The 2020 Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher begins with the world weighing heavily on the filmmaker, Craig Foster. He has been traveling across the globe, working so hard that he eventually shuts down. He cannot even pick up the camera. The world is too much for him. He feels like he is only a shell of himself and looks for a way out of this overwhelming fatigue.
Foster’s solution draws him to the edges of the ocean. Every day he dives, swimming among the ribbons of leather kelp leaves. One morning he discovers a funny-looking rock. He swims around it. He goes up for air, and when he comes back, he sees an octopus swimming away. This is how the documentary begins.
You may wonder why I bring this up. After all, there are no kelp forests in our waters. No, but we do have clear connections to the ocean. One spot that comes to mind is Driftwood Beach. It is a fascinating place with the skeletons of trees lying on the sand. This other-worldly location asks you to stop, slow down, and look.
Saltwater washes over it twice a day. At the base of those trees are little pockets of water left by the ocean as it recedes. Most of the time, there is just water or maybe a few tiny fish, but you get lucky every once in a while and the ocean reveals some secrets.
We do have octopi in our waters. I was surprised to see one caught on a four-hour ecological tour. It was at least a foot across. When I said I wanted to write about octopi, friends told me their stories of finding them on Driftwood Beach in one of those tide pools.
Octopi are mollusks that do not grow their own shell. They have to adapt to their habitat. When I visited the Dry Tortugas, we got to walk the tide pools at night. There was a turquoise octopus. It was beautiful. Octopi can become any color they need to in order to blend into their environment. They can be bumpy or smooth, all in an effort to disguise themselves. And they are very clever.
They actually have nine brains. One brain in each tentacle and one in the head. These brains work together or separately to solve problems. They also have three hearts, along with thousands of “suckers,” which function as fingers. Octopi have even been credited with having distinct personalities ranging from sweet to testy to just plain curious.
In the documentary, Foster follows one octopus through the year and re-discovers himself along the way. And this reminds us of something important — there are lessons to learn from nature, but we have to stop and listen to its rhythms.
I recommend that you watch the documentary, My Octopus Teacher. It is a beautiful film to learn about the life of one octopus and how it impacted the life of one man.