April 08, 2021

Reflections from My Octopus Teacher

Posted on April 8, 2021 by Dale A. Guariglia

Since the pandemic started, like many people, I have watched way more TV than I had previously watched. Recently, my daughter suggested we watch a film entitled My Octopus Teacher on Netflix. (I will be honest, the title did not generate great enthusiasm in me, but I reluctantly agreed since trying to get everyone in my family to agree on a movie to watch is more challenging than negotiating a multiparty Superfund allocation.)   

This 2020 documentary follows a burnt-out filmmaker, Craig Foster, in South Africa, and his path to find renewal through snorkel diving. He begins this path by swimming close to his home near Cape Town. While diving he notices a small octopus, and is immediately fascinated by it. He begins to return to the octopus day after day, and the two begin a journey of over 300 daily visits. He gains the animal’s trust and slowly the octopus begins to show Foster bits and pieces of its life. Through the ups and downs the two become inseparable. This invertebrate seems to worm its way into everyone’s heart and soon even I found myself rooting for this little guy. Through the triumphs and the heartbreak, this movie certainly was well worth the watch, and is a good reminder of lessons we are all aware of, but sometimes forget. 

We can be more than visitors of the natural world, we can be a part of it. In his diving excursions every day, Craig Foster did not wear a wet suit (despite cold waters) nor any SCUBA gear. He went down to the ocean floor holding his breath, having to return to the surface for air repeatedly while trying to befriend the octopus and also film the ongoings below. This was not a story of Mr. Foster intruding into the octopus’ life, but rather an actual relationship that developed between the two as the octopus is just as curious about Mr. Foster as he is with it.

The complexities of the natural world are often overlooked in the hustle of life. Between the pressures of work, commitments, family, friends, etc. there is hardly time to stop and smell the roses, much less to even notice them. Although I have a tendency to always want to be doing something, sometimes I just sit outside and watch and listen. It is amazing what you see and hear when you are still. At a time when we all may feel burned out after a year of pandemic fears and losses, endless zoom meetings, and a loss of out-of-the-house entertainment, My Octopus Teacher shows how you can find renewal in the smallest of things from nature. I am blessed to have grandchildren and to be able to see the fascination with life and the world they have that we as adults seem to often miss. On a recent trip to the beach with them, they were greatly exited to find a dead crab which had washed ashore, and a small part of a sea shell which I would not have made the effort to bend down and pick up since it was only a small piece.

Admittedly, this is a blog about the environment, not actually environmental law.  However, it was nice to step aside from the law aspects of my daily life and write about something that is simple and yet meaningful. As I write this blog, it is sunny and 700 outside. I am going to stop writing, shutdown my computer, and go outside and enjoy the day!

If you have not watched it yet, I recommend My Octopus Teacher.