The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever

Jacques Cousteau

My Octopus Friend: And Then She Was Gone (Part 6)

Day-12-Octopus-on-Foot

In the sixth and final chapter of My Octopus Friend series, I tell the story of our final encounters. One day I went to visit her den and she had simply vanished. I always knew she would leave eventually, it's not uncommon to change dens every few weeks or so, but, as with all relationships, it's hard to say goodbye especially when there's no closure. In the end, I only have gratitude for an extraordinary 14 encounters with a magnificent creature and fellow 'ocean girl' - bonded by the life-giving water flowing through our bodies and veins. Read on!

Spring tide near full moon. In six hours all of those rocks will be covered in water and in another six it will look like this again. The pool of water in the center is the "Womb Pool" as I call it and to the right, a big 'V' in the rock points to the den. 
Day 12 – 22 June, 9am, flooding, low tide at 8:50 am, Waxing Moon – 89%

Another cloudy, windy morning greeted me. It didn't feel much like summer. But after the previous day's exciting encounter, nothing could dampen my enthusiasm to explore further my relationship with Mof. Reaching the den at low tide, barely any water covered the area nearby. I realized it was a more extreme, almost full moon, tide. When the moon, sun and earth align with one another (Full and New Moons), the pull on the tide increases as the sun and the moon's gravities impact one another in a celestial tug-of-war with the Earth's waters in the middle. This is known as a spring tide, not because of the season, but due to their power, like the unstoppable growth of spring. 

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.

by Henry David Thoreau

When I reached the den, Mof was far back in the cave and I couldn't tell if she was there or not. I was surprised she didn't come out and greet me with an arm but I knew she was attentively watching from within. I put my things down and looked out of the corner of my eye. Octopus eyesight is excellent and I knew she would be observing me and know if I was looking at her. I walked toward the den and I saw an arm unfurling towards me. I smiled deeply and felt welcomed. We had numerous, gentle interactions. I showed her my aqua toes that she had enjoyed embracing the day before. But today there was very little water around the den and I knew she would not emerge and expose herself . She didn't hesitate, though, to explore my toes and wanted to drag me in by the foot this time! The thought made me laugh.

(Please note at the end of the following The Arrival video, the last segment was taken at the end of the visit when the tide already started to enter with a rush and is NOT from the beginning).

I debated going to the Bay for an open water swim but I decided instead to set up the camera and go for an immersion in the adjacent Womb Pool. Maybe she might come out of her den and come into the Womb Pool with me if the water level increased, I hoped?

The sun came out between clouds, intermittently shining brilliantly and illuminating the pool vibrant with life, a small aquarium of skittish fish, urchins, anemones, shrimp, snails, limpets and kelp. Crabs scurried here and there. I undressed and entered the water in the Womb Pool, playing, floating, diving down and enjoying myself. Intermittently I got out to see what Mof was up to. The tide started to come in and, at one point, I saw my trusty black boot filling with water and floating away. That made me laugh and I leapt out to rescue it and sent it up to higher ground. The tide had turned and was entering more quickly. I filmed during 19 minutes and made a time lapse of 30 sec.

After I got out I interacted with her some more, took some footage with the underwater camera and sensed reticence in her mood today, a bit of avoidance of the camera. As I started to film, she would retreat back into her den. I let her take my hand and toes and I could feel again the slight rubbing of her beak/tongue on the back of my hand. She did not want to come out all the way again today and occasionally she pushed water towards me with her funnel or pushed and pulled me with her arm. Curious sensations. I began to reflect on her moods and wonder how the tides, the time of day, the moon's energy, how hunting had gone the day before, etc, might impact them. I thanked her for these moments, said my farewells and departed. 

Mof displays one of her beautiful arms
Strawberry anemone (Actinia fragacea) open in the Womb Pool

Days 13 & 14: The Crescendo!
23 June, 9:20 pm, ebbing, low tide at 9:58pm, Waxing Moon – 95% 
24 June, 8:30am, ebbing, low tide at 10:21am, Full Moon
 - 100%

My last two encounters with Mof took place within the context of our family's special mid-summer ritual on the night of San Juan (St John). In 2021 this powerful, energetic night also coincided with a full moon making it particularly memorable as did my relationship with Mof. Considered one of the most powerful and magical nights in Galicia (and Spain in general), the night of 23 June marks the summer solstice and the changing of the seasons. Local pagan traditions to honor the sun, the shortest night of the year, the Other world and to ward off evil spirits, became remade in the local religious calendar as St John's Night, or Noite de San Xoan (in Gallego) or Noche de San Juan (in Spanish). As midnight approaches, people gather around bonfires which are allowed to burn down and then people jump over the flames and purify body and mind, releasing into the fire what no longer serves. It's an exciting powerful ceremony (these days often a big party).

Despite the secularized world we live in, rituals are valuable and important in our lives for marking passages, reaffirming bonds, pausing to celebrate our lives and loves and taking stock of where and who we are. They are also simply a lot of fun and create wonderful bonds and memories and are a grand part of the human experience. Drawing on these local traditions and adapted to our own family we go to the beach, build a bonfire, roast sausages, sing songs, tell stories, and then we jump over the bonfires at least seven times for luck and shout to the sky the protective phrase - Meigas Fora!!!! (in Gallego meaning Witches - bad energy- Out/Away!) preparing ourselves for the new cycle and season before tumbling into our sleeping bags invigorated, tired and spent. The brave also dip in the ocean, savoring the cold plunge.

Full Moon rises on the magical night of San Juan as we gather around the bonfire for luck, protection and renewal for the new season. Notice the cross that formed around the moon! Engaging in this primal practice of gazing into the flames, gathered with others, should be experienced in one's lifetime.

On this night, the family reached the beach as the sun was setting in the west and nearly full moon rising in the east. Truly an incredible confluence of celestial elements. Ideally, we build a bonfire on the beach where we have the elements of earth, wind, fire and water. In the weeks prior, we collect driftwood and gather it in the dunes.

Sublime dip as Solstice Sun Sets
Reaching with her arm around my hand
Interacting in front of the den
I gave her the choice: Hand or Foot?

After getting the fire going, Sam and I wandered down to see Mof and I had a sunset dip in the Womb Pool. We then visited briefly with her. Very gentle and relaxed with me, it felt like she and I had a clear and easy recognition of one another. Sam put his hand in (see video) and she probed it with her arms but then pushed him away with a siphon of water.  

Day 14, Morning of the 24th of June
After our whooping, hollering and leaping, we slept (or tried to - it can get chilly and humid, mosquitoes start to annoy, and the sand bed may not feel quite like home. But that's the wonderful part of an adventure). As dawn spilled over the beach, I felt called to the sea as I do every day. I emerged from my warm cocoon into the dawn chill and immersed myself in the deeply refreshing cool water of my beloved nearby Cove. Everyone else happily snoozed in their sleeping bags.

After my swim, I walked over to Mof's den and said hello to her. Incredibly the tide had risen and fallen once again in the night, in its endless, powerful cycle of coming and going, receiving and releasing, rising and fall, exposing and protecting, revealing and hiding. My partner came over and sat high on a rock watching me interact with Mof. As I stood up to say goodbye, the sun rose upon my face. If I had known it would be our last interaction, would I have done anything differently?

With our sleepy, smoky faces we packed up our gear and trekked home. Part of the San Juan ritual is, upon return, to clean and renew our smoky faces in the fresh purity of the dew-washed, full-moon bathed wild flowers that we gathered the day before from seven different natural springs. We let the water flow over our heads, in our pagan, flowery baptism marking the beginning of a new cycle.

Little did I know that my cycle of friendship with a magnificent sea creature, a sea sister, had also just come to a close on one of the most important nights of transition of fiery purification that marks the inevitable slow cycle towards winter darkness once again (and there was darkness in that winter of '21 for me).

The Empty Cave
After the 24th of June encounter, the family packed our things and we went to the mountains for a two-night camping trip. We returned home late on the 26th. Low tide on the 27th was scheduled for 12:42pm. I arrived earlier with the ebbing tide eager to see my friend. What would have been our 15th encounter was instead an encounter with an empty den and scattered mussel shells still littering the front porch. Oh, Mof, where are you? I wrote in my notes, "Friendships can be like that" – temporary and beautiful. I would have to let go. I returned every day for several days but the den remained empty. I knew she was gone but I clung to the hope that I might see her dear arm unfurl towards me as I walked by, day after day, checking.

What was Mof's fate? I know that octopus's change dens every few weeks and consequently I knew this was possible. Other options I contemplated  – being caught in a lobster pot or being taken by another predator while out hunting or at low tide by a human. In whatever case she was gone. I missed her but felt more gratitude for this incredible experience than for the loss of what couldn't be. Being touched by the life, the soul, of another is what gives meaning, richness, texture and depth to my life. I'm left with tremendous gratitude for this unique gift I was given. 

The empty cave
Only shells remain

When Octopus glides smoothly into your life whole new worlds are about to open to you. She brings the gifts of wisdom, keen-mindedness, and a connection to the Path of the Mystic. Octopus will nudge to you explore your creative and intuitive self. Many people who encounter Octopus find they begin having very detailed dreams some of which are precognitive.

by Bernadette King

Epilogue
One night after the encounters were over, I dreamt I was swimming in the Ocean and it was dark. I found myself in a cave with waves crashing above me. Somehow I could breath. The waves first came from one side and then the other. Powerful waves crashed above but I was safe where I was. Light filtered in through gaps in the ceiling of the cave. Then it was day time and the tide low. I could see where I had taken shelter. What I thought was a cave was like a big skeletal structure around me like old whale vertebrae or dinosaur bones. Safe in the cave I experienced night and day, high and low tide, rough and calm waters.

Looking up to the light from below in my watery cave

I felt the sense of how things come and go, in and out of our lives. Mof had been a temporary companion, a gift, but her presence in my life would continue working on my psyche. Maybe I needed some time in the comforting, primordial den renewing and connecting with my natural self? Maybe that's what the Covid-19 pandemic had been obliging me to do on some internal level? 

Her departure also made me think of other similar friendships that I never really understood why they ended. Sometimes the not knowing creates a lack of closure and challenges the letting go as the mind continuously searches and longs for an explanation, an explanation that will probably never materialize. But as the wise words of octopus as spirit animal suggest: "It is time to purge that which doesn't celebrate your life and Spirit as it exists now. Clinging to the past with all 8 arms will only keep you stuck there. Release and go with the flow." 

Take and cherish the gifts and move on. Change is a constant. Giving space to ourselves and others to experience that inevitable flux of life, emotion and sentiment, so often missing or apparently unavailable in our rushed digital era, is essential for moving forward. Indeed, clinging only brings pain. But patience, time and compassion are required to readjust, internally shift and accept what no longer is and what can no longer be. It can be a long road.

Difficult friendships are also gifts for the challenging lessons for growth they can offer. Maybe a companion has a beak, like Mof, that worries me – the wild, untamed part that might bite or attack breaching the bond of trust. In the case of Mof, I made the risky decision of trusting her wild beak and she respected me but everyone has wild parts that we cannot control and we risk getting bitten when we give our trust. She trusted me, too. She came out to me, exposed herself. We all expose ourselves in different ways in our relationships. We try to connect but we may speak different languages. If a will to communicate exists, anything is possible. But, if it's not, the relationship will not evolve. She and I co -created that experience. Did she 'like' me coming to her cave? I have no way of knowing and that would be speculative anthropomorphizing. Maybe I entertained her and her vast curiosity. Maybe she enjoyed the free mussels. Who knows? We were temporary companions on our journeys in the Sea together, a journey that help show me important things about myself and helped take us both to new places. We are all nature. 

I keep going back to check and see if the cave is occupied. As I publish this in late April 2022, the cave is still unoccupied. I know another octopus will move in someday and perhaps we can be friends, too. Some friends, though, are truly unforgettable and will always be missed.

Lobster pots or, as they known locally, nasas, stacked and ready to be loaded onto a fishing boat for deposit into the Sea.

The Naked 'Rebel'
Almost one month after our last visit,
while swimming in the Bay, I found myself close to a long line of lobster pots (in the local language, nasas). The tide was so low I could dive down and pick up the pots. The first one I pulled up to see what was inside and there was a dear little octopus, much smaller than Mof even. But I couldn't free it because of the way the trap is designed and the fact that I was naked except for my goggles. I kept thinking, If I only had a knife! But alas, I didn't and I tried several times, heaving the heavy pot up and untying the knots but I couldn't. I felt sad to leave it there and hoped that the fishermen would respect the legal limits and toss this intelligent, dear creature back into the sea to grow and realize its life as an octopus as intended rather than end up on the plate of a local restaurant.

The next day I went back. I had learned how to open the pot without damaging it or drawing attention to its potential emptiness. The tide was high. I swam out to a buoy and dove down. The first pot I pulled up had a large octopus. It looked a lot like Mof but I knew it wasn't. I opened the side opening and with some difficulty I managed to convince the octopus to swim out. Did I see it wink as I watched its purple and orange head swiftly glide downwards into the dark depths of the ocean floor, its eight arms streamlined behind it? I felt a momentary bit of guilt for tampering with the fisherman's trap but that feeling was overpowered by the knowledge that I had saved a magnificent, intelligent octopus from imminent death.

Is it a solution? No. I know it's a band-aid and a non-solution except for the octopus in question who, if it felt gratitude, might have expressed it. But, in part, I write and share these experiences to encourage others to think about our natural world in different ways and how we can make choices with our individual actions to protect our magnificent planet and all of the creatures and eco-systems on it. Over the course of the last months I was heartened to read that the UK amended their Animal Welfare bill and recognize octopuses as sentient beings. It's a very positive start. We must respect our Earth, our Ocean, our lifeblood, our humanity, our common connections with all creatures that exist on this planet. It's time to come home to our nature and ourselves. I return to Jonathan White's quote to end: What if we were born in a tide pool and our attraction to the sea is a coming home?

Strawberry anemone ready to emerge. 
The Water Journey: 7 Days Finding Your Flow

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Thursday, 06 October 2022

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