One of my new Camino sisters gifted me with a tarot card reading recently. I was skeptical. But when I flipped that first card, my heart card, and that winged angel, balance, stared up into my eyes, I figured maybe there was something to this. Maybe it wasn’t all mumbo-jumbo hocus-pocus. There’s no question I’ve been struggling to find balance in my life. If I’m to be completely honest, it’s fair to say my heart has been calling for it. Score one for the tarot card. My next pull was ‘nature’ for the head shot. Hmm. Count that as score two. Didn’t I just trek the Camino to find myself by getting back to nature? Haven’t I been reveling in this rainy summer, transported back to the lush rainforests of New Zealand and Australia? Heck, as I sit here writing this blog post, I’ve thrown the windows open to soak up energy from the thrum of rain pelting on the back deck, the whoosh of wind whipping tree branches to set leaves rustling to their own sweet brand of music, and the frisson of lightening ripping across the night sky.
So perhaps my reaction to Ripley’s Aquarium shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me. Perhaps I should have anticipated that my excitement would quickly give way to dismay. Leaving aside the scores of people crammed into spaces not equipped to accommodate them, and the women with strollers ramming into my calves or over my sandal-toed feet, at some fundamental level, I resisted the pull of the place. In fact, I’d have to say I found the concept of paying to view these magnificent creatures, torn from their natural environment and held in captivity in spaces too small to contain them, repugnant.
Sure, sure, I get the arguments about raising awareness of the plight of our oceans, and engendering appreciation through exposure, and encouraging protection from human predators through shared positive experience. But staring up through the looking glass at stinger-snipped stingrays sliding overhead alongside toothy sharks, it struck me as intrinsically flawed logic. Something akin to purporting to raise awareness about domestic abuse by allowing wife-beaters to hold battered women and children in captivity for profit, charging to view them in all their trapped terror. I’m not suggesting it’s an apt analogy, but it was an authentic gut reaction.
The pure joy of appreciating the unparalleled grace of the ephemeral jellyfish, or magic of a seahorse tail wrapped around a coral branch, or alien happy-face underside of a ray was tarnished by the cacophony of hollering, bouncing off the fake cave walls, and the pounding of flat hands and fists against the tempered glass. The tremor of apprehension at the sight of simultaneously awe-and-revulsion-inducing eels was tempered by the sudden realization that they didn’t appear to have room to turn around, let alone roam.
So maybe it’s the call of my nature tarot head card, but I think I’ll take my interactions with the remarkable range of species our oceans offer up the traditional way – either scuba-diving or snorkeling. Or maybe even via video of them in their natural habitat. But I don’t think it likely that I’ll pay another visit to the humans holding these extraordinary creatures captive under the CN Tower in Toronto.