The dock creaked like a castle door, and a night- glow florescent barely mustered a pale hue through the mist, as if it were
giving up with no one to guide down the long, empty pier. The crushed sea shell beach and the pier linking it to the bay were empty at this late hour, surrounded only by the sounds and smell of the sea.
At the moment, the creaking boards of the pier were dry, except for the marine moisture oozing between the seams, and the wide hand rail was lightly dampened as if by beads of perspiration, giving it a waxy feel. The growing mist could encompass the bay in dampness, holding the sun hostage with the morning tide, or it could flirt throughout the night and give in to a blazing sunrise.
This atmosphere of foggy silence made it easy for recent, colorful memories to slip into my thoughts while I negotiated the seemingly endless pier, the end being hidden in the night. The recollection was of Dr. John the Night Tripper reigning over a rainbow of colors cascading over a jubilant and frenzied crowd of thousands, all mesmerized by the dazzling glitter and fairy dust flying from Dr. John’s fingertips. With the help of stage lights and lasers, apparitions appeared to float in the magical glow as a crescendo of upbeat music surged through the audience.
And this was only a warmup, as another short memory away was the riotous color and clamoring of humanity as it took to the streets in a revelry of celebration, and again they surrounded and reached out to Dr. John, the gauzy King of Mardi Gras. While perched on the throne of his colorful float, he tossed beads and glitter out to satisfy the throngs at parade-side.
Even this great party came to an end, and after hiking over a layer of beads and beer cans burying the city streets, I had joined those exiting the city and found myself in a van of revelers heading east. As the miles ticked by, a couple who were complete strangers but suddenly were joyfully together disappeared at a gas stop, and barely reappeared in time to rejoin the youthful exodus.
The long pier ended with a few crude benches to accommodate those who come to cast a line, and without the rhythm of walking to instigate rambling thoughts, I slipped into a mood of complacency. A partial cast of moonlight refracted enough light through the mist to make out the currents, but other than that, the night was an opaque shroud around me.
But what was that noise?
It began as a slight squeaking sound, as if a marine mouse was caught between the deck boards. Straining forward, I could again detect a slight creaking in the soft waves, as if they needed extra lubrication. Amid the predictable chop and slapping of the restless water, extra splashing occurred and the chirping noises became more audible and scattered.
Coaxing out every extra molecule of light, I could barely discern the shadow of a fin or tail or the trademark snout, and the audible then became obvious. It was the chatter of dolphins!
As the night progressed, the sounds multiplied throughout the immediate reaches of the bay, until it seemed like a chorus of dozens as innumerable dolphins circled and swam about the pier. Their immersion in water and mine in the fog seemed to blend, blurring the boundary between air and water as the sea fog swirled in tune with the constant swells of the bay. I felt the dolphins beneath me and they seemed to sense my presence as well, since they stayed in the vicinity of the pier with a constant, squeaky chatter throughout the entire night.
When morning light began its slow evaporation of the darkness, I could see further out on the bay, but as morning came, it also signaled the departure of these sea mammals whose songs I had enjoyed in the night. By the time it was light enough to actually see them, they were gone.
For me, this was a genuine communion with wild nature; for the dolphins, probably just another night on the bay with an added curiosity. The last chirping audio came to my ears, and then only silence as the now visible waves blanketed them as if they were never there.
Where on Earth?! Crystal Bay, Florida, New Orleans, 1973