Hold Your Horses: Have We Got a Story for You!

Hello from “Horse Country ” also known as Middleburg, VA. For those who are unfamiliar, Middleburg is a tiny little town in the outskirts of suburban VA that has become a mecca for anyone who wants horse statues, horse clothes (both the kinds you wear decorated with horses, and clothes literally FOR horses), horse shoes, horse art, horse photographs, and anything else horse related.

 

I’m here because my daughter is attending a horse (shocker!) seminar all day. I thought I could wander around the quaint little shops in the village until she was done, but I was horsed out by store three, so I ducked into the only non-horse themed eatery to grab coffee and blog (while I try to ignore that everyone around me is talking about horses!)

 

My oldest daughter LOVES horses. This is one who loves animals in general (and had an unhealthy obsession with zebras for a while, as noted in an earlier blog). She wants to be vet, and is already well on her way having taken a number of junior vet courses, seminars, and workshops. Her workshop today deals with equestrian skeletal and muscular anatomy. Not how I’d want to spend a Saturday in the summertime, but she was very excited.

 

I’m more than happy to back these endeavors. Vet school is expensive so I support anything she can do to work towards a scholarship at age 11. (Oh right! Also, I love my kids and want them to be happy.) I do wish she’d picked a less expensive animal to love however. Any of you with kids who do horse-related sports know how quickly the costs add up, and that’s not even counting owning or renting an actual horse for riding.

 

There are some affordable options however, to foster a love of horses – or other animal related hobbies.

 

We participate in three different 4-H groups. One for horses, one for dogs, and one for farm animals. These groups allow kids a chance to learn about the animals in new ways and often provide foundational education for vets or other animal sciences. This full-day horse seminar is sponsored by 4H and costs us $5 (for lunch). As part of the farm group, my daughter has shown goats, helped birth baby pigs, shorn sheep, milked cows, and given vaccines to chickens.

 

Humane societies, park-run farms, and other animal rehabilitation centers are often looking for volunteers to work with rescued animals once they’ve been deemed safe. Kids are tasked with exercising, feeding, and cleaning up after the animals. It’s pretty amazing to see the kids mucking out stalls when you think back to the state of their bedrooms.

 

Reading. You knew I’d get here, didn’t you. If you can’t experience horses, or dolphins, or hippogriffs – or whatever other animals your child is obsessed with, you can find stories about them. Get a great introduction to my daughter’s favorite topic with this theme pack of back issues all about (you guessed it) horses:

 

And I’m happy to share a lovely two-part story about a beloved horse straight from the pages of Cricket Magazine, our award-winning literary magazine for kids ages 9 to 14.

Mama and Lady Washington, Part 1

Mama and Lady Washington, Part 2

 

 

We hope your little horse-crazy kid enjoys the story. For more great stories like this one, be sure to subscribe to Cricket. See you in Middleburg. I’ll be the one without any horse gear on.

 

Cricket Media Mama understands that you neigh-sayers may have reached the last straw with her unstable puns, but hay! Just hold your horses because she know she has foaled it up and her next blog will rein it in – at least a little bit.  

 

Inky: Octopus and Escape Artist Extraordinaire

If you haven’t read the recent story of Inky, the octopus who escaped from a New Zealand Aquarium, you are missing out on an amazing true story of escape and intrigue that leaves you with many questions and the desire to find out more.

 

Inky, a common New Zealand octopus, managed to somehow slip through a very small gap in his tank, scamper about eight feet across the floor and disappear through a 164-foot long drainpipe that ultimately leads to open water in the dark of night. Inky, the daring escape artist/octopus, has not been seen or heard from since!

 

I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks this story is similar to the escape featured in the movie Finding Nemo. But that was an animated movie – this really happened!  Inky’s unbelievable escape made me curious to find out more about these strange, crafty sea creatures…

 

How smart can the octopus be? 

 

Can an octopus be smart enough to figure out how to escape? Are they known for their intelligence?

 

Turns out not only are they known for their smarts, but they are actually quite famous for their ability to escape predators using various methods, including sliding through small, confined spaces!

 

Octopuses are considered cephalopods with an incredibly advanced nervous system. Considered the most intelligent of all invertebrates, they are said to have distinct personalities, can solve problems, take things apart, and develop both short- and long-term memory. Some experiments have shown they can even recognize shapes and patterns.

 

So, now that I understand what an amazing, smart and developed species they are, Inky escaping from his aquarium tank is probably not that a big of a deal to those in the marine biology field. But, to the rest of us, it’s a pretty cool, intriguing story.

 

Find out even more about the Octopus

 

8 Arms and 8 Ways shares the  eight amazing ways the Octopus can protect itself. This information was featured in the April 2011 issue of Click, our magazine for kids ages 3-6 who enjoy learning about science. We also offer an entire issue of Muse dedicated to the interesting and intriguing Octopus: Octopus: How Smart Could It Be? in our online store.

 

oct1OCTOPUS: HOW SMART COULD IT BE?

oct3OCTOPUS: HOW SMART COULD IT BE?

A Lot More Than Just Horsing Around…

Do you have a horse crazy kid in your life? Loving horses is a special kind of affliction that seems to target both girls and boys of a certain age. I know this from experience. Back in the day, I was one of those preteens who fell in love with horses. I took riding lessons and was lucky enough to go to riding sleep away camp. The walls of my bedroom were plastered with horse posters, my shelves were crammed with horse statues. To this day I sometimes stop my car and get out to watch the horses I see in the fields near my house.
 
If you have one of these kids in your life, you will want to get them a copy of the latest issue of Dig. If you haven’t had the pleasure of digging into Dig (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun), each issue is theme-related and this month’s theme is horses. In fact, from the very first page (“5 Hairy Horse Facts” anyone?) I was instantly immersed in the history and culture surrounding my first animal love.
 
In particular, I loved the article on the people of Mongolia, who respect the horse as their companion. Their belief is, “We are nothing without our horses.” How I would have agreed with that as a horse-loving preteen! And I loved seeing “Great Leaping Lipizzans!” complete with the picture you see above. The beauty of these particular horses is just astounding and their grace is unparalleled. I hope you’ll share the article below with the kids in your life. You might end up with a horse crazy kid of your own.
 
For more articles like this one, be sure to subscribe to Dig.

 

 

Great Leaping Lipizzans!

By Sarah Novak

 


 
They were the horses of European royalty. But they were saved from disaster by the United States Army—with the help of allies and even former enemies.

 

The Lipizzan horse breed dates back to the 16th century, when the ruling family of Spain and Austria, the Hapsburgs, established horse farms to supply riding schools and military forces. One such farm was in Lipizza, then in Italy (now Lipica in Slovenia). From here came the famed Lipizzans, descended from Arab, Italian, and Spanish horses. In Vienna, the capital of Austria, the Spanish Riding School was founded to train these horses and their riders. It is now the oldest riding academy in the world, observing its 450th year in 2015. The strong, graceful Lipizzans are taught here to leap up with all four legs lifted simultaneously, a difficult maneuver known as “airs above the ground” (see above). Lipizzans are often described as white, but they are actually a light gray, their coats changing from dark to light by the time they are 6 to 10 years old.

 

Near the end of World War II, American army officers in Czechoslovakia learned from a captured German general that prisoners of war were being held in a nearby village, along with hundreds of horses taken by the German army, including 250 Lipizzans. Prisoners and horses were in danger from the advancing Soviet army. With the help of German officers, a rescue was planned. The order to go ahead came from American general—and expert horse rider—George S. Patton: “Get them. Make it fast!”

 

U.S. forces secured the village and a road leading to a safe location 130 miles away in Germany, which had just surrendered. Transported in trucks and in small herds, the horses were escorted by the American army and some of the freed prisoners to safety. They were then brought home in captured German trucks.

 

Today, there are about 8,500 Lipizzan horses worldwide, including about 1,150 in North America.

 

Front cover of Dig: Elya Vatel/Shutterstock.com
White horse: Reuters/Dominic Ebenbichler

Talking With Your Children About What They Can Do To Help Protect Creatures Great and Small

There aren’t many stories in the news that have the ability to bring tears to a child’s eyes like those that feature animals who have been hurt or killed either by accident or on purpose through human error or judgment. Children are natural animal lovers and they have an innate sense of fairness that is violated when they are exposed to stories where graceful and beloved creatures are treated cruelly. Whether the story is triggered by an oil spill that injures sea life or poachers who kill lions or elephants, it can be—no, it is—difficult to answer with any clarity the many questions that children ask in situations like these. As parents, we can only provide our children with the information and resources that (we hope) will allow them to do better for the world and the many diverse creatures who live in it.

 

We want to give our kids enough information to help them become conscientious world citizens without overwhelming them. We want to communicate to them that there are solutions, and that they can contribute. Ask Magazine published a story called “Saving Endangered Species” (March 2010) that’s a great example of a useful starting point for family conversations about why protecting wildlife matters – and why and how conservation really does work.

 

As parents, we want to give our kids enough information to help them become conscientious world citizens without overwhelming them and bringing on a sense of the problem being too big or too hopeless to even think about.

Saving Endangered Species

By Elizabeth Scholl

 

All over the world, animals and plants are in trouble. And all over the world, people are trying to find ways to help them.

 

An amazing number of animal, plant, and insect species live on Earth, and they are always changing and evolving. As they change, some die out, or go extinct. Extinction is a natural part of life on Earth, but today scientists are worried that too many species are disappearing too quickly. Unfortunately, this is often the result of things humans are doing, such as hunting, destroying wild habitats, and polluting the environment.

 

Is there something we can do before it’s too late? Yes! As people learn more about the problems facing endangered species, they are finding lots of ways to help.

 

Keeping Earth Clean

Peregrine falcons were once common over most of North America. But by the 1960s, only a few hundred were left. Farmers, who didn’t like falcons stealing their chickens, hunted them. People moved in and destroyed the forests and cliffs where they lived. But something even worse finally threatened to make these grand birds vanish for good.

 

In 1958 a marine biologist named Rachel Carson became concerned about a chemical called DDT, which was widely used to kill mosquitoes and insects that ate crops. When it was done killing the insects, the DDT didn’t just disappear. It washed into the soil and rivers, and even into the oceans, where it kept on killing.

 

Where DDT was sprayed, Carson noticed, birds began to disappear. Eventually she discovered that eating worms, fish, or plants laced with DDT caused birds to lay eggs with very thin shells, so that no chicks hatched. Peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and brown pelicans suffered the most, and all were in danger of going extinct.

 

Carson worked hard to persuade people that DDT was bad—back then, people didn’t understand the dangers of pollution. But Carson wrote a best-selling book that got people’s attention. Other scientists supported her, and eventually DDT was banned. The birds have recovered—now peregrine falcons even live in cities! While air and water pollution are still big problems for many species (including humans), we now try to find ways to control pests without hurting other wildlife.

 

Reserves: Making a Place for Animals

 

Deep in the Amazonian rainforest, the endangered red-faced uakari monkey forages for seeds in the treetops, while pink Amazon river dolphins swim among the trees of the flooded forest, feasting on fish that live in the floodwaters. Shy jaguars hunt for alligators and sloths.

 

This river is also home to the black caiman, a cousin of the alligator and the largest predator in the Amazon. Not long ago, people nearly hunted caimans to extinction for their skins, which were used to make fancy shoes and bags. Thousands were killed.

 

To help save the caimans and other endangered animals of the Amazon, the government of Brazil set aside this part of the forest as a reserve. Reserves are special areas of land or ocean kept just for animals to live in. The 2.7-millionacre Mamiraua Reserve is the largest in Brazil. Since it was established in 1990, the black caiman has recovered and is no longer endangered. Many other endangered species also find a haven here.

 

Humans are not allowed to hunt or harm any plant or animal in a reserve, making them one of the best ways to help endangered species. Reserves also help many species at once—animals, plants, insects, even microbes— including some that scientists have not even discovered yet.

 

Zoos to the Rescue

 

The coastal rainforest of South America was once a vast jungle, home to many animals, including a small honey-colored monkey called the golden lion tamarin. Then logging, farming, and cattle ranching destroyed all but a few small patches of the old forest. Many tamarins were captured and sold as pets. By the 1980s, they were on the brink of extinction.

 

Alerted to the danger, zoos around the world started a program to breed golden lion tamarins in captivity, while naturalists in Brazil set up a reserve to save their habitat. Together they worked hard to bring tamarins back to the rainforest.

 

Tamarins could be bred in zoos, but the zoo-born tamarins needed to be taught how to live in the wild. Scientists at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., first allowed the tamarins to roam freely in a small wooded area at the zoo. This let the tamarins get used to real trees and big spaces outside a cage. Zookeepers hid food in tubes and tied them to trees to teach the monkeys to forage.

 

When they were ready, families of zoo-bred tamarins were flown to Brazil and released into the forest. Watchers were nearby to lend a hand or provide food and shelter while they got used to their new home.

 

The program has been a great success. Today there are enough tamarins in the wild that they are no longer critically endangered. Now scientists are working to enlarge the reserve and make corridors so the animals can roam over a wider area.

 

Trees Please!

 

Kenya’s Mara River flows through the Masai Mara Reserve, watering the grasslands that provide food for the wildebeests, lions, cheetahs, rhinoceroses, elephants, giraffes, hippos, and zebras that live there. Kenya is also home to about 40 million people. And they all need water. The Mara brings water to farms and towns too. But this year the river is dangerously low. Where has all the water gone?

 

The answer lies far upriver, where the Mara starts, in Kenya’s Mau Forest. There, millions of leaves channel rainwater into streams. Tree roots hold the soil in place, keeping mud out of the river. But in recent years times have been hard, and people have cut down many trees for firewood or to clear land for farms. Without trees, the streams and rivers clog with mud and dry up. And without water, people and animals all suffer.

 

Wangari Maathai is a Kenyan activist who has worked for many years to encourage the people of Africa to plant more trees. She runs a program called Green Belt, which helps ordinary African women plant trees in their communities. It started as a way to make life a little better for the women, who often had to walk long distances to gather firewood.

 

But planting trees does much more. Tree roots keep dirt from blowing or washing away. This makes richer farms and cleaner water, and keeps the rivers flowing. Trees also give fruit, which people can eat or sell to make a little money. Trees clean the air and provide habitat for many birds and animals. With more trees, life is better for everyone.

 

Since it started in 1977, the Green Belt movement has spread to 20 countries and planted more than 40 million trees. In 2004 Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to help her people and the planet.

 

Trees are good for the women of Africa, good for wildlife, and most of all, good for the future. In fact, taking action to help endangered species often turns out to help people too. After all, we share the same Earth!

A Different Kind of Treasure Hunter

My eight-year old daughter is an expert butterfly egg hunter. Our backyard is filled with plants that are hosts—food plants—for the caterpillars that ultimately turn into butterflies and every summer, various butterfly species travel to our tiny urban backyard and lay their eggs on these plants, connecting their babies to the tasty treats that the caterpillars will need to grow to full size. My daughter, my wife, and our five-year old son then go treasure hunting, searching for these eggs, bringing them indoors, raising the caterpillars that hatch from the eggs, and then releasing the butterflies that the caterpillars metamorphose into.

 

Butterfly eggs are tiny, and often found clinging on the undersides of leaves, and my daughter is particularly good at finding them. Maybe it’s the fact she’s at the exact height that most of these plants grow, or maybe it’s just all the practice she’s had—she’s been spotting eggs since she was a toddler—but she’s always been our lead egg spotter.

 

Now that she’s eight, her duties have expanded beyond the initial treasure hunt. She cares for the caterpillars that hatch from her eggs, providing them fresh leaves to eat as they grow. She also measures the caterpillars, each of which gets its own name, tracking their amazing growth progress—Monarch caterpillars can double their size in a day! And of course, she will ultimately enjoy the big payoff: watching a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis and releasing it back out into the world.

 

Raising butterflies is a great tradition in our house. It helps our city kids appreciate nature and understand the extraordinary power of the web of life, and perhaps more importantly, stresses their own role in making the world a better place. If you plant the right species, you will attract the butterflies, and if you care for the eggs and the caterpillars you can help bring an extraordinarily beautiful creature into the world, all through your own backyard.

 

Our summer issue of Click nicely captures the magic of building your own butterfly backyard with the story Flowers that Fly. Much like my older daughter tutors her younger brother on the art of butterfly hunting, in the story an older brother teaches his younger sister about host plants, pollinators, and even how sea salt can help attract butterflies! For more stories like there be sure to subscribe to Click. And if you’re interested in setting up a treasure hunt in your own back yard, check out this link. It will help you understand the host plants needed to attract butterflies that are native to your area: nababutterfly.com.

 

Raising butterflies is a great tradition in our house. It helps our city kids appreciate nature and understand the extraordinary power of the web of life, and perhaps more importantly, stresses their own role in making the world a better place.

 

Flowers that Fly

By Susan Yoder Ackerman
Art by Stephanie Roth Sisson

 

It’s going to be a long afternoon. Aunt Jen and Uncle Pete are visiting, and that means I’m supposed to play with Adeline. She’s dancing around in the sunshine, flapping imaginary butterfly wings.

 

I get down on my knees and pat some wet mud sitting in a shallow pan. “OK, Adeline,” I tell her. “You can sprinkle sea salt on this. Just a little. And I’ll mix it in.”

 

She stops dancing and takes the salt shaker. “Salt? I thought you were growing a butterfly garden, Simon! From butterfly seeds!”

 

I groan. This little girl has a lot to learn. But then I remember that I did too, when our family first decided to plant a butterfly garden. “Some butterflies want salt when they’re low on minerals,” I tell her. “One time a red admiral butterfly sat right here on my arm, tasting my salty sweat!”

 

“I want a butterfly to sit on me!” cries Adeline. “I want to wear it like a flower!”

 

I try to explain. “You know, butterflies don’t grow like flowers. You can’t plant them or pick them. They fly free. They go where they like.”

 

“Aww…make them come to me,” Adeline says.

 

“They’ll come, as long as our garden has the things they like—the right flowers and leaves; trees with sticky sap; soft, squishy fruit.” I point to the pan. “And a nice, salty mud puddle.”

 

“But I don’t like mud,” says Adeline, pouting. “See, my new pink boots are muddy—and pink’s my favorite color!”

 

I try to take Adeline’s mind off the mud. “Did you know that butterflies have favorite colors too?”

 

“Pink?” Adeline asks, starting to smile again.

 

“Actually, they like purple better, and orange. Look over there at the butterfly weed—that plant with the bunches of dark orange flowers. A monarch just landed on it. It’s sucking nectar up through its mouth parts, like a straw. There are so many tiny flowers there, the butterfly doesn’t have to fly far to get another sip. We planted a lot of that flower because it’s a kind of milkweed. Milkweed is a host plant. When a monarch is ready to lay eggs, she lands on a leaf to taste it with her feet. It has to be the right kind of leaf, or her babies can’t eat it when they hatch. If it’s not milkweed, she won’t lay her eggs.”

 

I take a deep breath and keep going. “If she doesn’t lay eggs, then no caterpillars hatch. If caterpillars don’t hatch, they can’t eat leaves and grow fat and make chrysalises. If no chrysalises open, then there won’t be any monarchs coming out and flying in the garden. Host plants are important.”

 

“Is that big flowery bush a host plant?” she asks.

 

“No, but butterflies love to drink the nectar from its flowers,” I say. “I guess that’s why it’s called a butterfly bush.”

 

“What about those plants with the skinny leaves and the little yellow flowers?” Adeline points to feathery stalks bobbing in the sunny breeze.

 

“That’s dill—another host plant,” I say. “We plant a bunch of dill seeds every year. Butterflies love it, and so does Mom. She makes pickles with it and cooks with it.”

 

Suddenly Adeline jumps back. “Worms! They’re eating your plants! Get some spray!”

 

“Never!” I say. “Nothing to kill bugs or weeds—ever! It poisons everything. Look, they aren’t even worms. They’re caterpillars. In a couple of weeks they’ll be beautiful butterflies.”

 

Adeline isn’t very happy about the caterpillars. Or the big bee buzzing over a yellow zinnia. “Shoo!” she says. “No bees allowed! This is a butterfly garden.”

 

“Hey, it’s OK,” I say. “Butterflies and bees do the same work. Flowers need them both.”

 

“Butterflies work?” she asks.

 

“Yup,” I say. “When a bee or butterfly takes nectar from a flower, pollen from the flower sticks to its body and gets carried to the next flower the bug visits. Everybody’s happy. Flowers need their pollen spread, so they can make fruits and seeds; and the insects get nectar.”

 

The sun is setting behind our tall oak trees. I smell garlic bread through the open kitchen window. “Let’s get in the hammock till dinnertime,” I say.

 

We lie together in the hammock, swinging slightly. A small butterfly darts over us, then swings back by, as if asking to play. “A cabbage white,” I say. “See the little black dots?”

 

Then Adeline spots the fluttering of bright orange and black wings as a monarch leaves the flower bed. “Oh, Simon,” she says, “it looks just like a flying flower!”

 

That makes me smile, but she’s kind of right. We swing gently back and forth, happy just to look at all the flowers—the ones that fly and the ones that don’t—until Mom calls us in to dinner.

How to Talk about Sharks with Your Child

With all the focus on sharks in the media – from Shark Week on Discovery to shark attacks in the Carolinas – your young ones may be asking a lot of questions about the fascinating and sometimes frightening fish. They might even be afraid of them. As a blogging mom once wrote, sharing childhood memories of the terror you felt watching Jaws or viewing circling sharks on aquarium visits might not ease the anxiety. The solution for this particular mom? Reading a book about baby sharks and families, so her daughter’s curiosity could overtake her fear.

 

At Cricket Media, we agree empathy is an excellent way to relate to a topic in a reassuring way. We’d like to share with you a first person account of an encounter with a large shark, a nurse shark, that allows the reader to get up close and personal with the shark (for those kids who are fascinated) while introducing the shark to those readers who are apt to be frightened in a controlled and respectful manner. Ultimately, the reader comes away with a lot of information about the nurse shark—its skin is smooth, not rough like most sharks, it gives birth to live young, it is large but usually harmless to humans—but the real takeaway is the reader’s newfound ability to see the shark for more than just its sharp teeth and to appreciate it as a fellow creature of this earth.

 

For more stories like this one be sure to subscribe to Cricket.

 

Ultimately, the reader comes away with a lot of information about the nurse shark—its skin is smooth, not rough like most sharks, it gives birth to live young, it is large but usually harmless to humans—but the real takeaway is the reader’s newfound ability to see the shark for more than just its sharp teeth and to appreciate it as a fellow creature of this earth.

 

Swimming with Sharks

By Darienne Oaks
His modest, bright white sailboat gently bobbed on the sparkling turquoise Caribbean Sea under a truly blue sky. Juni’s soft brown eyes glowed in his wizened grandfatherly face framed by curly, snow-white hair. Our hired captain for the day, he tenderly told us that we were going on a very special snorkeling adventure on the living coral reef that runs the length of Belize’s coast.

 

“Several years ago, I was alone on my boat,” he began his tale. “This day a man in one of the bigger commercial snorkeling boats accidentally speared a nurse shark and threw it back into the water. The big boat sped to another place seeking fish to spear that the crew could cook fresh for their customers’ lunches. I anchored my boat and followed a thin trail of blood in the water to the wounded shark lying under some coral fans. The belly of the shark was swollen. It looked like she was getting ready to have babies. On the next day I came back to see if she was still there. She was and was no longer bleeding. I brought a little food with me and released it into the water between us. She was very wary of me, so I moved back in the water away from her. Eventually, she gobbled up the food. I continued to come each day to feed her.

 

“One day I found two baby sharks swimming near her. Over the next year I came and visited them often, feeding them, petting them, and playing with them. One of the young sharks swam away and never returned. A month or so later, the mother was gone. I don’t know what happened, but I became good friends with the young shark that stayed.”

 

“Juni,” I interrupted, not really believing any of his story so far, “how did you know that was the same shark?”

 

“Well,” Juni informed me, “it ate the food I left in the water and eventually would take food from my hand. After several months of visiting every so often, I noticed this shark’s belly began to swell, and later she delivered two young sharks. They are my grandsharks, because they are the babies of the child of the first shark I helped. These are the sharks we will probably see today. I don’t know what happened to their mother. She, too, disappeared.”

 

I was having a hard time believing any of Juni’s story but was too polite to say anything more out loud.
“I want you to stay on the boat until I signal for each of you to jump in and swim over to me one at a time. The sharks will approach me first. I do not want you to be afraid.”

 

Before long we anchored and Juni jumped into the shimmering sapphire water. He swam a short distance away from the boat. Out of nowhere, two adult steel gray nurse sharks, each about three feet long, swam up to him, approaching like happy dogs greeting their owner. Juni frolicked with the sharks in lazy, playful circles a small distance away from our anchored boat, stroking each shark along its sides. He gestured for one of us to jump in and swim over. One girl swam over, reached out, and stroked the sharks.

 

Very quickly it was my turn. With “show no fear, feel no fear” running in my head, I jumped in and swam to Juni. Immediately he took my left hand in his, pulling my hand in a long single light stroke down one of the shark’s sides. It was thrilling to feel the surprising silky smoothness of its skin, not at all rough or scary the way I thought it would feel. Juni released my hand, and the shark rolled away. We were treading water and Juni said, smiling widely, “Smooth, huh? Very different than other sharks’ skins.”

 

Then the two sharks, magnificent athletes, twisted with lightning speed in comical zooming spirals all around us. Abruptly, they disappeared.

 

Way too soon, we headed back toward the boat. I fell into a happy wet heap on its deck, grinning from ear to ear, buzzing with happiness. As I stood up on the deck, though, I felt tight and small inside for not having first believed this gentle shark saver’s story.

 

We motored our way back in the now still afternoon to his anchorage near the dock. One of the girls asked Juni why he had named his sailboat Trinity. He said, “For the sea, the sky, the earth. They are holy.” Then he transferred us into a little white dingy, which brought us to the dock. The last to say goodbye, I looked into his watery eyes, remembering the shark’s skin under my hand and awkwardly blurted, “Thank you so, so much, Juni. This was an incredible day!”

 

Slowly I walked alone back down the dock, silently submerged in the feeling of Juni’s unforgettable sea.

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Nurse sharks are slow-moving bottom dwellers and are, for the most part, harmless to humans. Their scientific name Ginglymostoma cirratum means “curled, hinged mouth,” which describes the puckered appearance of their mouths. They can be huge—up to fourteen feet long. Their powerful jaws are filled with thousands of tiny, serrated teeth, and they will bite defensively if stepped on or bothered by divers. Fish, shrimp, and squid are their favorite meals. Unlike most other sharks, a nurse shark’s skin is smooth to the touch.

 

Art by Jui Ishida