August 2, 2014

Liberating Moments

It was a gentle-sounding crash, as gentle as the giant that had made it. Fifty feet of humpback whale breached the quiet, calm ocean, forty tons of living flesh and sentience crashed onto the water’s surface with an explosion of spray and foam unlike anything I could ever have imagined. In its wake, another awesome mammal gracefully silhouetted the horizon, effortlessly twisting against blue sky, an infinite pause as if still-life, and then it smashed the perfect crystal sea into fragments of sunlit beads.

From the bow upon which I was standing, leviathan had reawakened my soul to the self within me. The moment felt like an eternity. In the silence of the whales’ disappearance, I was spellbound.

And awed.

And sorry.

Not just for whales, not just for the tragedy of their murderous destruction; human greed over yielding grace, profit over power, death over what is alive, what is unique, what is necessary and indescribably beautiful. Nor was I merely sorry for the discoveries we have not yet found: what is the meaning of their eerie, soul-reaching, inexplicable songs? Mostly I was sorry for our alienation from them, our misfortune for having taken form — in a natural sense — so far below them. Unlike many of us, unlike most of us, whales are free.

Those were the only words I could find that day to describe how I felt in the presence of leviathan. Earlier that morning, I rested my gaze on the first whale I had encountered. I was leaning over the bow of that drifting boat, listening to the ocean slap the hull with a hollowness that reminded me just how far from the nearest shore we all were. It was a long way for me, from the emptiness of my alienated existence to the fullness of that moment, wishing the boat would tip just enough so I could reach down and touch the cool water with my fingers. And grasp home again. And a song in the back of my mind: Well, I was born in the sign of water / and it’s there that I feel my best / the albatross and the whales / they are my brothers …

We had seen her earlier, sounding with calf, her flukes more graceful and flexible than I had imagined a whale’s could be; the sun reflected the essence of this-is-all-there-is-ness from the curve of her tail. And then she was gone. Now I waited, without time, for her reappearance, for the opportunity to see her once more; just a glimpse, just a flash of a moment to feel in touch with home again was all I wanted. All I had ever wanted.

Below me the water was a murky bluish-green, seeming to move only on the surface, as if the great sea was merely solid earth beneath the boat. Suddenly, the ocean turned a grayish-black — breaking all thought processes inside my head, leaving me only with image, with now-ness—as if a sea of algae drifted past, holding the sunlight at bay, as if the bottom of the ocean had lifted to the surface. Alongside the boat, the water had turned a bluish-white, a moving mirage of nothingness, elongated and jagged, like the eleven-foot fin of a humpback whale…

It took a moment for my brain to compute…

…like the eleven-foot fin of a humpback whale!

I choked on an indescribable emotion when leviathan broke the surface, drifting on the open ocean alongside our boat. She exhaled a fine mist skyward, its warmth and aliveness tickling my skin; a gift — and a memory — I would never forget. Life had never been grander, never been fuller or richer or more complete, than it was at that moment; to use another cliché, home is where the heart is.

And so it is to her, and to her kind — the giants and the pygmies, the breachers and the spy-hoppers, the dancers and the singers — that an issue of The Animals Voice Magazine was dedicated.

For them — and all those others like them — keep fighting the good fight.

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