Of Whales and Shooting Stars

Of Whales and Shooting Stars

I don’t know when I first realized I was happiest reveling in contentment instead of stretching to reach lofty goals.  Middle seats and Wednesdays are comfortable.  A steady pace is soothing.  As young as 4 years old, mocked by my brother that his piece of cake was larger, Mom says I smiled and sighed contentedly as I stated, “Yeah, I got the little piece.”

I’m not lazy.  Certainly not lazy.  Those who know me well know I rarely sit down.  Tourette Syndrome does not exactly make a person sit still.

But I learned as I aged that my tendency toward contentment was very good for me, good for my Tourette-infested brain, good for my husband and his peace of mind.  Good all around.

New to the West coast, I resisted the suggestion to vacation south of the border–specifically in the U.S. of A. For those who don’t know this, BC is extremely far away from everywhere. My Ontario snobbery manifests itself periodically but especially when discussing travel.

The beauty of the Oregon Coast, though, caused friends to wax poetic and soliloquize about its abundant beauty so my darling husband and I planned a getaway that encompassed a drive down to Portland and up the coast.  I put aside my snobbery and prepared myself for a…gasp…road trip, loading up my phone (who am I kidding? CD player) with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers music because they are the best band in the universe, and settled in.

Then someone made the mistake of planting the word “whales” into my obsessive brain.

Whale sightings from land!  Humpbacks breaching just off the point!  Grey whales congregating in Depoe Bay!  No need to get into a terrifying boat and speed across terrifying water to sight a terrifying whale from a terrifyingly close proximity.

At the same time, the Perseid meteor shower was forecast to put on its best show precisely when we would be vacationing.

Whales, shooting stars, whales, shooting stars, whales, shooting stars, whales, shooting stars… My poor husband heard nothing else during the entire drive down to Portland.  As a side note, he is thinking of starting a support group for “People Who Live With People With Tourette Syndrome” but I think that may be another blog.  He asked me several times to change the subject but I wouldn’t-couldn’t-wouldn’t.  He tried to distract me with the radio, with espresso, with the rose garden in Portland, with wine, with the incredible views and scenery.  But to no avail.  Whales-shooting stars-whales-shooting stars-whales…

We checked into an absolutely perfect bed and breakfast outside of Depoe Bay.  He opened the window and we smelled the salt spray.  I scanned the waves for whales and he kissed me on the forehead and said, “Promise me just tonight you will stop talking about whales.”

I blinked and said, “But this is where they are.  This is the bay where they hang out.  What’s the big deal?  Why can’t you just let me be obsessed about this?  It’s harmless.”

He smiled and said, “Because I don’t want you to be disappointed.” And he gave me that look–the one he has been bestowing on me for 20 years–at once devastatingly handsome and knowing and …damn…so insightful.

Let me explain.

Disappointment is not a pleasant sensation for anyone.  Disappointment manifested by me is–in my husband’s words–heartbreaking.   Usually content, happy to be nominated, thrilled to just be in the room, when I am disappointed, my face falls so far it may as well be on the floor.  No amount of distraction, no “cheering up” will bring it back.

And I had been disappointed lately.  Crestfallen. Defeated.  Disenchanted.  Work was not going well. It was frustrating and challenging and I was beginning to realize it was time to leave and I didn’t yet know where to go.  These few days we had carved out for a vacation were a result of intense negotiation and compromise that defied logic, considering my secular work was classified as “part time”.  I felt set up to fail.

And he didn’t want my heart to break any further.

“Okay, I won’t mention the whales anymore,” I said.  He kissed my forehead again and I wandered downstairs while he got into the shower.  Through picture windows I stared at the grey coast and the grey waves and the grey sand in the failing light of evening and fingered a pair of binoculars by the window.

“Pick them up, have a look,” said a kind voice behind me.  “I have whales in my backyard.”

I turned to see the proprietor of the B&B.

“Go ahead,” she urged.  “The binoculars are there for a reason.  If you look just over there to the left you just might see a spout.  If you see a spout, there’s a whale.”

I picked up the binoculars, straining to see beyond waves, beyond gulls bobbing, beyond my hopes and imagination, steady…steady…

A spout!  An unmistakable stream of water that defied gravity and fountained skyward.

Then another.  And another!

Whales.

I ran upstairs and burst into our room.

“Whales!”  I said.  “Whales!  I saw whales!”

A cloud of steam greeted me from the bathroom.  His voice echoed off the tiles,  “Are you serious?”

“I’m serious!  I saw whales!  I actually saw whales!” I felt my heart skipping in my chest.  “I can’t believe it!”

“Wow!  What did you see?  A tail?  Its back? Where did you see it?”

“No, no, I saw a spout of water.”

Silence.  Then, carefully, “I thought you said you saw a whale.”

“But I did,” I replied.  “Where there’s a spout, there’s a whale.  So I saw a whale.”

Silence again.  Then, “Wow!  You must be so excited!”

“Sooooooo excited! You don’t even know!  I can’t wait to watch the shooting stars tonight!  They say you can see hundreds in one night.  Wow.”

Silence.

Later still and the wind had picked up.  Clouds obscured a large portion of the sky.  Dark waves crashed on the shore.  Thoughts of campfires were abandoned by even the hardiest.  I had lasted a total of 30 seconds outside the door before my being murdered felt like an imminent reality.  My husband, never the star gazer, was comfortably flipping channels.

“Honey, it’s just not a good night to see them,” he said.

“I know, it’s just that it’s supposed to be an epic year to see shooting stars.  I don’t want to miss it.  It’s supposed to peak tonight.”

My mind drifted back to a blanket on the grass outside of the cottage and my 10 year old self snuggled tightly beside my Mom as she pointed heavenward at pinpoints of light crisscrossing across the inky darkness.  I would always hold my breath, anticipating the next one, afraid to break the spell.

“It’s exhilarating,” I said.  “I wanted you to experience it with me.”

That night, while he slept, I crept from bed and stood by the window.  The sky was half obscured by the roof and partly covered by wispy clouds.  I glanced at the black waters and imagined the whales floating soundlessly below the surface and I gave up hope at seeing a meteor shower.

Until a flash drew my eye upward and I saw the tail of a shooting star.

I counted 4 that night before slipping into bed.

There are monoliths of industry and rising stars of fame in this world.  I will never be either.  Several years of piano lessons never bestowed on me natural musical ability.  But I can play a melody well enough for you to sing along.

A whale spouting water in binocular range and 4 shooting stars among hundreds may not satisfy those with lofty goals but it will do for someone, like me, who is happy just to be in the room.

Unfortunately for my husband, contentment doesn’t always cure obsession, as the following picture and caption illustrate.  It was taken a few days afterward.

When you forget your hat and sunscreen and someone tells you they spotted whales at the end of the point. And it’s 5 km away. And the sun is hot. #Ididntseewhales

Obsessed?  Love whales?  Would rather sit in the middle or reach for the stars?  I’d love to hear from you.  Comment below.

 

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4 Replies to “Of Whales and Shooting Stars”

  1. Hi Lori,

    I forgot how much I love your writing and how talented and creative you are! I’m so happy to have stumbled on to your blog and I can’t wait for more to come!

    Brittaneigh xo

  2. I once took a trip to the eastern province of New Brunswick with my 3 children. High on my list was to see a whale. Not having a lot of money, we took a ferry trip to an island, it was free… no whale was seen. Ok, I’ll take a tour with one of the local whale sighting boats. There were now 2 choices. A guaranteed sighting which cost a little more, or the one hour, non guaranteed tour. They had just seen a mother and baby whale!! Practically a guarantee! I’d save some money, after all , I had to pay for 4 of us! Again, no whale, but….. I did see a spouting! It had to be good enough, and it satisfied the obsession, for the moment. But should opportunity arise, I know it will return very quickly 🙂 So, I totally get the obsession! Love your insights.

    1. What a great story, thank you for sharing! I would have done exactly the same as you. “Practically a guarantee” sounds like a given. To this day every ferry trip I take has me scanning the depths for monoliths of the ocean. I’m delighted you took the time to comment and assure me I’m not the only one who is good with “good enough”. Thank you.

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