a hermit crab clacks into hiding in the scree. A single flying
needle, a blue dragonfly, stays above me for a moment, seeming to point the way.
And then, the path opens onto the water and there it is: the
shattered remains of the Communications Research Institute.
It’s an oblique angle of a building, set on a stony promontory,
and over the ruins hangs a twisted, overgrown sea grape tree.
Stacks of marine plywood and piles of studs litter the courtyard,
and an abandoned yellow cement mixer has begun to sink into
the soft ground on one side. I walk around to the windward face
of the structure, where crumbling steps lead precariously down
to the water’s edge. For some reason, I am frightened as I feel my
way down: it’s midday, and bright, but I am absolutely alone, and
the hulking structure—roofless, stripped, bleached like bone,
spiny rebar bristling from broken walls—looks cruel and dangerous. Small lizards slip along the dry grass beside the steps,
and as I come to the edge of the dolphin pond a pair of rock
crabs, hanging upside down like bats, scurry along the outer lip
of the wave ramp, where the light surf splashes through a narrow inlet to fill and flush the pool.
I sit for a while here, looking up at the empty, floorless rooms,
which are without gra;ti — without, in fact, the least trace of all
that went on here. A sca=oldlike wing of the building juts out
over the rocky basin: once it held the dolphin “elevator,” in which
the animals rose to enter the flooded rooms of the lab. In the incandescent endgame, Lilly imagined such a device configured so
as to be operated by the animals, permitting them to come and
go as they wished. The skeleton of this superstructure gives the
dolphin pool the shadowy solemnity of a hidden grotto. A loose
doorjamb swings pendular in the breeze before the encroaching
vegetation. A storm-crumpled beach chair is embedded in the
straggling limbs of a bougainvillea, itself nearly swallowed by
the strangling vines.
Like the cavernous halls of the Natural History Museum, this
too is a good place to contemplate the essential nature of the
bottlenose. Or, perhaps better, this is a good place to dismiss the
very idea of such an essence. Ruins have always been helpful this
way, since they are so candid about the passage of time, so articulate about the inevitability of change. There are, in the end, no
fixed definitions, only histories; no essences, only genealogies.
Over time, and through the workings of an improbable series
of personalities, technologies, and cultural preoccupations, the
Dart River Beast became, as the anthropologists like to say, “good
to think”— an animal through which we came to see ourselves in
new and disorienting ways.
As Thoreauvian beasts of burden, the dolphins have certainly
done their share of heavy lifting. What they’ve been thinking
along the way, though, remains very hard to say.
i decide tO go look for some surf, and make my way back up
to my car. And it’s only as I start to drive back down the ridge
that I notice a white paper sign wrapped in plastic and nailed to
a tree. It announces a recent zoning hearing about this property,
which is slated, it turns out, for a major commercial installation:
“ 64 villas, 36 condos, 4 bungalows, swimming pool, tennis court,
waste-water treatment plant, reverse osmosis plant,” and a host
of other structures, all shoehorned into Lilly’s Edenic eleven-acre
plot. Apparently the whole thing has gotten bogged down in an
environmental controversy, owing to the discovery of a few endangered Caribbean tree boas on the property. Et in Arcadia ego.
The development—if it happens— will be called “Dolphin
Visit orionmagazine.org to discuss this article and read more on
dolphins and whales by D. Graham Burnett.
The Fixt and Random
Universe Is Seen to Move
In the suckhole near the ditch,
snails squirm their way up
stalks of snake reed.
Get down on your knees
in the mud. You’ll see
how their pearl shells
bear up your bent face
and the whole bright sky.