Humans, Whales, and the Gig of Life
I spent a lot of time this past few days at the coast thinking about gigs - the various activities we all do to survive - and what they do to our brains in return. The Inn at Otter Crest is a perfect place for this - especially when the sun is just coming up over the hills and catching the waves rolling in. I would go out there early in the morning before the restaurant opened and I would think about everything. You can't get a deeper perspective than staring at an ocean. It frees you immediately from the pompous strut of humanity. We really are mighty, egomaniacal, foolish beasts. In terms of surviving in the ocean, the human body is a pathetic joke.
Yet, we've invented ways of having the most power of any species in the world, by far. Humans have the brains to build ships, submarines and survival suits. We've got terrible powers without the sense to go with them. We're successful to the point where we can even harm something as vast as the environment. These are heady times for mankind - we're basically adding a billion more people every 14 years. Could you imagine a billion more whales turning up? However, we're also going to find out sooner or later what these terrible powers will do. Yes, we're powerful, but looking out on the ocean in the morning, it was impossible not to conclude that humans are really quite insignificant and small.
Plus we are not alone in terrible powers. For a sea lion a Great White shark has terrible powers, too. Ahh, the age-old problem of life - we all have to eat. That is part of the gig. Up and down the coast, creatures big and small were starting the day and thinking about sustenance. Either you were ripping a sea lion in half, or you were waiting for the restaurant to open. It was all the same.
The ocean makes another humbling point about humanity: These waves were crashing down before we showed up, and they'll be here long after we're gone. A narrow strip of the parking lot has crumbled - it has been fenced off and you can see where it fell down a cliff. Along the beach a few miles south, houses poke out near the edge of eroding cliffs. Trees stick out sideways as the ground they grow on gives way. The ocean does its work and yet we go right on thinking it's all about us. Someday the Inn at Otter Creast will be eaten by the ocean. We've all got to eat.
The vista makes another instant point: It really is an incredibly beautiful planet. We try and make it an ugly place with our cluster bombs and our depleted uranium, but looking out on Seagull Rock and the intense October waves crashing in, it was obvious that we will not be able to destroy the beauty of this earth - without destroying ourselves first. Many eons from now I suspect the waves crashing in will look every bit as magnificent as they did last weekend and all the mornings before humans arrived. The houses along the coast will be gone - maybe in a million years, or maybe later this morning, depending on the earthquake-tsunami scenario. The waves will still be there.
The next great subject that I contemplated was the whales. I've been to the coast and seen a whale. I've been to the coast and seen several. But I never saw them like this. We pulled over at one of the viewpoints and within 5 minutes of arriving we had spotted a spout and seen a big back and a tail. Next at Cape Foul Weather, we saw another one towards the South and then spotted one out of the gift shop window. I even just happened to see one in a quick break in the trees along the highway as we were driving south.
At Otter Crest there was a whale that didn't seem to move more than 500 yards in 3 days. They call them residential whales but I suspect we had a slacker here. By the way, that is the kind of whale I would be. Migrating from Baja to Alaska? Sure, maybe once. But then I would settle into a nice groove off the Oregonian coast. I got so I started identifying with this giant beast, and each trip out to eat at the restaurant made it more real. The last morning we were there I couldn't see the spout. The incredible weather had finally turned gray and the spouts were hard to see. I felt sad, like it was time to go home.
Seeing a creature this amazing in the wild is incredible of course, but being humans we start getting used to it. I won't say I was nonchalant about it, but sitting at the table in the hotel room I could look out and see three different whales hanging out for hours. I started wondering how they felt about it. How much joy were they experiencing day after day out feeding off the Oregon Coast? This was the starting point for thinking about gigs. What was the gig like to be a whale? Was it boring? Is that why they invented the whale songs - as a way to keep their spirits up and express themselves artistically? What was the daily, longterm gig like?
First, it's incredibly inefficient to live full-time in the water but need to return to the other world above to draw a breath. Sea lions do it, but they can take a break. They can get out and sun and breathe easily for a few hours. Those whales are out there 24-7, at night and in the worst storms. Every so often they have to propel their giant bodies to the surface - even in a hurricane - and draw some mighty breaths so they can go on living. Imagine if humans were driving and we had to pullover every few miles. It would be like having bus stops on the freeway of life. The whales are continuously being interrupted in what they are doing, just to go somewhere else and get a breath. I wondered if some of the dead ones that wash up, are just a result of not making it up in time to get that next breath. That is a flaw in the gig. Next, I will look at flaws in the human gig. For example, people can't go on blogging forever in the morning. At some point we must go out and get coffee. That is something whales do not have to face, but I do.