I went to a marine biology exhibit out on the Cal Poly Pier in Avila Beach a few days ago. There I encountered an aquarium with a starfish (e.g. sea star) that was latched onto the aquarium pane, allowing me to see its underside. Wedged between it and the aquarium glass, was a mussel. The sea star was consuming the mussel.
This was a vicious and slow motion raping of the mussel. The sea star locks itself onto the mussel, and starts pushing out its individual tube feet and attaching them to various parts of the mussel—clamping onto both sides of the mussel (e.g. on both of the mussel’s shell halves). Over time, with constant pressure exerted on the mussel, the mussel shell halves are slowly pulled open by the sea star. How long was the assault? The docent could not tell me, but I’m certain it was no three minutes; I think it was probably an hours-long siege.
Once the mussel shell is pried open (say an opening of a half inch or so), the sea star disgorges its own stomach and the stomach is pushed into the mussel. Here the stomach delivers some digestive enzymes to the organic matter in the mussel, and then consumes all edibles within the mussel. Once sated, the sea star recalls its stomach back into its body, drops the spent and empty mussel shell to the aquarium floor, and so ends this rapacious interplay.
I think sea star energy is like the swimmer energy. There is no dramatic dropping of a guillotine; rather the sea star patiently mounts a prolonged and concerted intention. It gains victory incrementally. It prevails not by performing one crushing blow, but rather by causing “death by a thousand cuts”. That is precisely what swimmers do.
On occasion my brother-in-law has used some American Indian homilies to describe his experiences, often very accurately. In his younger days he was a fighter, and he’d say he had “bear” energy, which may suggest the bear’s ability to swat its prey once or twice and in so doing break its back.
He’s keenly interested in my swimming, and he says long distance swimming exhibits “elk” energy. The elk can keep up a trot for hours and even days , staying just far enough ahead of the wolves to not be overtaken. The race for its life happens, not in one dramatic sprint, but in a sustained effort of expending only enough energy to always stay clear of the wolves.
Open water swimmers—we are some sort of chimera—part sea star and part elk.