VII. The Swimmer’s Energy


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.


Elk magnificence

Elk-seastar on the  move

Elk-seastar on the move



7 thoughts on “VII. The Swimmer’s Energy

  1. Pingback: XI. The Family Hellgren | The Siljan Diary

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