When I was running my own coaching business, I trained with an organisation called CTI. They often sum up their ethos to coaching with “The Little Star Fish Story“, a story by Loren Eisley, that’s been gradually adapted over the years. I admit it is a lovely story, but I admit that at the time, I was really annoyed at CTI for using it, more because of the fact that in their story, no-one actually asked the Starfish its point of view or what it wanted. So I started to re-tell the story from the Starfishes perspective. I admit, originally it started off as a parody and written in the style of a children’s story, but like lots of things, morphed into something else:
The Other Little Starfish
Once upon a time there was a little brown pimply starfish. He lived on a coral reef, beneath the sea in the warm pacific ocean just of a pretty little island with all his starfish. Most of the starfish were content & happy with their lot, they slowly crawled along the reef finding things to eat, it was a simple life. But this wasn’t an ordinary starfish; he had a little more imagination. Sometimes he would venture a little further along into the shallows and gaze longingly at the waving palm trees wondered what it was like to be there instead. Tentatively, he pushed one of his arms out above the surface, just to see what it was like. It felt strange; the comforting water he was so used to no longer supported its weight, making it feel heavy. Even so, he was elated and excited.
Later that afternoon, while he was pondering life on land, a school of fish swam by, their silver scales & fins flashing in the water & he was in awe. One of the elders in the school noticed, broke away from the main body & went over to him.
“Hello little one” he said
“Hello” said the little starfish “I was just admiring your beautiful scales, how wonderful it must be to shimmer like that. All I have is theses brown pimply bumps on me”
The fish replied, “We all are, what we are, & we all do what we do according to our natures” smiling kindly.
“Oh I’d love to shimmer & dart freely like you do,” said the starfish, “you all look so beautiful”.
“Oh we all were something else once a long time ago” said the fish, “something to do with something called evolution I think”
“Evolve?” asked the starfish, a puzzled look furrowing his brow “What’s that?”
But at that moment a stream of bubbles came torpedoing down from the surface, & A fat seagull snapped up his new friend & just as quickly was gone.
The following spring, he again was spending a day gazing longingly up the beach. A gull caught his eye & he remembered the events of the previous year. “Wow, it must be so much better than even being a fish to be a gull” he thought to himself, as he slowly crept along “They swoop & soar & glide & they don’t even need water, oh yes and so much better to be the diner rather than dinner too”. He sighed to himself, & turned around to go home to his starfish friends feeling inspired & in awe at the spectacle that he’d seen.
When he got back, excitedly he told them all what he’d seen. So enthusiastic was he that some of the younger ones wanted to see for themselves, but the older ones looked at him. “We’re starfish” they said, “We don’t swoop & soar, or glide. We shuffle & creep – its much safer like this”
But whispering began around the reef, & curiosity was stirred in many.
The following morning, when the little starfish arrived at his favourite spot on the beach, he was surprised to find hundreds of his friends gazing up at it. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” they said. “How wonderful it would be to be a gull like that. How much freer it must be. Tell us little starfish, how can we be like the gulls?”
He replied, feeling a little lost, “I don’t know. But I think it might have something to do with something called evolving.”
“What’s that?” they all cried in unison.
Feeling embarrassed & a little silly, “I don’t know” he said.
A disappointed silence fell on the collection of starfish for a while, and then a small voice piped up at the back “I know! I know! Lets ask the whales, they are the wisest of all the creatures that live in the sea, surely they must know!”
The starfish all cheered & together crept along the seabed in search of the whales.
Normally they knew the whales were shy, solitary & elusive, but they knew at this time of year they might just be in luck. It was spring after all and they knew the whales gathered together to both have the great whale council, and also to find partners.
It wasn’t too long before they heard the mournful song of one in the distance, & following the sound, soon spotted the barnacled underside of a giant humpback, silhouetted high above them against the bright blue surface.
“Mr Whale, Mr Whale” they all cried “You are the wisest of us all that dwell in the sea, & we need you’re help”
He heard the chorus of voices & majestically flicking his tail turned around & dove down to the seabed to find out who was calling him.
“My, my” he said, “what have we here? Aren’t you little ones venturing a little far away from the reef?”
“Oh Mr Whale, please help us,” said the same small voice who’s idea it had been to search him out in the first place. “We’ve been watching the gulls swoop & soar & we so dearly would love to join them. Tell us please what is evolution?”
The wise old whale let out a booming chuckle, and with a gentle smile in the one eye the starfish could see, said, “Well let me see, evolution is it you want to know about? Well let me tell you”
And with that the starfish all shuffled together & silently waited in anticipation for what he may say.
“Well”, said the whale, “a long time ago when the world was young all creatures lived here in the sea. It was a little crowded so I’m told there was much more of us all back then.” A hint of a reminiscent tear welled in his eye, “Hmmmn yes, soo many more of us all, we whales back then would always be in council together so I was told by my great-great grandfather, none of this once a year together stuff & the whale-wives, yes they were so much easier to find and happier too…” he cleared his throat for a moment and came back to the present “Yes sorry, you were asking me about evolution weren’t you? Well like I said, a long time ago, we all lived in the sea and we all got along for the most part. Some of the fish got a little discontented with their lot though, and one day one clambered up onto his fins & hauled himself out of the sea & was never seen again! Gradually more & more of his fellows did the same. Now I’m not sure exactly what happened next, you’d have to ask them I think, it’s all a little unclear, but apparently they all changed into the creatures that live on land.”
“You mean like the gulls too that fly in the sky?” asked the smallest starfish.
“Well yes I suppose so,” said the humpback “they live on land now don’t they, so they must have. Stands to reason.”
“Wonderful!” cried the little brown pimply starfish, “See, see my friends, we can live out there too!”
“Thank you” he added.
With that the whale waved his tail goodbye, and on the eerie melody of his song, the starfish heard him singing “Good luck little starfish”.
The little starfish all turned around and headed back to the reef for the night.
The following morning the little brown starfish woke up excitedly, and went looking for his friends.
“Listen” he said “Last night I was thinking. Next month it’s the spring tide, if we prepare properly, we can use it to help us evolve up onto land. And in the meantime we need to prepare. I tried it just once, I put my arm out of the water, it felt so heavy. We must get strong. We need to exercise if we’re going to evolve.”
& With that for the next month they busied themselves, exercising with increasingly bigger & bigger rocks. The elder Starfish looked on puzzled, wondering what was going on. They said nothing though – it wasn’t the starfish way after all. Instead they enjoyed their youngling’s new-found enthusiasm but were still a little bemused.
At last the night of the spring tide came and the young starfish excitedly gathered on the beach in the shallows. The sky was clear and the starfish could see the moon full and unusually large. The carpet of stars just added to the magic the starfish were feeling.
They waited, giggling and laughing as they were gently washed further & further up the beach, with each wave.
A turtle that had been busy laying and burying her eggs dragged herself past “what are you doing?” She asked, her already wrinkled brow, furrowing deeper with puzzlement.
“We’re evolving!” chorused the starfish.
She looked at them still puzzled “Ah that” she said, not really knowing what they were talking about.
As the sun rose, for a while both it and the moon could clearly be seen by the starfish & slowly the tide withdrew back down the beach until later that day. And the starfish were overjoyed – their first morning beyond the confines of the sea!
As the sun rose higher their new world slowly awoke, for the first time they heard the cawing of the gulls clearly over head, no longer muffled by the sea.
It was then they heard a sharp yapping sound that was new to them. A strange creature came bounding across the beach panting & barking “Oh I want to evolve into one of those” one of them said excitedly.
“Oh I still want to be a gull,” said the little brown starfish.
“Hello” he said to the new creature “What are you?”
The dog sniffed & licked him “Err you taste salty” said the dog, wrinkling his nose “I’m a dog” he added, “I’m taking my human for a walk. What are you all doing here?”
“We’re evolving” he replied, adding, “Tell me, how can I evolve into a gull?”
“Yes, yes,” piped up another starfish, “& how can I evolve into a dog?”
The dog cocked his head to one side & scratched his ear with his hind leg. “Hmmmn, not sure about that, maybe you should ask my human”
The dogs’ human eventually caught up, and couldn’t have been more surprised by the sight that met her eyes – hundreds of starfish above the high tide line.
“Please miss,” asked the little brown starfish “Please tell me how I can evolve into a gull”
Of course being a human, she didn’t hear the little starfish voice
“How odd” she thought to herself, “They must have been washed up in the night poor things”
With that, she picked up the little brown starfish, kissed him & threw him back into the sea. She was sure it was just her imagination, but she was sure she could hear a tiny voice calling,
“Nooooooooooo” cried the little starfish “nooooooo, I just wanted to evolve!”
But the dog was sure, he heard something else,
“Yes, yes, yes, I’m flying, I’m a gull!”