Sunday, October 28, 2012

in search of the elusive whales (what we need is here)

I cried almost every day of my honeymoon.

I love telling people that, especially in front of my husband, who just smiles at the sweet memories we share from those early days of marriage.  I didn't cry because of him, per se, but more because of us.  Us together, sharing money and space and money and sleep and money.  Yes, mostly money.  There was me waking at 6am to hand-wash his shirts and underwear and hang them all over the huge bathroom in our extremely nice hotel rather than let him send it to the hotel staff to wash for $7 an item; there was me sobbing on a bench in Victoria because I didn't want to go for the $55 per person afternoon tea for which my eager husband had just made us reservations.  We've come a long way in our nearly 3 1/2 years of money-sharing.  Yes, we have.

There was also our whale-watching excursion.  The first thing Chris wanted to do upon landing at our beach side fancy hotel (seriously, we stayed here, thanks to some generous family) was to visit the concierge (I had never heard that word before, you say it with an accent) and find out about seeing whales.  I'm fairly neutral towards animals, my husband can get obsessed.  Whales, his dream come true, to be on the water seeing the majestic creatures dancing and jumping around us, oh my goodness.  It was $70 per person (cue the tears) but you were guaranteed to see the whales, and how could I break his heart?  Truly, this is what my husband was born for.  He almost became a marine biologist, you know.

So we went.  The early May Canadian coast was fairly chilly.  We were given red waterproof snowsuits and met the other folks on our tour - another newly wed couple from the lower mainland.  As we were just about to get on the boat my husband turns me to me and says, "Oh, I forgot to take my pill.  Sometimes I get a bit seasick."  Then he popped in some motion sickness meds and we boarded the big zodiak.  As we took off Chris' face started to fall, slowly, onto my shoulder - and the quiet moaning began.  He didn't feel very good.  The freezing wind and water whipped us, Chris continuously threatened to vomit while trying to stay awake and the other couple joyfully laughed and stood together at the front of the boat, taking in the view as we zoomed past islands covered with sea lions and eventually found our whale.

By that point my husband didn't even care, he felt so sick.  In fact it is the only time I have actually heard my husband, in reference to a living creature, say "I don't care."  He wanted to go back to the hotel.  I had to find the situation comical, or I would have started to cry, of course.  $140, wasted. The whale didn't really do much anyway and it's breath smelled pretty bad which increased Chris' misery.


This morning we left before 8 to see whales again, this time from the shore, close to our home.  Many friends saw many whales yesterday and my husband was nearly green with envy (rather than seasickness, fortunately) as we have yet to see any whales in the three years we've lived here.  We drove to a great look out spot with our offspring in tow ready for our whales.  We watched.  And kept watching.  But whales, we did not see.

I felt slightly sad for my husband, squinting and hoping towards the oceanic horizon, but I knew the view itself was breath-taking enough, with or without smelly whales.

I was reminded of a passage in Annie Dillard's "Teaching a Stone to Talk"; she writes of driving five hours inland, determined to see a rare total eclipse:
"When the sun appeared as a blinding bead on the ring's side, the eclipse was over.  The black lens cover appeared again, backlighted, and slid away... I remember now:  we all hurried away.  We were born and bored at a stroke.  We rushed down the hill.  We found our car; we saw the other people streaming down the hillsides; we joined the highway traffic and drove away.  We never looked back.  It was a general vamoose, and an odd one, for when we left the hill, the sun was still partially eclipsed - a sight rare enough, and one which in itself, we would probably have driven five hours to see.  But enough is enough.  One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief.  From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home."

 Sometimes the whales or the person or the change we long to see can keep us from being enraptured by the beauty which is now, which is right here.  I imagine my children older, fantasize about the nights when they will sleep unassisted, days when I can write without numerous interruptions.  But those days will be hard too, won't they?  And then what will I wait for?  When we do catch a glimpse of the whales in the distance, it's often not quite what we hoped, never as fulfilling as we imagined and our desire is quickly for something else or some other time.  We will never catch it really, that missing piece, even when we think we have.  What we need is here.



What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

- Wendell Berry


  1. I loved this, i've been struggling alot with living in the moment with my crazy blonde hair boy, isntead i've been looking towards the day when he actually responds to his name or stops rearranging my house with his little thief hands. good reminder

  2. I read it finally. And I loved it. Thank you.