2003 Anne Horton Writing Award
"Loss of Innocence"
The summer before my junior year in high school, I had the opportunity to attend a marine biology camp in San Diego, California. The main attraction of the camp to me was the chance to sail out to the Channel Islands and scuba dive for three days. The islands, which were nearly one hundred miles off the coast, were in the middle of miles and miles of Pacific blue. This meant a plethora of wildlife would be visible to us above and below the water. The main animal that I wanted to see was the Pacific dolphin. When 1 was a child their pictures had decorated my walls and the chance to see one in the wild was almost more than I could take. As we set off from the docks, I could barely contain my excitement, and I had all eyes open in search of my desired creature.
At the first sight of specks on the horizon I ran to the boat's helm. Craning my neck over the edge with the fresh saltwater spitting up in my face I searched the horizon line for them. A flicker of blue against the orange of the setting sun caught my eye. Than suddenly right below me they appeared: four dark gray dolphins leaping and twisting alongside of us. Their long torsos engulfed the smaller boat - nearly nine feet in length they held enormous power. Their eyes twinkling with the sun and Pacific water I felt excitement as more of them joined us. My heartbeat crept faster and faster as they leapt and twirled just as they had in The Little Mermaid, which I had watched as a girl. Against the cool breeze of the ocean, they kicked up saltwater in our faces as they jumped. The jumping seemed to be part of a game - a secret game that only they knew how to play.
The timing they had as they jumped was impeccable - one right after the other in constant motion. They would swim back and forth at the front of the hull of the boat, and then jump up as though they were flying suspended in air. Each one with their own distinctive twirl or skip, diving into the water just as it seemed the boat would catch them.
As I continued to watch them, I noticed the unique and distinctive markings on each one. Instead of the smooth cool skin that I had always imagined, there were harsh scars of white against the dark grays. As all of them jumped in rhythm with the boat, I was able to notice the marks on all. I turned to the professor who was leading our expedition to the Islands, "How could this happen to such fun and friendly creatures?" I asked. He looked at me with an appropriate "oh how naive" glance, "Those are bite marks from other dolphins, and other pods sometimes play rough." My gaze falling back to the jumping animals, I felt a sadness creep over me. It almost disheartened me to think of my favorite childhood animals, the ones whom I had often imitated in the swimming pool, were not what I had envisioned them to be. The friendly lifestyle that I had always imagined them to have was now obsolete.
Watching them now, I was no longer filled with joy, but questioning their everymovement toward each other. Was the jumping a game or a competition or a power play for dominance? The laughing sounds which minutes earlier had sounded joyful now sounded more like hard criticisms. Were the nips at each other for love or a harsh reminder of who was in charge? I could no longer watch them with the excitement 1 had felt earlier; now I just watched in sadness. The free spirits I had envisioned vanished and only a shattered idea of what had been was left.
As our boat left the islands I looked back, watching the dolphins splashing in the water. I watched now with a different vision of the creatures I had loved for so long, for I had gained new insight and understanding into their world. I still loved the dolphins, but innocence had been taken from them. Their innocence had been taken away just as mine was being taken, as I grew older. Never again would I view them as carefree souls of theocean. Neveragain would I look at them as a child does.