Monday, July 5, 2010

Really Wild Wildlife: Cape Cod, MA

I’ve just returned from spending a week on the Cape with my partner’s family and mine, having seen crabs, periwinkle snails, surf clams, feeding barnacles, mystery beach blobs that may have been ctenophores, eider ducks, least terns, piping plovers (with chicks), petrels, shearwaters, a variety of gulls, grey seals, and humpback whales—so it may take me an entry or two before I’m able to make the switch back to the local wild and captive animal life of DC. (And, of course, I want to show off my best photographs. -I’ll spare you the other 867 images.)

[humpback whale mother and calf]

As I’ve already mentioned, I was raised secular and have no religious affiliation or beliefs, but I do consider every whale watch I’ve taken to have been a spiritual experience. There is nothing that makes you feel a greater sense of awe, of reverence for the natural world, for your and everyone else’s place in it, than to be in the presence of a creature that is utterly majestic. My partner said, “I’ve discovered that, when I see a whale breaching, words come out of my mouth without my control. Apparently the appropriate response to seeing whales jump out of the water is ‘Wooooooaaaaaaaahh!!!!’” –And it’s true: you find words and exclamations bursting from you at the sight of these enormous beings, and not simply because of their size. They’re so foreign, so different from us, and yet despite or because of that their presence strikes a chord within you—makes you gasp for breath, makes your throat ache. When they come close to the boat, as they did on this last trip, and rise to the surface, part of them shining with water in the bright air, the rest of their graceful, immense bodies just visible beneath the green water, I feel as if my heart is being drawn out of my chest.

Whales came from the land, you know. I mean, all life originated in the seas, and perhaps that’s part of the pull the oceans have for many of us—but in terms of more recent evolutionary history, whales’ ancestors were land mammals. They returned to the sea: thousands of generations of changes in these species, altering their shape, turning their front paws to flippers, their rear paws to vestiges, their teeth (in some species) to plates of baleen. I know that for me, a certain deep longing to be seaborn(e) is satisfied in seeing whales: intellectually I understand that their adaptations, just like everyone else’s, represent millions of years of incremental changes (some faster than others) that were not and could not be influenced by any individual’s will or desires—but poetically, I think, They chose to go back to the ocean. They can remember the land, but they went back to the water.

On the other hand, they had to put their nostrils on top of their heads.

There’s always a trade-off…


pattinase (abbott) said...

I feel like I was there. Congrats again.

Anca said...

Wonderful prose to go with great photos.

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