The sea is more than we see, for she gives us most of the oxygen in our lungs. She wraps her brine around every limb as a mother, only ever asking for our respect and loving care. The wind was the orchestral conductor of the sea, sending waves into their crescendos' all through the ballad that was the night. All about me was the perfume of the salty water and the fine spray that came as boldly as any viola flurry. It was as if life herself had entered the water and the energy was so great that this great pulse came upward to form a steady rhythm.
Moving through her depths, I became aware of her currents; the sea is more a river in three dimensions with no need of banks. In them are schools of the living, the creation that remained in her watery embrace when we land-dwellers sought flowers and the shelter of trees. But unlike her fish, who swam with easy breath underwater, I must return to the boat that awaits, anchored for my return, as it rests upon her steady pulse.
I emerged from the depths of the sea where I had been documenting the behavioral patterns of great gray whales off the coast of California. The sea was my life, the song that sings to my bones and my soul, and ever since middle school, I had dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, to swim among the giants of the oceans. To dream among the creatures of the deep.
I pulled off my scuba mask and clambered aboard my small yacht, Wind Dancer, the warm morning air rising to combat the cool air of the dawn.
“So, Emmerson, how’d it go?” My best friend and soul mate, Fisher asked, chugging a bottle of water. He’d already stripped down to his swim trunks due to the warm weather. I set down my oxygen tank carefully on the side before answering.
“Well, I saw the calf, but Moona wasn’t there. I’m guessing she was offshore somewhere else, feeding on krill.” I replied, talking about the small pod we had dubbed the Celestials, that returned to the same place year after year.
We had been tracking and swimming among them for almost a decade, and they were more familiar to us than most of our own family members. Moona was the newest calf’s mother, and we had yet to decide on a name for the young whale. It was unusual for mother whales to leave their children’s sides during their first few months after birth, but the calf was surrounded by the rest of the pod, more than safe. Fisher nodded, setting the water bottle down.
“I tracked her down close to where they were circulating around yesterday. Shall we head there?” He asked, and I nodded, pulling off my wetsuit arms, letting the material bunch around my waist. I toweled dry my wet hair and tied it into a loose bun. Fisher pulled up the anchor and started the engine.
The deck was our land and the sky was our ever-changing art, made so beautiful by the clouds. Many days I had let my dreams float up to them as kites, to be the colors that swirled within the white-puffed shapes drifting onward. I had imagined my dreams to be playing with the birds, swooping and gliding as they did, reflecting the brilliant sunlight. Those planks so weathered under the sun, took on the appearance of a wise elder, of one who gave advice, simple ideas that feel right because they are true. Between the given wind and the nudge of the rudder, we sailed on as one company of souls.
The shoreline had become a figment as if it evaporated in the heat. I wondered if now the world is but one ocean, the waves moving freely, gathering pace. Perhaps that's what happens when you are adrift, you fear that the perfect circle of blue is all that exists. It feels as if the wind comes to bring some sensation of touch, a soft hello from nature. And I have learned, in this desert of company, that it is better to let the brain be as empty as that horizon rather than to suffer a loss of hope and the tide of emotions it brings.
We reached the spot where Fisher tracked Moona, and I peered into the cerulean blue off the side of the boat. Sure enough, a dark shape danced beneath the waves. I grinned at Fisher, and he smiled back, sitting down on the sofa that surrounded the front of the boat, and closing his eyes. I pulled up my wet suit and grabbed my snorkeling gear. She’s near the surface, so I don’t need to dive deep.
I jumped into the water, bubbles streaming up from my legs and arms, and I bobbed to the surface, taking in a gulp of air through my snorkel. Moona is a beautiful whale, with a streamlined body and a narrow, tapered head. Her upper jaw is arched in profile and slightly overlaps her lower jaw. Her upper jaw is dimpled and each of the little depressions contains one stiff hair. But on her flukes is a long scar, from where we assume she battled a shark of some kind, and that’s her identifying feature. Every whale has one, and it is a mark of each one’s immense strength.
It’s so amazing that in this vastness of water the land is just ten feet below the boat, rising to a ridge before plummeting to unseen depths. With the clearness of the water, I could see the rocks. I could dive and resurface so many times, and never stop being amazed at the acute majesty the sea has.
After what felt like an eternity, but was only about a half-hour, I clambered out of the water and onto my boat. Fisher was sprawled out on the sofa, fast asleep, and I smiled at the sight. I tugged my entire wet-suit off and pull on my cover-up, content to stay in my swimsuit for the rest of the day.
It’s Saturday, so both Fisher and I have the entire day to ourselves. Normally, we’d both be teaching at the University of California at Berkeley, Fisher a professor in marine phycology, and me a professor in marine ichthyology. Both of us bonded over our love for the sea, and every Saturday was our designated whale-watching and interacting day. We’d grab our picnic baskets and fill them to the brim with snacks and food, and spend the entire day, predawn to almost midnight, on the waves. We joked that saltwater ran in our veins because we’d spent more time out here than on land.
We spent the entire day anchored off the coast, laughing and eating and splashing in and out of the water. The pod had followed us, or more likely, had followed Moona, and they accompanied us when we dove into the cerulean blue water.
The sun was setting as we clambered out of the water one last time, and we toweled dry to the sound of the whales calling to one another, a symphony of sounds that made my heart beat faster and my soul sing louder. This is why I spend my day on the water, this was why I chose my career. Because nothing beat this, and nothing would ever beat this. I turned to Fisher with tears in my eyes, and he nodded in agreement, silver lining his own.
This boat that is my land amid the water, is as bright as the last berry of summer. In this brine that is the playground of dolphins and the sanctuary of whales, I am rocked like a baby in loving arms. I felt the wind, gusting with the tempo of a fiddle, dancing with long and short bows, punctuated by soulful silence. I watched the billowed sail, rippling the same as water around, always ready to propel us onward. Under the setting sun, we watched the mast shadow grow and fade, yet it is a pale form of darkness and nothing at all to compare to the brilliance of stars in the night. Nothing is the same as the expanse of the inky night sky on the sea. And as we bobbed here, the boat, my best friend, and me, I remembered what my Grandpa would say, "There may be shadows in the sunlight, my love, but there will always be stars at night."