An Homage to North American Cetacean Migration (And The Follow -Up North American Swells From Hell)

Can You See The Whale From Here, 8″x8″ wood panel, cut paper, glue, gesso 2022

I have lived on an island my entire life. I grew up on the water and on boats in the bay, but thanks to Steven Spielberg’s brilliant classic, Jaws, swimming in the ocean has never truly appealed to me. Most of my oceanic experience has been gained as an observer. One morning, off the coast of a boreal and seasonal port, I experienced firsthand how little of a sea-farer I actually was.

We were vacationing in Maine and I decided to buy tickets for the whale watching tour. So, after purchasing the Family of Four Whale Watching Tour Package, we enjoyed a decadent meal of deep-fried fish, scallops, too much white wine and ice cream. Driving back to our rental was a white-knuckled trip in slick rain and dark, only to turn on our heels and catch the boat out to the whales at daybreak. And momma was in no way at her best. Never pair undercooked scallops, deep fried anything and too much white wine with the impulsive purchase of an early morning Family of Four Whale Watching Tour Package. I wouldn’t have done well on a walk from the kitchen to the couch to the bathroom and back again holding a bucket, so a boat that was really just a dinghy of a ship at the mercy of wind and weather was pure, unadulterated hell. I was as sick as I ever want to be. Typing these words sets my face in a contorted grimace while I recall the ebb and flow of those great, sublimely churning, translucent sea-foam waves and how those waves perfectly mimicked my bowels.

The gentleman at the whale watching kiosk who had signed us up mentioned something about seeing Gray whales and Minkes, but once we were all aboard I couldn’t do much more than grip the rail and stand halfway straight. I prayed for God and Neptune to quell the horrible, horrible swaying, the wretched back and forth, back and forth- they did not. My husband had one kid and I was responsible for the other, but the one I was with kept wedging herself between hordes of fellow sightseers. Brandishing cutting-edge binoculars and cameras, they craned their necks over the side in search for the sea mammals I wanted to see, too, if I could have pried my eyes open a smidge more. Some of these tourists had children and I flatly observed they were all smiling and pointing toward the horizon, not acting like they had hangovers.

When you imagine whales in their natural habitat, do you see magnificent giants gracefully breaching, barely breaking the surface, only to nose-dive back into the water, but not before their massive haunches, twisting like barnacle-encrusted behemoths, remain suspended in space for one hot millisecond behind your family so that you can snap that perfect picture? Is it just me? Well I promise you, It would have been more rousing to see two sofas out there then what the animal kingdom was showboating starboard. Our whales were a little off. They looked like two tree stumps that floated away every time the captain tried to steer close. Gritting my teeth through relentless nausea, I mused it would have been more of what I was expecting if the whales swam up to the boat and interacted with us. By the end of the trip I wasn’t at all convinced they could even swim.

After five or six hours we headed back to shore, but did not return safely before some family drama involving a big wave, my daughter defying gravity, her chocolate milk and several trips to the bathroom. What was most memorable? How frightening my children were on a ship that simply could not stop going up and down. Ocean waves can be ridiculously gigantic. I may be exaggerating in hindsight but Christ on the Cross I had no idea waves could be that big. No one seemed to care except for me, my lower intestine and my husband who I would see in passing, double fisted with a coffee, corn muffin, maybe a turkey sandwich, a power bar, a bottled water, some wafers, orange juice and gum, acting like we were going on a ten mile hike and sleepover instead of holding on to the side of the wall in the ship innards (or cabin) for dear life, screaming for the firstborn to get back here because that is not a toy, damnit! We caught one another’s gaze, my husband and I, and it was as though he was seeing me for the first time. He was afraid.

Speaking of magical moments, there are no magical moments of our whale watching tour saved to video or digital or anything at all because if memory serves, the disposable, (waterproof) camera managed to find it’s way off the bow and into the crystal depths of those chilly Maine waters.

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