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10 October 2003

All my life I've wanted to see a humpback whale "up close and personal."

I've always wanted to go whale watching and had only been once, a disasterous afternoon spent with Diane in Puget Sound watching the backs of killer whales bob up and down. It was decidedly anti-climactic, and Diane has never let me forget it (nor have I been able to forget the horrible boat ride, where I thought we were going to drown, and where I left my brunch behind for the whales.

I have purchased whale calendars, devour whale specials on TV, and never thought I'd get the chance to really see the big guys.

Today we were finally going to go whale watching.

We had been told in Albany that this has been a bad year for whales--very few have been showing up. When you purchase your ticket on the whale watching boat, it says plainly that they can't guarantee you'll see anything, and if you don't see any whales, your next ticket is half price (fat lot of good that would do me!)

Still I was hopeful. It was a glorious day. The waters were calm, the breeze was just perfect, and there weren't too many kids on the boat. As we left the harbor and headed in the direction of Rottnest Island, Peggy was glowing. "I don't care if we don't even see whales," she said. "I'm just loving being on the boat."

I was too, but I was really hoping to finally have that whale experience.

My hopes were fading after an hour of our two hour cruise when the captain announced that they'd been searching for whales for the past 30 minutes and for everyone to keep their eyes open for signs of activity.

We were on the starboard side of the boat, on the open sea side. Rottnest was on the port side. Suddenly there was a gasp from the other side of the boat and excited questions..."Did you see them?"

We were going to see whales after all.

Of course, having had the perfect viewing spot for an hour, we were now about 3 back from the crowd that had rushed the rail to see the whales. I was standing on tip-toe looking over the head of a group of Japanese tourists and not able to see a thing. This was starting to be very disappointing.

Then a spot opened up right at the back, where I could hang over the side of the boat and aim my camera, hoping for something.

I managed to take a photo or two, but I could tell my photos were crap. Peggy was standing next to me, trying to fit her camera over the heads of the tourists, so I decided to give her my spot, knowing she had the better camera, and I contented myself with sitting by a window to look.

"They are all at the front of the boat," a crew member told us, and there was a rush to the top deck.

Miraculously, I found myself standing by the rail, trying to look over the head of some retired women who was standing on the railing, totally blocking my view. It was very frustrating. But suddenly everything cleared, the woman stepped down, and there they were: a pod of 3 whales. I took a few pictures. They weren't very active, but I was getting something.

Then I remembered something important. When Jeri was in the first grade, she started ballet lessons. At the end of the school year, they had teir first ballet recital and we all went to it. I, naturally, had my camera at the ready. I was so intent on capturing her first recital on film (and did in so-so photos) that when it was over, I realized I'd missed the entire thing.

How many things in my life I have experienced through the lens of the camera rather than as a participant in what was going on?

Here I was having the experience I'd dreamed of all my life and I decided to put the camera away and just experience it. (In truth, I knew Peggy was clicking away anyway and would have better photos than I could get, so I knew I wouldn't be missing anything!)

Once I took time out to just watch, it was glorious. To be close enough to hear them blow air out of the blow hole, to hear the sound of them diving, to watch the fluke as it slowly slid under the water.

All too soon, the captain was saying we would have to turn around and go back to shore. We watched the pod surface and dive one more time, and then we were headed back.

It was Peggy who spied the young whale cavorting off starboard as we sped back past Rottnest. I don't know how many other people saw him. It was almost like he was our own private whale. She got the photo of the day of this young whale who seemed to be having....a whale of a time...diving over and over again.

I named him "Indy," because s/he reminded me of the fun that the puppy Indy had when we were on the farm.

All too soon, the experience was over, but it was just glorious. We stopped back at Hillary's Marina to get a drink and a muffin, and then came home. As we pulled into the driveway, Chippa was there to greet us.

Peggy settled in to watch cricket while I started "tea." This is a sports night, so I was in charge of food. I finally cooked the cute little roast that we bought the other day and we've just finished eating it while watching the opening ceremonies of the World Rugby Championships (which may just rival the opening ceremonies for the Olympics, in fact!).

It's not often that you live to be 60 years old and finally get the chance to experience something you've dreamed about all your life, but today I did it. It was a red letter day.

(NOTE: Peggy took all the photos on this journal page. If you want to see (some of) them in a larger size, check my photo log.) I have admitted to her, and put in writing (and declare here publicly) that the photos I took today were complete and utter crap.

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