My Octopus Teacher

The problem when you’re a crab, you’re now being hunted by a liquid animal. She can pour herself through a tiny little crack.

—- Craig Foster, My Octopus Teacher

Untitled (Sprawling Octopus Man), by Thomas Houseago Nasher Sculpture Center Dallas, Texas

This morning I had to go into work before dawn to supervise a job. When I arrived on site I discovered everything had been delayed an hour and a half (a phone call came in while I was driving and I don’t answer calls in my car). So I had some time to kill.

I have Netflix on my relatively new personal phone and had downloaded a handful of films to watch offline. So I sat there waiting as the sun rose and watched the rest of the Oscar-Winning documentary My Octopus Teacher.

It was really, really good. The photography of the kelp forest was breathtaking. It’s hard to believe that a mollusk could be so captivating. The end of the film is bittersweet – I did not know anything about how an octopus reproduces….

It reminded me of a short, wonderful time in my youth – a middle school teenager living in Panama – on the Atlantic side of what was then the Canal Zone. A friend and I would take the bus out to Fort Sherman, hitchhike to Playa Diablillo and walk down the coast snorkeling and exploring the mangrove forests and coral reef – just like the guy in the movie.

One day we were walking along the exposed coral heads at low tide when something wet hit me in the side of the head. I turned and there was a large octopus mostly out of the water on the coral. He did not like us walking through his ‘hood and was squirting us with jets of water and ink out of his siphon. As we watched him he went through an amazing series of shape and color changes, trying to convince us to leave him alone (although we would never have noticed him – his first color and texture blended in with the coral – if he had not squirted us). We looked at him for a while, then granted his wish and left him alone.

If you are curious, it was right here. There is actually a streetview – this is exactly where I saw the octopus.

The film conveys spectacularly the freedom and the zen-like concentration of swimming with a snorkel in the cornucopia of life that is a coral reef or kelp forest. The ecosystem interacts like a single, enormous creature and when surrounded by that water, you become part of it.

I am so glad that I experienced that and am afraid I will never do so again.

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