at the end of a long night a few christmases ago, my baby sister told me that she and my brother-in-law were going to start trying to have a child. i told her in no uncertain terms that this was a terrible idea, for the earth with humans as its miserable stewards had a few decades left at best. it was a monstrous thing to say, and joe reminded me, as he always does, that i sound crazy when i talk like that. i apologized many times, though i haven't really forgiven myself for receiving their news that way.

erin, the friend who introduced me to the wild bird fund years ago, told me about her long island conservation and education group's offshore, overnight whalewatching trips—she'd be on the second one of the summer, and i'd have a chance to meet her in person—and i suddenly and desperately needed to go. i mucked around on the group's website for a while and then just called to ask about coming along. i got the society's president, artie, who'd been watching the comey hearing all afternoon, as i had. "it's nice...to be talking about whales right now," he said.

i packed up the sleeping bag i'd bought for my first ragnar last fall, wrapped an oversized plush peep in a pillow case, and filled a duffel bag with tank tops, pajamas(?), trail mix, candy. a bunch of sunscreen and prescription seasickness patches, per my stepfather's instructions. erin, as magical in person as she's been on the internets all these years, collected me from the platform at montauk and drove me to a grocery store, where i added a five-gallon jug of water, a couple of dutch rolls, vegetarian sushi(?), and a bunch of bananas* to my rations. we were to leave montauk at six to reach martha's vineyard by midnight, where we'd drop off a handful of commuters and pick up a few more watchers, then spend the night chugging out to the great south channel. our boat's hold was full of navy bunks, but it was traditional to drag one's mattress out to the deck, she said. it sounded like the rime of the ancient mariner to me, and i thought of the halloween in college when paul hung an albatross made of packing tape around his neck.

the perseid meteor shower was at its peak that first night, and spots on the top deck went fast—except for the raised ones, the big crates full of life preservers, so i flopped my dusty cot mattress down on one of those. it thrummed and rocked as the wind streamed over us, and i felt like an infant marsupial nestled against its mother. i was unconscious long before we reached martha's vineyard.

i woke up at dawn, soaked with dew, just as dolphins began to embroider the surface beside the boat. soon pelagic birds gathered on the water for bait fish, like truffle flies, and then—

joe and i went whalewatching in iceland a few years ago, at the end of the season when most of the humpbacks had migrated far from that part of the north atlantic. we saw a single juvenile, a straggler, at a distance, and our local guide's joy eclipsed any disappointment i might have felt at the ocean's stinginess. i was thoroughly unprepared for the great south channel, where the waters receded from the humpbacks' barnacled snouts, dozens of them, like fog rolling down a mountain range. a whale surfaced perpendicular to our boat with a great briny bellow, presented us with its ageless back, and dove beneath our feet. i sobbed.

i have been sprouting an avocado pit in a little sake cup on top of our cookbooks for the last several weeks. joe scoffs: we'll have avocados of our own in something like 12 years, he says. i once asked my sister what she would give up if forced to choose between avocados and the feeling of swimming in the ocean and being taken up by a wave just before it breaks. you're getting me where i live with this one, she replied. i would like for her son to have my avocados.

*"you brought bananas on this boat?" the captain said as we played cards in the galley. "seriously?" i did a bit of research when i got home: bananas bring the worst kind of luck on a fishing boat. no banana muffins, banana republic clothing, banana boat sunscreen.


LPC said...

Whatever would I do without you L.

Hannah Mae said...

SOMEbody has to plant the avocado trees. I am also a jerk who cannot fathom making children, but I would plant an avocado (for my beloved niece and nephew) too. And, lord, whales!!!!!

Erin said...

xoxo You too were a delight to finally meet in person. GSC next year!