Saturday, July 12, 2008

Animals, Animals, Animals

Part 1: Bang Bang
The top of Bang Bang's broad forehead is in serious need of moisturizer and his sparse and bristly hair could use some conditioning, too. So whenever he reaches up with his trunk to work a spot, I help him out by scratching with the tips of my fingers, which is like scratching a rock face covered in eruptions of heavy gauge fishing line. At the invitation of his handler, I have slid down off the bench where Kaya remains warily, and am riding atop his neck with my legs dangling behind his generously flapping ears. As he strides gracefully forward, the rocking motion forces me to lean heavily on his forehead, and in this manner we make our way through the well-worn elephant tracks just below the falls at Namuang.

Part 2: Camouflage
While snorkeling on the reef on the northern end of Chaweng Beach, I discover the secret of the Octopus' success. Although I am told they live among the coral heads in profusion, in over of week of snorkeling morning til evening, I have yet to see one. So it is with mild surprise as I'm resting on the surface, looking downward at nothing in particular, that I see an amorphous black mass the size of a baseball glove gliding swiftly over a stretch of sand in the reef. I might have mistaken it for a piece of seaweed caught in the current if it was not also attended by two pesky midsized reef fish, who are darting and dashing around it apparently harassing it. The black blob settles on the face of some reef at the edge of the sand, and the fish become more aggressive as the weave around it, prodding and provoking. Occasionally a tentacle reaches out to meet the fish in an almost offhand manner, but the fish do not retreat. When I decide to dive down for a closer look, however, the octopus pulls an extraordinary camouflage trick, changing in an instant from a jet black to the color of reef, complete with virtual texture and variations of color. All that is visibly identifiable is its soulful eye peaking up at me. It slithers deeper into the ledge of the reef until it is essentially invisible. I decide to retreat behind the rock to see if it will recover its previous coloration, and after about a minute a black tentacle cautiously emerges from the ledge and the body begins to follow. The harassing fish have not retreated, however, and whether the octopus sees me or responds to the attacks, it once again falls back to its defensive position and color and disappears into the reef ledge. I dive down once more to try to get a better look, but all I see is the glare of one bright yellow eye, staring out at me from the reef ledge.

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