Sunday, March 31, 2013

A seahorse tale

The tide was ebbing. The seahorse lay on the beach, just beyond the reach of the receding waves. I assumed it was dead--until I saw the tiniest movement of its tail.

I picked it up and let a few waves wash over my hand. Its head flicked a couple of times, spasmodically, without intention.

Then I felt its tail wrap around my finger.

Edge of the Delaware Bay, March 30, 2013

I do not presume that this seahorse had any awareness of me. It was in trouble, and may not have survived the day, but that's not why I am telling the story.

I am sharing the story because I felt its tail wrap around my finger with surprising strength, with an unexpected vitality.

 I do not believe that the seahorse was in any sense communicating with me--dying critters do not waste energy talking to alien beings. I had nothing to say to my seahorse, and the seahorse had even less to say to me.

The tail of this seahorse had wrapped on hundreds, maybe thousands, of things before me. It clung to eelgrass, to its lover, and if a male, grappled with other males who dare to separate him from his partner.

If this was the seahorse's last few living moments, the last thing it held was my finger.

Seahorses do not share language with humans, but if they did, their tales would be shared through their tails. If this particular seahorse felt any sense of vitality from the palm of my hand, the only way it could share this would be through doing just what it did--hugging my finger.

Another visitor from the bay

This is not why it did, of course, and that is not the point. But if the only way for a creature to share its world with us is a way that we dismiss as reflex, then we will forever see a mechanistic universe, and we will remain the lonely species we are.

We need evidence! Proof! Substantiation! Concrete facts!

Today much of the world rejoices over an event pieced together with the slimmest of evidence--the oldest of the Gospels, written more than a half century after the death of Jesus, ends with frightened women fleeing from an empty tomb (Mark 16:8). The rest is appended history.

I am not going to equate the curling of a dying critter's tail with the scantest of evidence that (in a perverse form) drove much of European history. Both evidence and faith have their place.

Still, if we cannot allow for the possibility that perhaps even a seahorse has a story to tell, then the slight tug of a seahorse's tail, a twitch of life on an early spring beach, means nothing, and everything is just noisy chaos.

Seahorses, it turns out, are monogamous.
Noisy chaos is cool, too, if you can enjoy the music....


Patty V said...

So, Mr. Michael, why don't you take that further? Why can't you allow for the slightest possibility that perhaps the seahorse was 'communicating' with you? Perhaps it was so grateful for saving its life - it wanted to hug you? Perhaps each grain of sand can feel your feet, and all those beautiful trees know you. Maybe HE did return from the dead?...maybe there is is no death?
Oh, and anytime we get around to it, maybe we can fly? When we truly believe we could, maybe

doyle said...

Dear Patty V,

Not questioning faith itself, just the certainty many have in it.

Not questioning evidence itself, just the cages it puts around us.

Q said...

I find myself often wondering if we humans are the only creatures on Earth who dare to ascribe meaning to events.

As you said, both faith and evidence have their place. I just wish more people would remember that we're the only creatures (as far as I know) who currently possess an appreciation for both.

doyle said...

Dear Mike,

Guess we can never be sure of anything--Descartes took care of "certainty" a long time ago, and others thousands of years before him, but I trust this much: other conscious beings rely on faith/evidence.

Why else would a gull take the time to drop a quahog on a pile of rocks?

Scott said...


After reading your post, I was reminded of a short excerpt from a book by Ed Abbey called The Journey Home. I don't know how I got a hold of this, but a good little read.

doyle said...

Dear Scott,

Isn't Abbey grand? I haven't read that in a long, long while--hope other folks take the time to read it.

The part he talks about fear creeping in with dusk--that seals i for me.