Deep Breathing

The setting sun catches on the mist from the breath of a Humpback Whale

It took some serious effort, against some equally serious headwind to paddle out to where the whales swim. And we knew that it still might not happen today. Whales have a way of appearing when and where they will. The paddling itself was probably going to be the most important part of the experience anyway. It had to be so. With or without whales, this afternoon jaunt was worth our while.
Though the wind and waves largely determined our direction of travel, the island at the horizon was a steadier target. It was many more miles beyond anything we could hope to attain today (or any time in the near future). But all the sea between us was rich with unseen life and wonder; enough to keep us searching and discovering almost endlessly.
The shore behind us seemed never to retreat despite our efforts. And if we lagged for even a few strokes, the combined effect of wind and wave began to turn our bows beachward. A serious pause, and we would lose a considerable amount of hard-won gain.
Whitecaps crested the occasional wave, looking, at a distance, like the beginning of a breech, and sounding, when close, like the great sigh of breath that announces the nearby surfacing of one of these deep creatures. Mirages to our anticipating eyes and ears. Insubstantial fluff on the surface. Whales were neither as abundant as the whitecaps, nor would they be effaced by a following wave. Yet they served to keep us guessing and helped to hone our higher senses to the distinction.
He rose, not seaward, where we had expected to find him, but shoreward; much closer to the shallows that we were striving to leave behind. He rose slowly and silently, and had certainly risen many times downwind before we noticed. But there he rose again, passing us to our right, like the tip of a smooth black iceberg with his far-greater life and substance hidden in the depths.
Moving his great mass easily out to sea, the whale seemed unaffected by the direction of the wind we faced. The waves he created and the slick he left behind contradicted the choppy surface we were valiantly negotiating. Try as we might, with long, deep strokes of our paddles, we could not match his casual speed. Four minutes passed and four rises, each with a great breath. The last, far in front of us, was still miles from the island ahead. And then he dissappeared. Only the whitecaps and the wind remained… and the impression that something more important had just happened.
With this atmosphere of importance hovering around us, we made for the shore again. Whitecaps still sighed and heaved behind us; tricking our ready senses to look for a whale who could be almost anywhere at any time now. Paddling in the direction of the waves was easier, but I was still surprised at how far out we had gotten. We had been so lost in the pursuit, that distance had seemed unimportant. With time to drift and drench ourselves in the moment, the experience of the recent past rose again to the surface and waved a wing.
That profound, almost mythological space in which the whale lived and moved almost effortlessly, was not the same as ours above, but it drew us never-the-less, as if some grander and more graceful part of us needed to breathe there too..

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