Tuesday, March 10, 2015


My mom tried to bond with me when I was 16  by taking me to swim the dolphins in Key Largo. Not a euphemism.  The dolphins that were supposed to happily zip around their enclosure with me on their back smiling a big white American Girl On Spring Break smile, ignored me.  I bobbed in the water, awesome smooth totemic marine mammal-less.

We saw a lot of manatees, though.

Manatee comes from manati, the Taino word for breast. Manatees are also the origin of the myth of the mermaid. (See: sailors, drunk.)

What should the collective noun for manatees be? I vote for "a sea lettuce." A big head of romaine is what zookeepers in Pittsburgh would feed the Aquazoo's resident manatee when I went there as a kid. I went there a lot. Chuckles, the Amazonian river dolphin, eyed me through the murk of his tank with what I convinced myself was trust. Save me, he seemed to be saying. Do it.

An aggregation of manatees was rescued last month from a Florida storm drain near Cape Canaveral. They had gathered in our wastewater outfall, trying to warm up.  It's been a hard winter for everyone. Leonard Nimoy died. Lisa Adams died.

But yesterday the sun was out, and it was so shocking, so yellow, so beautiful and warm that I stood in it, letting it pour over me like soup from a ladle, and I understood exactly those manatees in the storm drain.

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