19 November 2011
The Whales Don't Know it's Almost Thanksgiving......
That's me walking on the beach on Monday.......in a tank top. Today I was walking in a down vest and a scarf. But by Sunday I'll be walking in a tank top again. This place that is better known for its ski slopes than its seacoast is surprisingly mild this time of year (stormlets that knock out your power for a week notwithstanding). In fact, we still have brightly colored leaves clinging to our trees. And it's almost Thanksgiving! Who knew?
And so it is that we can squeeze in some last minute summertime adventures in our quest to conquer the lengthy New England To-Do List. In addition to autumn lobstering and surfing, we managed to board the last whale watching boat of the season.
Here is my picture of whale watching:
My camera thought it would be funny to hide from me on whale watching day. I'm sure it was hilarious watching me rip my house apart while I scream "Get in the car! Now!" about 500 times while I keep not getting in the car. So I go whale watching with just a camera phone which is just pathetic. Pictured above is my attempt at a self-portrait.....Liam waving, me holding phone........just so I can mark the occasion. It's all you're going to get because a whale is a fleeting thing, usually speedy and far away - it's not like they pull up next to the boat and pose. Getting that perfect whale shot is stressful with a good camera, let alone a lame camera phone, so I give myself a break and enjoy the show without trying to capture the elusive perfect shot. But I'll always have our shadow portrait to remind me of our happy day. Sigh.
The boat itself was not exactly what I expected. It's small and cramped with no "inside" to speak of. No "seats" to speak of either, unless you're lucky enough to score a spot on the bleacher seat that rings the perimeter of the boat. I also start to sweat when I see the "railing" which is more like a loosely woven mesh curtain. And then here comes the mom with 3 little boys under the age of 4; danger radar going off so loudly in my head! Mom chats absent-mindedly while boys roam the boat freely - or should I say roll around and fall down and jump freely? Here's the running commentary in my head: "Would I be a bad person if I didn't jump in and save them? It's the mom's responsibility, right? I would like to take my eyes off of them but I can't because she's chatting with her neighbor. But they are not my responsibility. She can take care of her own children. STAY AWAY FROM THE MESH CURTAIN!"
Finally I see the boys strapped to the bank of life jackets piled in the middle of the boat, their arms and legs held firm by the bungee cords holding the pile in place. "Oh thank god," I think. "Single mom found a system!"
But no! Single mom starts yelling "Get out of there! What do you think you're doing? Those don't belong to us!" And she untangles them from their safe haven and sets them free to wander ever closer to the mesh curtain.
(not my children. not my children. not my children.)
There's another group, maybe an extended family, who brings a cooler on the tiny boat. The kind you need two people to carry. The kind you have to scooch around or step over on a crowded whale watching boat. You can buy hot dogs and bagels and chips on the boat but these people are apparently serious about their lunch. I'm having lunch with them. They probably have tuna sandwiches and macaroni salad and fresh fruit. Screw hot dogs.
But when they open the lid I see only 3 unopened loaves of bread and a bushel of veggie booty. They take turns sitting on the bleacher seat by the cooler and balancing pieces of bread on their legs, one on each thigh, while they dig for lunch meat. I smell peanut butter but I don't see jam. I don't see any condiments for the dry lunch meat sandwiches. More than one sandwich half falls off a wobbly thigh and lands, peanut butter side down, on the floor. I don't want to eat lunch with them anymore. And their cooler is in my way.
At the front of the boat are a group of people I have identified as our "whale spotters." They wear camp hats with draw strings pulled tightly under their chins. They have binoculars. And walkie talkies. Their binocular straps feature Nature Conservancy or Sierra Club logos. Their eyes stay focused on the horizon. They site, point, discuss, talk into walkie talkies. This is where the action is. If I can hang by these people, we will have a front row seat to the whale show. I'm surmising that they spot whales and radio to the boat captain; the captain redirects the boat for better viewing and then gives the location info to a narrator who makes the announcement to the passengers so they can look in the appropriate place.
This is such a score.
We wedge ourselves in close to the spotters and wait. After an hour of patient waiting, there's a flurry of activity; all the spotters rush together and point their binoculars in the same direction. The lead spotter starts talking into the walkie talkie. There's a possible sighting at 1 o'clock! I grab Liam and run over to 1 o'clock; we have to fight our way in. I push Liam to the front so he can see his first ever whale!
The walkie talkie spotter shouts excitedly, "Confirmed! Confirmed sighting at 1 o'clock!"
Where?! I don't see anything!
Again, walkie talkie spotter, louder this time "Common Loon! Common Loon! Confirmed!"
What?! THEY'RE GODDAMNED BIRDERS!
Getting excited about a loon? Freaky birders with your freaky walkie talkies! How did you not check that box when you were a junior birder? If a common loon makes you wet your pants, what will you do when you see a whale? Or are you unimpressed by such big animals and you're just using us for your selfish aviary purposes? I thought I was going to see the world's largest animal and you show me a loon! Freaky birders! I swear, I can't say this enough. Freaky birders! I go sit on the other side of the boat.
Omigod. Getting antsy. We've been on the boat for two hours and we haven't even reached the prime whale watching area yet. I'm a grown up with a healthy attention span - I wonder how the 3 year old boys are doing? I wonder if they know what a whale is. I wonder if single mom is having fun.
And then it happens. Finally! A mother humpback whale and her calf swim alongside our boat and shoot a stinky mist out of their blow holes. It's like a whale fart! All the irritation and cynicism evaporate and the boat erupts in a collective reaction; whale farts! We all squeal and clap our hands like kindergartners. They swim with us, arching and diving, for a good 20 minutes and we keep squealing and clapping. Every time. It never gets old.
Liam's face is stretched into a shiny smile the whole time and I'm like "Science! Nature! Yay!" I realize how relieved I am that he gives a shit about this, that he's not just sitting there thinking about the Super Mario Brothers. Video games will not win today! Today, the winner is NATURE!
At the end of our trip, our boat is surrounded by a dozen frolicking Right Whales. You don't even know what that is, do you? That's because they are so freakin' rare! There are only 425 of them on the whole planet..........and we saw 12 of them! Our narrator was practically in tears. Seriously, she got a little chokey on the mike. If you're a marine biologist, and you lead multiple whale watching trips every day for 5 years, and then one day you spot a rare specimen that you've never seen in your entire marine biologist life, it might be difficult to keep your composure in front of your audience...........that was a career high for narrator girl.
And we were there for her moment. I felt like her mom or something, I was so happy for her.
The right whales put on a show flipping their tails high in the air over and over and over. It's like they meet under the water and tell each other "Just flip your tail. They love that!" And it's true!
A giant (and I mean GIANT) whale tail, dripping with water droplets and sliding back into the ocean is just too amazing to get used to. We go home and we draw whale tails. Over and over and over. Liam, a boy who has no time to draw, sits and perfects the image he has seared in his mind; two backs emerging above the surface of the ocean, one big and one small, a fin, a volcano-like blowhole, and hasty pencil stripes shooting out of the volcano indicating the spray that was our first signal to squeal and clap. It is his new go-to drawing subject.