Friday, January 13, 2012

I Once Was a Blue Whale

I've always loved Big Things. I like to be on top of buildings. I love Giant Trees and the Statue of Liberty. The ocean and the albatross. The night sky and snow-capped mountains. I like things that make me feel small, because I've always been a Big Thing myself.

Most of my life I've wavered between a size 12-16. I was never small.  I may have been close to the biggest girl in my class. I may have been the fattest, or the tallest, or had the biggest boobs, but I was not the largest animal in the world.

We had a book at home, and in it was one of those pictures of animals relative to one another in size. There were elephants and giant sea turtles and dinosaurs but bigger than all of them was the blue whale. She was graceful, curved, bouyant, at peace and at home. She is the biggest thing to have ever existed. I felt a quiet place in me opening up as I looked at the picture of her, disinterested in the long-dead and too-small beings on the page with her. She could swallow them whole.

I don't know how old I was when I first saw her at the Museum of Natural History. I don't know if it was a class trip, or if my parents took me. I don't know if I read about it and went on my own. But again and again, I took the pain-in-the-ass A train up to the Upper West Side to visit her.


I wanted my first kiss to be under the blue whale. I wanted to get married here. I wanted to give birth on the floor under the whale and I wanted to DIE there. I was in love. I was not afraid to say I was a Blue Whale in a past life. I WAS a Blue Whale. I was she. I had whale DNA. I was a Giant of the Sea, a deep-sea diver, my stomach scraping across the ocean floor.

As seen from underneath the Blue Whale

As a little girl, I tried to learn all I could about my brethren spirits but there was not much to learn. We don't know their migration lines or their mating rituals or where they go or what they do. They were elusive creatues (like me!) they were loners (like me!) and no one really understood them (yes! like me!) I can remember sentences on a page in my animal book about the rarity of seeing a blue whale. I can remember telling myself, you will never see one. It's ok. The old gal swimming around in the ceiling of the Museum of Natural History would be enough. And anyway, I was part whale. I live in two worlds, just like her, the air and the sea, not quite belonging in either, but belonging in both because both are the same world. I wish I lived in the ocean, needed blubber to keep me warm, where I was weightless and elegant and the color of the sea.


My first kiss wasn't under the whale-- it was in the dinosaur room. My husband and I had our wedding at the NY Hall of Science, though I did inquire about a reception in the Hall of Ocean Life at the Museum of Natural History. $250,000, in case your were wondering.

My husband, sister-in-law, niece and nephews visited the museum on a recent trip to NY. We lied on the floor for awhile to stare at the whale and imagine her swimming above us. I'm pretty sure I was the only one all teary eyed and verklempt.

My husband, whale-like himself, has brought me great luck with whales. We've seen pods of Orca in the San Juan Islands, migrating Gray Whales off the coast of Long Beach and resident Sperm Whales in New Zealand. And last June, for the third summer in a row, a pod of Blue Whales pigged out on krill for weeks off the coast of Redondo Beach. Blue Whales don't come back to the same place year after year and they don't usually travel together. They are unpredictable nomads, but we drove down to Long Beach, hopped on a boat ($15 each with a Groupon!), and I didn't believe it until I saw them, it was not something that was ever supposed to happen. I saw them spout water and surge up and surge down and turn on their bellies to lunge feed. They slithered across the surface of the water, their bodies seeming to go on forever. They were real, these living dinosaurs and alive, just like any animal, just like us.


 I am still that lonely whale girl, but I am also the girl on the boat, happy as all hell to be exactly where she is. And grateful. And at peace. And in awe that things can happen, things you never expected, things you never even dared hope for.