Photo: Manatees by J Wilder Bill

On Saturday afternoons, manatees drift over to our sailboat to drink fresh water. The fleshy sea cows have captivated sailors’ imaginations for centuries. They are believed to be the inspiration for mermaid sitings. 

Their backs are covered in algae, giving them shimmers of turquoise and metallic greens on their tough skin, making them seem all the more magical, like wizened mermen. They communicate underwater with resonating clacks from the back of their throats, which could sound like a sultry female luring a sailor at the helm toward the shallow waters. 

They tend to be docile and rest just below the surface in grassy areas. To protect the families, “No Wake Zones” are set aside for boaters to navigate in a manner giving them time to move out of their path. Their large bellies and seal-like flippers limit them to maneuvering slowly, too slowly to avoid having propellors strike them when boaters charge through at fast speeds.

Such magical creatures inspire my stories that begin with a dream. In my vision, manatees saved me from drowning in the ocean when the surrounding dolphins were too busy playing to notice my peril. A gentle sea cow carried me to safety, far away from alligators and sharks. We went deep into a cavern through an entrance under sea level. Bookshelves covered the alcoves inside the cave. Plush seating was clustered in the nooks. 

Affectionate Manatees by J Wilder Bill
Affectionate Manatees by J Wilder Bill

I woke with a great sense of peace, a feeling of new beginnings, and an appreciation of the mystical creatures. I’d never seen anything like their tiny, eternally sleepy eyes and their silly mouths, puckering into sloppy kisses. 

They push each other aside when I bend over the stern of the sailboat to say, “hello.” As vegetarians, they love greens, cabbages and leafy vegetables. They will cross the filthiness rivers for a taste of fresh water whether it is running out from  my sailboat when the air conditioners are cooling or flowing from a hose while I swab the deck. 

Manatees travel in pairs, like lovers languishing in the heat. At times, they arrive with a third calf for an afternoon family outing. 

Even the busiest sailors and children stop what they are doing to watch the manatees caress one another as they share long drags of fresh water. They captivate attention not only because they are endearing, but also because of their resistance to the environment. 

Manatee Mother & Calf by J Wilder Bill
Manatee Mother & Calf by J Wilder Bill

My dream inspired my nymph fantasy, “Spirit Prisoners of Evangabella,” where I share their hidden world. It is because of their secretive serenity that the protagonist causes an accident that thrusts her into a mystical world where she must right her ancestors’ wrongs.

An intuitive, passionate teen bravely faces the unseen forces destroying Earth by entering parallel dimensions to solve the mystery of why a mystical book causes those she loves most to vanish, experience the thrill of romantic love, and reconnect with her nymph spirit. 

No matter how many times manatees visit me when I’m on the water, I’m always overcome by their magical presence. Surely, the explorers were right. Manatees are related to mermaids.

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