Gone, but Not Forgotten


—–North Pacific Octopus  courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

(Note to self:  Bring phone when you walk the dog on the beach.)

Up ahead where the water has withdrawn and left its sheen, lies an indistinguishable mass.  Libby, my scent-driven mutt, races ahead to check it out.  This isn’t my first rodeo; I have no hope of restraining her.  I can only shout into the wind, “Don’t roll, Libby…don’t,” a token deterrent.  And she doesn’t, she sniffs and circles, sniffs and circles, then looks back at me, her head cocked as if to say, “C’mon, hurry up. Check it out.”

“It” is what remains of a Giant Pacific Octopus.  I feel a lump in my throat, and regret that I can’t document the find, knowing that tomorrow’s blog post will be “in memoriam.”  Two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have felt the same, but that was before a former student, dear to me then and now a friend, visited me from the Bay Area.  Newport is home to a NOAA research facility and Hatfield Marine Science Center.  Brigit, a gifted writer, is also a zoologist is her heart, a lover of all living things, with a particular fondness—dare I say obsession?— with octopuses.  (By the way, it is she who lets me know that “octopi” is an incorrect plural.  It’s either “octopuses” or “octopods” because the root is Greek, not Latin.  Who knew?!)

On the day we visit the Center, I am hoping to show her the cool exhibit I saw last time, a collaboration between the high school art students and the science department—STEAM.  The exhibit hall is closed, preparing for the annual Science Day on April 4th.  This bothers Brigit not at all; she’s come with eyes for one thing: the octopuses.

There are two, the “big” one is a two-year old, a bulbous creature hanging of the side of the tank way back in the corner.  Brigit gently taps the glass a foot or so in front of him all the while quietly explaining about his eyes, those tiny beads, and his tentacles, so many white ears pressed against the glass.  I think of tubas and tortellinis when I look at them.  As if he has heard her, he begins edging nearer.  “They are so smart,” she emphasizes, and talks about the research being done.  “Have you read Soul of an Octopus?  You’ve got to.  It’s amazing.”  I tell her that Sy Montgomery, the author, will be visiting in April.  Newport has chosen her book as the whole-city read.  She says she wishes she could be here for that!  I silently vow to get her a signed copy.

Brigit has already told me about their amazing ability to camouflage.  She tells me that researchers have discovered that even though they are blind to color, octopuses have receptors, sensors in their tentacles that respond to color and texture without having to send messages through a central nervous system, so they can change almost instantly.  I turn away from the big guy to a smaller tank with a “baby.”  He, too, small though he is and a faded rust, clings to the corner.  Without warning he clambers across the glass, frees himself, attaches to the rock wall behind him, and becomes the wall.  This is magic, this immediate response defies everything I’ve known about camouflage.  “Poof,” he’s transformed!  I am awestruck.  I want to see it again, but this is nature, not On Demand.  We have seen enough to fuel our imaginations and leave in that quiet companionship of shared wonder.

Yesterday’s octopus lives again in these words, this memory.

2 thoughts on “Gone, but Not Forgotten”

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