, , , ,

Well, I'm back from vacation. I thought I would just do a short post (well,
it started out to be short) on the visit.

Pacific Northwest Flooding

First of all, let me say that the flooding you may have read about in
the Pacific Northwest, mainly in northwest Washington, was no
exaggeration. When we got to the Snoqualmie River it was as wide as the
Mississippi at the point we crossed. And let's just say that the
Snoqualmie normally isn't as wide as the Mississippi. Most of the
rivers at the time I passed through were either flooded or showed signs
of recent flooding. Communities in N.W. Washington really went through a
lot of work to protect their homes and property (where they could); and
the general attitude seemed to be one of low-key stoicism. Nevertheless
there was great expense involved in all of it I am sure, and people here
in the U.S. will be glad to know that their tax dollars in terms of
disaster funds is both needed and (I am sure) will be put to good use.

Sedro-Wooley and the San Juan Islands

On my vacation I went over to Sedro-Woolley to visit my cousin Frank and
his wife Jerry. They have a beautiful home located on some nice property
there, complete with a rather substantial wooded area out back. I told my
cousin that I was available to be sheriff of the woods if he needed one.
Though I doubt they get many poachers there. Too bad. I think I would
have made a good sheriff, what with my leggings and my doublet and my
cross-bow and all.

The San Juan Islands

Anacortes — Fidalgo Island
Friday Harbour — San Juan Island
Oak Harbour — Whidbey Island
(Dark red areas are Canadian)

We spent pretty much the whole day hours both Saturday and Sunday in the
San Juan Islands. I'll post a little more on this when I get the photos
back (which will need special processing) but for now I can say that
though I may not be the most world-traveled individual in the world that
the islands were the most beautiful spot I have ever visited. It was
overcast, rather on the chilly side and with intermittent rain. To me,
at least, being rather fond of cold and clouds, it was like being locked
inside a beautiful dream. On Saturday we drove over to Anacortes and then over
the bridge to Whidbey Island. I walked on the beach a bit on Whidbey on the
west side overlooking Rosario Strait. Sunday we took the ferry to San Juan
Island. We visited The Whale Museum at Friday Harbour and then took a drive
around about two-thirds of the island, visiting various sites along the coast.

An Anthropologist in The Whale Museum

I've always liked small specialty museums. I've been going to them ever
since I was a kid. The Whale Museum at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island
is one of the nicer small museums I have ever been to. The museum
focuses on killer whales (Orcas) as well as other large whales and
smaller marine mammals.

Just up the stairs I was glad to see that they had a room devoted to
the indigenous native population and their relationship with whales. I
was glad that the human, cultural element was reflected in the museum's
collection. That's something that tends to get left out more often than not
when dealing with wildlife issues, which tend to focus more on biology. It
wasn't a very large collection, but it was a nice one. They had some nice
ivory (whale bone) carvings. There was a beautiful large mural on the wall,
but unfortunately I can't find a link that shows it. The harpoons baffled
me. They didn't look anything like the harpoons used in Greenland by the
Inuit, especially the point. And the kayak they had displayed was about
half the length of a Greenlandic kayak.

One of the first things I noticed at the museum after the cultural
exhibit were a series of small, stained glass windows located up on the
walls. The best example was over the video room space, a glass of the
"squid and the whale" theme. Other windows reflected diving Orcas or
breeching large whales, etc. Evidently the windows were made by local
artists there on San Juan Island.

On one wall of the museum there is a chart of the J, K, and L pods of
killer whales native to the Puget Sound area. The chart listed the
various Orcas that had been tracked over time in the pods, in what an
anthropologist would call a kinship group chart. One thing that caught
my eye was a list over at the side of whales that had been tracked and
were known to have died. There were I would say 45 or so names on the
list. The list included the name of each whale that had been tracked and
also age at time of death. Now one thing I noticed about this list was
that approximately 25 percent of the whales on the list were under age
8. From that age there seemed to be a gap up to ages in the 20s. That
indicated to me a high level of juvenile mortality in killer whales.
Putting it another way, if you are a killer whale and you manage to live
up to around age 8, then your chances of living up to your 20s, 30s, or
even beyond are significantly higher. As for why that is, you'll have to
go ask a marine biologist. I can't imagine even juvenile killer whales
having many natural predators to worry about.

They had a large display case that featured the skulls of various marine
mammals, as well as a few land-based mammals for comparison. Having
done a little bit of research into seals in connection with a thing I
was doing on Inuit culture in Greenland, I spent some time looking into
seal species. So to me the thing that really stood out most in the case was
a very large skull belonging to an elephant seal. I couldn't get out a
tape rule, of course, but I would judge that the skull measured 1.5'
from back to front — and the card indicated that this was only a young
adult elephant seal. I had always noticed in photos and illustrations
that the size of an elephant seal's head seemed large in proportion to
its body. But I just didn't have any idea really of the extent of it
until I saw the size of the elephant seal skull in the case.

At the rear of the room they had a small, taxidermied sample of a young
Northern Fur Seal. The seal was beyond the white fur stage and well into
the grey with spots fur stage, but still small in overall size. There
was a sign on the front that said PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH! But given my
history with the topic, well, you just know I had to touch it anyway.
I reached out with two fingers and stroked the seal's fur. The fur was
fine and extremely soft, and I could well understand why Europeans
wanted the fur for the liners of their coats and hats. Which doesn't
justify species genocide, of course. I apologize to the people at the
museum for having touched the seal. I only hope they know that I did so
not just out of idle curiosity, but out of real passion.

At the very back of the museum was a small anteroom which, if you went
through it, led to another tiny room with a small window that looked out
onto Friday Harbor. The room had various equipment in it, including an
audio board with buttons you could push to hear various marine sounds.
The sounds were numbered only — they left you to guess what marine
animal the sound represented. The board was connected to a video monitor
with some sort of software loaded onto it which created a colored bar
graph type analysis of the sound that was being played. I pushed most of
the buttons, listened to the sounds, looked at the analysis on the
monitor. The only sound I was even half-way sure that I could identify
was a long, high screeching sound that I think came from a large whale
like a gray whale.

Over on the right side of the board they had another button you could
push to record your own voice and hear it played back and analysed on
the video monitor. Coming back into the room with my cousin Frank I
decided to record my "mating call" in the manner of Barry White —
Oh baby baby, you're so beautiful baby, don't you know I love ya baby?
I recorded my "mating call" and looked at the results on the monitor. I
noticed that the graph of my mating call was slightly higher but also
narrower than the graphs for marine species. So I guess that my mating
call wouldn't attract many female killer whales. Which is probably a
good thing. I imagine that a female Orca, hearing my mating call, would
come up to me and check me out, decide that I wasn't all that desirable
as a mate, and then eat me. Come to think of it, my mating call doesn't
attract many female members of my own species, either. But at least they
don't eat me.

Last but certainly not least, although the collection has nothing to do
with sea turtles I found a plush toy Green Sea Turtle in the museum gift
shop. Since I was pretty much broke at that point, Jerry bought me the
turtle. Thanks, Jerry! The turtle is sitting on top of my monitor as I
type this.

Une Barque Sur l'Ocean

Coming back on the ferry was quite an experience. In his book 2182
David Masiel calls the Haro Strait the "Horror Strait," and
coming back into Anacortes we experienced it first hand. The winds were
gusting up to 47 mph, which had a tendency to push the ferry around a
bit, and everyone started walking around in the passenger area like
drunken college boys as the ferry lunged beneath us. For some reason we
came into Anacortes backwards. As the pilot strove to turn the ferry
around, the wind hit the boat as it reached starboard-on at ninety
degrees, at which point the large swells created by the winds lifted us
up by the starboard side and dumped us down into the trough on the port
side. This happened several times before the ferry reached a more acute
angle to the wind that was easier on the boat. It was all quite exciting,
really — I was thinking of Rimbaud's poem, "The Drunken Boat,"

The storm made bliss of my sea-borne awakenings
Lighter than a cork, I danced on the waves

— but I knew also that it could be quite dangerous as well. Life jackets
or not you would only last about five minutes in those cold waters before
you would hypothermiate.

Other Enjoyable Activities

Besides risking our lives on the ferry and traveling the islands, we
also ate some really good meals and went to see a movie in Mt. Vernon,
Little Miss Sunshine. We also stopped and watched a group of Trumpeter
Swans who were hanging out in a kind of temporary wetlands area created
by the flooding on a farm near Mt. Vernon. It was the first time I had
heard the call of the Trumpeter live. It really does sound like a trumpet,
though perhaps a loud plastic toy one.

I don't want to speak for my cousin and his wife who had to put up with me,
but I think that "a good time was had by all." It sure was good visiting
with Frank and Jerry.

Hopefully, I will have some photos posted in mid-December or so.

Time and Tide

On my trip I rediscovered what a beautiful world it can be, in spite of
everything. It's so easy sometimes to get down about the state of one's
life or the world. Standing on San Juan Island at a small cleft in the
shore near Lime Kiln lighthouse, I watched the waters lap up onto the
rocks and flotsam down below me, in and out, like a type of breathing.
There is always Yin and Yang, always the balance of Ma'at. Nothing ever
remains totally dark or forever light. I think that was the sense of
things I had inside myself as I wrote Dusk Until Dawn. But since
then I kind of let myself get carried away by the temporary floods. As
humans, we normally think we rule our world and push our selves through
it like a missle. And I can be as guilty of that as anyone. At Lime Kiln
Point I rediscovered the basic fact of the ebb and flow of life. I embraced
it and took it into myself.