I never see whales. This wouldn’t be noteworthy if I lived in Nebraska or Saskatchewan, but I live on a peninsula that juts right out into the Pacific. At the foot of my street are sparkling waters some call the “whale’s highway to Mexico” part of a route that ends in Scammon’s Lagoon.. According to my very reliable whale expert, between December first and May I had about 20,000 chances to see a gray whale passing. And if I flubbed that, as I obviously did, there were a whole bunch of blue whales swimming right under my nose in September, October and November. So where was I?
Looking for that second sock to roll into a pair perhaps, or playing Lumosity on the computer or maybe just walking the dog. Obviously, not sitting on a cliff with binoculars and a boatload of patience. Which surprises me as much as anyone. That I have not been making more of an effort to see whales, that is. I was imprinted early on by Disney’s Pinocchio and his dramatic journey into the belly of Monstro. While I was still thrilled with that adventure, along came Sunday school with its tale of how Jonah got swallowed up by another whale. Naturally when I moved to California, whales were high on my Must See list. And lo and behold, soon after we arrived, a friend called on a sunny Christmas Day, shouting that I must rush to her cliffside house if I wanted to see whales. Of course I rushed. And an impressive bunch they were, paddling past me all in a row. Occasionally one would shoot water out of its blowhole. A glorious sight. But it led me to think I’d be seeing whales on a weekly basis.
I was similarly misled by a dinner party just a month after we settled into our house. My neighbor at the table was Dana Andrews, a big movie star at the time. I remember complimenting him on a recent performance and he laughed and said a fan had also written to say she liked him in that movie… “because you are usually so wooden.” We had a delightful evening of food and chatter and I left the party thinking that’s what life was like in Southern California: whales and movie stars every week. Well, just as I’ve never seen another whale, I’ve also never had another movie star for a dinner partner. All these thrills happened to me almost fifty years ago and the intervening time has been cluttered up with interesting, but all-too-common sightings of dolphins and pelicans. Oh yes, and once I rode in an elevator with Steve Martin who stared fixedly at the wall above my head clearly not in the mood for conversation..
Of course a person who is dying to see whales could drive right over to the local Interpretive Center and join the cheerfully obsessive people who spend hours and hours gazing out to sea and chalking up hundreds of whales each season. I pass that driveway a lot as I rush to the gas station or the hairdresser or the market but I never feel I have the time to pull over and sit down with them, pencil and paper in hand. Why not? Clearly, my errands aren’t that pressing. So why don’t I just plunk myself onto a bench and start watching for a blue whale, a gray whale or even the occasional orca? I think my gut feeling is that the sighting of a whale, or a pod thereof, has to be serendipitous. I mean, was Pinocchio planning to end up on a raft inside of Monstro? Did Jonah load up his boat with hummus and pita bread in case he was swallowed by a whale? Of course not.
So, here’s my hope.. One day as I wait for the gate at the end of my road to open, I’m going to look out and there will be a gray whale, maybe two or maybe more, swimming right under my nose. Allied with that hope is another, even more fervent. One day when I’m standing in line at Albertson’s, I’ll turn around and George Clooney will be smiling down at me while he waits to pay for his tube of hair gel.