Saturday, May 2, 2009
Lament for a Whale
There on the vastness of the beach, it looked so small. Chris had told me there was a dead whale out there, on the last rest stop of the Martha's Vineyard bikeathon, just as someone else had told him.
Word of mouth brought a steady trickle of people. Probably, like me, they were there so that they could tell other people that, yes, for one time in their life they got to see a real whale, up close. Maybe, like me, they were there to mourn. Here lies a potent symbol of humanitiy's destructiveness, whether or not Man had a hand in this individual's death. Here lies an individual - mysterious, poetic, vast, and now ruined.
How small the whale looked - I was not expecting that. Thirty or forty silvery feet of flesh against uninterrupted miles of silver shoreline reduced the corpse to a piece of debris. And something else I wasn't expecting: the whale positively writhed in the water. The four-foot swells were enough to lift the limp body and move it about. Is it horrible to say that a dead thing looked like it was dancing? Maybe.
I thought that the whale would smell. In didn't, except for a vague fishy odor when I got up close. I kicked off my shoes and soaked my jeans to the knees. I wanted to touch it, but it was rotting. And it occured to me that even though the body bobbed on the swells, it could still crush me to death. It wouldn't be fair for Chris to have to explain to Gabe how his mother died beneath a whale carcass.
When I turned to go, there was no one else on the beach. The silvery shoreline went on for miles; the pounding of the surf rang like poetry. I left the dancing body of the whale there beside patches of seaweed and shark egg cases, just another small thing on the sand.