When one of the largest animals in the world surfaces within two feet of my kyak, while people scream from the upper deck of a nearby whale- watching boat, “Watch out, you’re going to be capsized,” a normal reaction would be to paddle away from there as fast as humanly possible.
Instead, I rest my oar on my lap and smile widely to the well-meaning crowd. I don’t want to miss this close encounter with a whale.
If this were a month earlier I wouldn’t have been this relaxed. But I’ve just returned from three days of intimate moments with gray whales in Mexico, and I’m now confident the 40-ton animal swimming next to me has no interest in capsizing my tiny kyak.
“Other animals sometimes seem to recognize in us a kind of kindred consciousness that we often fail to recognize in them.” From the book Beyond Words by Carl Safina.
I want to touch a whale. It’s a bucket list thing.
But I’m also feeling stuck and unhappy in a marriage that is not working for either of us. Being in Nature is always my antidote for big life issues. And my marital situation qualifies.
So I take a trip to meet whales in Mexico. On my first night, tucked in a canvas tent, on the sandy edge of San Ignacio lagoon, I lay awake for hours excitedly listening to hundreds of whales breaching and slapping the water with their flukes. What are they saying to each other? What are they saying to me?
In the morning our panga driver motors 5 tourists, me, and Chris, our naturalist, around the lagoon hoping for an ‘encounter.’
Every year gray whales migrate south from their feeding areas in the frigid waters of the Bering and Chukchi Seas, to mate and give birth in the relatively calm warm water ‘nursery’ of Magdalena Bay in Baja California and this place, San Ignacio lagoon in Mexico. Their 10,000-mile round-trip journey is the longest migration of any mammal.
Salty spray sprinkles our faces as we bounce over the waves. “There,” Chris said, pointing to a ‘footprint’, a smooth oval shape created when the whales propel themselves deeper underwater. Our driver idles the engine, an invitation that we are available for a visit if and when the whales are ready.
We lean over the side of the boat to slap the surface of the water. “It calls the whales in,” Chris tells us. “They are very curious beings.” As I slap, I’m silently begging the whales: Pick our boat. We’re friendly. We love you.
Within minutes an animal the length of our skiff appears just below the surface a few feet away.
It’s a baby.
I stretch out over the side of the boat, reaching, reaching, reaching. Then mom swims under and lifts her baby so the top curve of its spine is out of the water and I make skin to skin contact. Slowly running my hand across the rubbery soft dark gray skin, I avoid the mottled white patches of sharply edged barnacles that have taken up permanent residence.
Time stands still. Then the baby swims out of the way as the 40-foot long mother maneuvers sideways until I am looking straight into her left eye. As I write this I can feel the tears wanting to flow again. I remember ‘knowing’ something I did not then ‘understand.’ This female whale is initiating contact with us humans. Every cell in my body can feel her connecting to me.
In her presence, I sense a vast pool of peacefulness, understanding and wisdom. She knows things I can never know – about the planet – about the earth, about her water world, and about me.
I feel completely present and ‘in the moment’ and as if I am enveloped by the purest love I have ever known.
For the next three days, each time I ‘meet’ a whale I feel as if I’m being blessed by an ancient soul. As if I am in a loving mothers womb, protected and supported. Each encounter leaves me clearer and stronger.
When I return home to Santa Barbara it is those whales that continue, during the following year, to give me the courage and fortitude needed to finalize my divorce.
If touching whales is on your bucket list, January through April are the best months to go. There are many tour operators you can use, or you can plan it on your own. San Ignacio Lagoon and Magdalena Bay are the top two spots for touching whales. But be warned, touching whales may drastically change your life.
*Photos by Chris Peterson
The post How Touching Whales Helped Me Get A Divorce appeared first on .