A few days ago I went to pick up my daughter for her second visit to the island this summer. We skimmed across the bay on this gorgeous bright day. I did not know what awaited me. We never do.
I saw spouts ahead. Of course, fin whales. They hang out here for the summer, feeding and lounging and being their own spectacular selves. For these creatures, the second largest whales in the world, their very existence speaks of a lavish, extravagant God.
And here, they came yet closer . .. .
And here, when my heart stopped . . .
This has been an extraordinary summer of whales----from humpbacks throwing their impossible weight from water to sky, over and over, sending the ocean itself skyward into foam. Orcas filling the bay, their fins slicing water. And a Sei whale sighting, my first. But not all the whale news has been good.
NOAA reports that 30 whales have washed up dead around the islands of the western Gulf of Alaska. Even closer to home, right here on Kodiak Island, 9 fin whales, have been found floating or beached, one just a few miles away. NOAA is calling it "an unusual mortality event." It's almost three times the usual rate of beachings and die-offs.
(Photo from NOAA. Bears feeding on fin whale carcass near Larsen Bay, 7 miles from us)
Everyone loves a mystery, but not this kind. Marine mammal specialists are baffled. Extensive studies are underway, but the best guess hazarded so far is a toxic algae bloom flourishing in "the Blob," the massive swath of warm water infecting and affecting the entire West coast, from Mexico to Alaska. Massive bird die-offs, sickened seals and sea lions have all been blamed on both the Blob and the "Godzilla El Nino."
(map of the "blob")
I am shaken. These leviathans suddenly appear fragile, vulnerable. I count on their presence every summer to expand our vocabulary of wonder, to remind us of our insignificance, to hint at the grandness of God.
I do believe in global warming, because I see its effects and realities close-up here in Alaska. And I believe in a sovereign God who loves His creation and desires us to love it as well. But I can't fix this. I feel helpless. I only know to pay attention, to care for the ground and water at my feet, to love those around me. I turn to Wendell Berry in these times:
“So, friends, every day do something that won't compute .
the questions that have no answers. Put your faith in two
inches of humus that will build under the trees every
thousand years ... Laugh. Be joyful though you have
considered all the facts ... Practice resurrection.”
I pick up my daughter. I rejoice in my sons' happiness at seeing their sister.
I prepare for the arrival of 18 in a few days, for the 3rd Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop. We'll sit together over words of truth and hope. I'll tell them about the whales. We'll look about this beautiful world with fierce, observant eyes. We will consider all the facts of living this life, and then . . .
Then we will laugh,
because together we are practicing