft ware-abouts.
Since I summer in Fanore I have been writing website. In 2001 I wrote for www.irishdolphins.com and in 2002 I launched the 'Dolphin Address' sequel, powered by my friends Peter Smeets and Sofie Graas (www.visolieplein.nl).
The first year I carried a mini no-name laptop that needed regular reanimation. Apart from the actual typing it took many hours of digital agony before I could salvage my verbal harvest on the floppy-disc. This however was not always the end, but rather the beginning of an ordeal. The fortress next to be taken was usually the Internet Café in Lisdoonvarna. It was initially the only one in a radius of 30 km.
A sudden twinge reminded me of the Jethro Tull concert in Amsterdam, 1971. For weeks I had been looking forward to see my absolute heroes in concert. It became a slipshod comedown, their impeccable studio harmonies fizzled out one by one in a messy evening.
Actually Davy did not even have 5 minutes. Family circumstances weighed heavy on him. What struck me most was his power. That was so much more than the vice-jaw handshake, best to be described as mental momentum. I explained what I came for and with a resolute kindness he worked this into an advice: the firm Metal Tech in Ennis. He asked me for the address of my website. I turned the car and drove around the bend. There I quickly wrote down the firms' name and played the movie 'Jan meets Davy' a few times. As if I'd met Elvis, but different, very different.
Now I did try a number of times to put the waterwing on the market. Always by amiable, enthusiastic and well connected people. Unfortunately they proved to be less amiable or their connection was invalid. And then I comforted myself with the thought, that at least I myself did enjoy it big time.
But then again I grew towards a new model that worked even better. I always feel like sharing this and find nothing wrong with making money on that. My last ideas concentrated on the design. The wooden versions are rather laborious and therefore too expensive. Besides, after the first one there is little creative challenge left. That is why I came to think of making something with pipes.
It was the kind of day that everybody was congratulating each other on the wonderful weather. The sky was crisp with sunshine and the wind was resting in silence. A cow was mowing and the echo spread over the slopes of Mount Moreen. Crows were croaking like dead branches being trodden on.
After a fortnight of Nature unleashing her wrath, morosely supported by the weather forecast on the tube it feels like we had this celestial break coming. In other words: 'Dolphin Day!'
Had I not been there myself, I would not have recognized Pollenawatch. Not only was it totally submerged, the shape and movement of the waves was of total other signature. The sea's ever changing grip defines the access to the dolphin, but only now I could envision the cruel forces that originated the nearly overhanging cliffs.
Where in summer days the water would whisper by the rounded rocks, now it was shredded and torn by sharp and fractured stones on a commanding level. Violence too random and brutal to describe.
We rented a house, not because of the rain, but because the wind was driving us crazy. We have been keeping a weather-eye open all summer, but everything over worn down tourist housing was prohibitive. Now I have fancied for years to buy a derelict house and renovate it myself but for just the site prices rise over 200.000 euro's. Then you have to pass an insular planning commission and only then you might start building.
The sea throws a generous measure of water in the Bathtub. The retreating waterfall is overwhelmed by new power. Everywhere gutters appear that shed the excess water back. Time and again a massive wall of water moves in. How often did we not tiptoe over the safety of shattered shell beds to shun the treacherous slither of the rocks where now this unleashed turmoil reigns. Everywhere the froth combs rise and sea droppings voluptuously spatter around.
We have been wondering about the dolphin's perspective. Dusty's possessive behavior can be understood as prey-oriented but also as an effort to secure one-on-one communication. We also witnessed her invariable high interest in our monofins. I always thought this had to do with the similarities with her own fluke. She often moves into it very close, sometimes she sonars it and she has even, in a careful manner, pushed us a few meters. When we take the monofin off she seems absolutely absorbed by that very act. Her curiosity seems to be drawn to the fact that we can take it of as a separate item. So far this has been a class of single events. We saw no more meaning than the obvious ones.
Most people love dolphins. In nearly every household posters and postcards, small necklaces and knick-knack of the like can be found, while only few people have ever seen one in nature or even in a delphinarium. How can that be?
The dolphin is marketed as a guarantee for feeling good. He always seems to wear a smile and nod at you in a friendly way. Is all this the result of smart nature documentaries and sales strategy?
About two years ago my good friend Keith Buchanan of www.irishdolphins.com told me that he had been playing with Dusty in the second cove. Suddenly her attention was drawn by a boat and she went for it. Keith tried to follow her, but, as he said, swam into 'a wall of water', that Dusty had whacked up with her fluke.
A new verb has entered the dolphin community: 'to duck'. Dusty does it and it means that she pushes someone under water with her beak. Off recent a plasticized notice at Pollenawatch warns swimmers not to enter the water with toys. Dusty seems to rigorously rob cameras, budgyboards and other loosely attached paraphernalia. It is said that she 'ducks' people that do not let go of their toy fast enough.
Yesterday evening a clear light was shining from behind the Slieve. As far as I know nobody is living there. The glow of Galway lights much further to the north and Ballyvaughan is too small and scattered for this powerful shining. Would they be working in the peat at night or would there be a crazy party going?
Half of me wanted to rearrange the car and drive up the mountain road. This was not just nothing, there was something gigantic going and the light was slowly increasing.
Yesterday evening we drove back from Doolin in the dark. Suddenly, in the beam of the car light, we saw a mouse running across the road at breakneck speed. It seemed to us as if it had waited for a car to come along to light its path.
I could barely sleep this night, still my excitement was enormous. Wriggling and jiggling about.
Actually we had not thought at all of going for a swim. In the morning the wind was blowing quite strong and although the ocean stayed calm, I almost started freezing when thinking of changing into this still wet suit. Probably the water would be very murky anyway! So we set out for Ballyvaughan to have our mails checked and maybe to visit the Tea Room.
It may have had something to do with my daughters birthday, Anne Linde, because in all my life I have never seen so many dolphins together as last Saturday, August 21st.
It was 7.30 a.m., I had just made us a mug of tea, when I thoughtfully slobbered my Earl Grey. My eyes dreamed as so often over the rippling sea and were drawn towards unusual white water. This was cut through by the curve of a dorsal fin, directly followed by a second one. A heaven in my head lit up and immediately I sped to Verena: 'Dolphins out there!'
Dusty loves toys, and frolics even better. Pollenawatch under water is mainly level ground rock surface. When I rolled a large rock rattling over the rock bed Dusty followed me on the fin. As long as my breath permitted I took up other stones and arranged them around.
Dusty moved in the highest state of attention. I dived down again to roughly 4 meters and continued my stack, that, each time I went up for breath, was minutely inspected by the dolphin. Ultimately I have added stones about twenty times, followed emphatically by Dusty, who held her beak pointed in my armpit.
Last, as well as this year, I anecnoted the people that come to the meadow to 'look at America'. Lately this happens so often that I have gone into the phenomenon. It is practically interesting to us, because we live here.
The protection of our privacy takes multiple shapes. In German they say that a dog 'bellt'. The dogs of our 'upstairs' neighbors function as our doorbell. But when the wind is out of direction we don't hear them. They merely rise to the ankle. So we more or less keep an eye on the lane, on which we have sight for about a hundred meters. When they come closer we often hear them, but not always, for sometimes they are alone or have nothing loud to share. As soon as we spot them we warn each other: 'Tourist alarm!'.
The wind has almost died down. Up in the mountains I got to understand what it means to be a cow. Flies crawl into nose and eyes. Better don't stop walking. But that's not why I'm here. It's July and the Burren is teeming with flowers. A funny bumblebee comes across, bright yellow, a feast for my eyes in between all these winged black nuisances.
Far away from all tourist attractions, touring bussing and five-minute-Burren-visitors I am totally on my own up here. Silence. Crickets start chirping when I keep standing still. Today the sun is very generous to us beings on earth. But my nose already got its share.
In Holland you don't give it a thought. Everything is naturally level except the dikes and a few little hills. The outward journey equals its return. Even the wind is usually adverse. This is all very different here. Walking on a road, even if it goes up and down, is rather luxurious compared with going into nature. This is scattered with stones and rocks.
As you can regard a hindrance also as a challenge I like to walk along the sea. Some boulders are unstable, others are very slippery, but by far most are reliable as stepping stone and lay within reach. Walking slowly and looking around you is not recommendable. With a steady pace you create a sort of gyroscopic effect, which gives you more stability. You bring your body weight into a kind of trajectory that absorbs a certain degree of deviation.
Save an hour of foraging Dusty plays through the day. With the swimmers she is usually very patient, with canoes she can rather accelerate and with speedboats and jet ski's she goes helter-skelter.
These games vary from being patted in knee deep water to jumping out of the water in full speed. Some people bring toys, like the bottles tied together as mentioned before, others bring toys for themselves, like 'budgy-boards', a kind of floater to support the upper part of the body, propelled by the legs.
In strips and cartoons air bubbles are usually represented by circles. That is wide of the truth. On the topside they are indeed spherical, but on the bottom they are rather concave and set in a peripheral aura of dancing bubblettes. If they are not too deep I sometimes visit divers and ascend gloriously among their bubbles to the surface.
Dusty surprised Verena by blowing a large air bubble underneath her in which she saw her own reflection. She wondered if Dusty had done this on purpose so she would be aware of this mirror effect. I can surface before my own bubbles do, so Dusty can easily out swim hers and watch her own image.
Everyhere where you look around you it is beautiful. The ocean in all her portrayal and fervor, the mountains, giant stone cheeses with holes, the meadows with their broken stone sculptures, in which calves still drink from their mother, young steers practice mating on each other and incredible innumerably stacked stone walls run through the land.
Everyday heavy clouds and grey distance change to extremite blue skies and a sun that puts everything right. Ideal for an 'après dauphin', when, seized again by gravity, we drip off on the quiet rocks and take each others breath to tell what was silenced by the water.
By the form at the bottom of 'English Version' on my Homepage I regularly receive mail from readers. Often these are students that request information for their paper on dolphins. Usually this is available in literature or can be found elsewhere on my or other dolphin websites. As I do not want to do clerk work I leave them to their job, so I can do mine.
However sometimes, something comes in that is interesting. Like the information responding to a remark I made about Cetaceans swimming in a desert as they lack drinking water (DA 19, 2003). The response to this I put in an Extra Edition, August 16 2003 and it kicked of a truly prolific relationship.
Ireland honors its writers and rightfully so. They populated an inhospitable island with thoughts, dreams and stories, a lavish table for the spirit. The inspiration that has been embraced by its community knows no limits. When asking directions the regular answer is: 'Just around the corner'. The fact that this corner is 5 kilometers further on is superseded by the wish to please the needy traveler.
These creative adaptations of the truth only intensify in the case of the dolphin. Many a man and woman entertain their own repertory of experiences. Mostly with a powerful persuasion, substantiated by hard claims.
Verena does not like to do the same things twice. It took me quite a while last winter to find my way through Berlin, because she chose a different route each time. But you can't have it always your other way.