In case you didn't hear, a pregnant blue whale was struck by a boat recently and washed up onshore not far from where we live (in fact, at the very beach that we frequent most often, Bean Hollow). According to the park ranger, three blue whales are killed this way each year! That's devastating when you remember that their world population is only around 10,000 (just 2,000 that frequent the California coast).
Our family went to see the whale and its calf (which had been ejected due to gas pressure) on Sunday. The mother is eighty feet long and weighs about seventy-five tons. The calf is seventeen feet long. Blue whales are the largest animals on the planet (and the largest mammal ever to live on this planet that we know of) and though decomposition was well underway by the time she washed ashore, her massive scale is still very much apparent. It was simultaneously unsettling and awe-inspiring to see this massive animal so close. We stood just inches from it. Many people were there, most taking pictures, some even posing in front of the animal which struck me, I have to admit, as strange and somewhat sickening. Here is this great animal, killed and decomposing, and you're going to fix up your hair, get down into your usual "sexy" picture pose, and smile/pout just inches from it while someone snaps a picture of you? I don't know... I felt strange enough just taking its picture, period. Birch, lacking any kind of field trip budget, wanted some to show to his students. So, trying to put on my scientific hat, I did take pictures. The whale had several bite marks across its body, which were explained to be from sharks, and several California gulls hung around the area. Apparently, unlike the whale that washed ashore thirty years ago, this one will be left to decompose naturally and the tide will take its remains back out to sea.
It had been an emotional day already, for reasons I won't explain here. Seeing the whale put Birch and I in a somewhat silent mood. By the time we were leaving, it was dark and the fog was coming in quite thick over the lower sections of Highway One as we drove to Santa Cruz. Keats had just fallen asleep when Birch slammed on the brakes and swerved the car. I screamed as I saw and felt our car hit a stag. Keats started crying, I apologized for screaming and rubbed Birch's shoulder as he stopped the car. He lowered his head and sighed. I calmed Keats down a bit. Birch had done the right thing. The deer came out of nowhere and though we weren't going very fast at all (about 45 mph), there was no time or space to miss hitting it. Birch didn't want to go into the other lane or turn the car sideways, but even with knowing that he did all he could, we both felt the jolt of it. Though deer are hardly on the endangered list here, we couldn't help but feel that we had just repeated what we had just seen with the whale. Birch got out of the car, grabbed a lantern from the trunk, and went to look for the stag. I sat there, feeding Keats, thanking God that we hadn't hit it full on, looking back into the foggy night, following Birch's light as it searched through the fog. A series of cars drove past us and I realized how lucky we were that none had been behind us when Birch slammed the brakes. It's amazing how quickly scenarios go through my brain; they happen so quickly, I can't even think to stop them until they're already completed. I held tight to Keats and allowed Olive, who was a bit shaky herself, to scrunch up close to me there in the back seat. Birch made his back after about five minutes. He hadn't seen the deer, but thought he may have heard it for a moment. I could tell he was trying to keep from crying. It must have made it over the railing and into the eucalyptus and cypress forest, but knowing that we'd hit its back end, we also knew that it wouldn't survive. We sat there, shocked and depressed, our caution lights blinking, the front end of our car dented, the windshield wipers going back and forth. After putting Keats back into his car seat, we continued on to Santa Cruz.
The day had been horrible. An emotional roller coaster of a day, filled with tears, hugs, and love. Feeling like we deserved a pat-on-the-back banquet of a meal, we stopped at Thai Noodle House on Mission and ordered up a couple of Singha's, fried calamari, green papaya salad, green curry, spicy fried rice, and pad kee mao (spicy drunken noodles). We wreaked of dead whale, despite washing ourselves in the ocean a bit before leaving the beach. The proprietors didn't seem to mind. In fact, they loved little Keats and visited our table often, entertaining him and taking pictures. They were so friendly and funny, making our extravagant dinner into a perfect remedy from our day. We laughed as the owner showed Keats some Thai boxing moves, making Keats squeal with delight.
On the drive home, we remained pretty much silent as we listened to Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye on the radio. The dj was hosting a Motown hour and it was perfect for our mood. The stroll up our walkway was very welcome. We put Keats to bed, washed our feet (too tired to take a real shower until the morning), and went to bed. We slept well, but the day before has left Birch and I in a bit of a fog ourselves, as we try to make sense of all that was seen and felt. I know we'll never quite be able to categorize it all, and I don't think that's necessary or desirable, but I'm grateful for these bad days and what they teach us. The most important lesson being, perhaps, to love and cherish each other wholeheartedly every moment and allow each other to feel and speak those feelings often and without reserve. I'm grateful to Birch for allowing me to be completely myself with him. I am so grateful for all that he gives me and allows me to give to him. Lesson learned, Life. And thank you, you crazy, crazy world.
Next weekend? Pumpkin patch, straw bale maze, etc. That has to make for a better day, right?