forty days. forty stories.
Last spring, the Jirsa clan met up on the big island of Hawai’i for a long-in-the-making family gathering. One of our daily excursions took us to Two-Step Beach, so named because a natural lava shelf formed two smooth steps before dropping you into a wave-tossed cove of sharp coral and spiny sea urchins. If you made it past that unscathed, you were treated to beautiful undersea plants, striking fish, and a rather friendly sea turtle. Twice while we were out snorkeling, we’d noticed a lot of activity quite a ways away from shore. After coming in for a picnic lunch (during which I found myself without a bottle opener for my beer – a passing German tourist noticed my plight and offered me his flip-flop; puzzled at first, the friendly traveler pointed out that the sandal designers, in their infinite wisdom, had embedded a bottle opener into the sole of the flexible footwear – you MUST search out a pair), neighboring beach-goers began pointing out towards the oceanic activity and we finally saw a sizable pod of Spinner Dolphins – a small-ish (six foot long) dolphin species known for leaping above the waves and, well, spinning.
The idea of packing up had just been discussed, but we couldn’t pass this up. So, while Grandma and Grandpa Jirsa stayed on the beach, Bill, Joolee, Christine (my wife), Olivia (my 9 year old) and I jumped back in the water to see if we could get a closer look. With Olivia clutching a boogie board and Dad (me) towing her along, we swam out about a quarter of a mile until the water was a deep azure hue and the rock formations were merely shadows a hundred feet or more below. The pod had, of course, vanished as we approached but we floated around for a while just in case. Bill and Joolee scouted around, scanning the depths for tell-tale dolphin shapes beneath the waves. Olivia made dolphin noises, telling them we were friends and just wanted to play.
Suddenly Bill and Joolee surfaced, calling out “Here they come!” Immediately after, the pod was swirling around us. Easily a dozen, perhaps twice that, the miniature dolphins materialized out of the depths at lightning speed. They circled around us, staying just out of arm’s reach, breaching enough to take a breath and make eye contact before submerging and vanishing once again. In a manner of seconds, the encounter was over – we floated quietly for a few more seconds, absorbing the moment, then headed back to shore. We took turns towing Olivia, who chattered on about them the whole way back.
That night, Joolee and Olivia took turns painting each other’s (and Uncle Bill’s) toenails.