Big. Larger than seven elephants all stacked up. Longer than a Greyhound bus. Heavier, too. Approximately 40 feet and 40-45 tons. Sea jellies can be longer and blue whales, fin whales, and sperm whales can be much bigger but I probably won’t get to see one of those during my life. So, this second opportunity to really watch some Humpback whales was another one of those things that make the list of life’s best experiences.
Abby and I had had some amazing close encounters with humpbacks when we kayaked the Inside Passage of Alaska together. I wasn’t into taking pictures then (almost a decade ago) but I have often wished I had some recorded memory of that trip. We spent an entire misty gray morning sitting in awed silence, snapped into our two person sea kayak, and we watched a pod of humpbacks breaching and feeding just the other side of the kelp line. Their motion rocked our kayak. The kayak guide had a hydrophone so we listened to them sing with no other sound. I remember that at the time the sheer size of these sea mammals, as they broke the surface with a simple flick of the giant fluke, was a hard concept to grasp.
These past five days on Maui I spent most of my time reclining by the new infinity pool, reading and whale watching. My entire visual screen was blue: the blue expanse of this vast swimming pool that appears to flow directly into the equally blue ocean that goes forever and then meets that blue, blue, blue Maui sky. The only break in blues was the occasional flash of black and white when a whale would break the surface. Oh, and the pool guy offering cold cucumber slices, refreshing wash clothes and mai-tais. An annoyance I suffered through.
I know-it’s a rough life and, as my sweet friend Bonnie points out, I am burning far far more than my share of fuel, gallivanting about. (Remind me not to let a travel agent book my flights again; the multi-stop red eyes were like slapping Wonder Bread around Zingerman’s pastrami.) This was a chance to tag along for free with Rich while he gave a keynote address to all those administrators who run high school sports, music and forensics in America. His talk was great, pointing out that since we no longer live in an agricultural or manufacturing economy but a service one, where people often work independently of one another, we have to create a much needed sense of community in other ways. (Barn wrestling is no longer the in thing.) He also talked about how little today’s young people rely on their elders as mentors and that one of the remaining ways that we get them away from impersonal technology involves engaging them in these extracurricular endeavors. From there he went on to talk to them about the importance of their roll in this essential community that helps prepare young people to live and lead well and that was all good because his audience got all pumped up and remembered that this wasn’t just a Maui boondoggle. The good/bad news is that he now has another trip on the books to go to Indiana and help the organization with future strategy. And so it goes.
Anyway, back by the pool, I stayed under the umbrella and slathered myself with 50 UVA and UVB SPF. It’s all I can do to keep from going up to and smacking these obese and paste-y white young women in bikinis slathering on Coppertone oil. As though it’s any of my business that they are going to seriously regret their self-negligence 20 years from now, when they are even more obese and only losing weight by having chunks of skin cancer removed by the dermatologist. So, I restricted my voyeuristic tendencies to the whales and the pool guy. I read three great books, including another historical novel about HMS Terror, a British science expedition to find the Northwest Passage. It reminded me of The Birthday Boys (Scott’s doomed trip to the South Pole) with a similar theme: both of these books tell remarkable tales of shipboard life frozen into pack ice for months (years) at a time and early (1830-1860) discoveries of flora and fauna (including penguins, polar bears and blue-footed boobies) in these extreme places. I also did a really good job of keeping with a New Year’s resolution to drink less and I passed on the mai-tais.
Did I ever mention that I had been thinking about my alcohol consumption and made a resolution? (So, how BAD is it?). It’s not. I have no addictive tendencies and a pretty low tolerance for the effects of alcohol. One drink is good, two not so much. The problem for me is that, without the structure of working until 6 pm every night, I’ve gradually slipped into the habit of having a beer with lunch and then either a glass of wine or a drink with dinner on a very regular basis. I resolved to drop out alcohol during the day because, actually, I feel better through the afternoon if I just drink ice tea or water and I figure a beer at lunch is just extra calories I don’t need. I also figure it’s a good idea to focus on healthy habits and try not to just lapse into less healthy ones. At this point, I think a beer or a glass of wine every evening or so is probably healthy and certainly pleasurable in the context of dinner out on the porch, visiting with Rich and/or friends but otherwise I don’t need it.
Back in Maui, I didn’t really want sugar bombs in the form of complimentary mai-tais every day, starting at 1030am. I stuck with ice tea, read, wrote a bit (a book? Yes, I’m working on a book. No, I have nothing more to say about that) and watched the whales. I also did some swimming each day and I went snorkeling next to a beautiful green sea turtle. They’re not green- they’re brown. They eat so much algae and plant life that their meat/muscle/innards are green- hence the name. And Rich and I went again to our all time favorite, single most romantic, best food ever restaurant while on Maui. To me, a dinner at Mama’s Fish House is almost worth the flight alone. The cast of Lost eats there, Jimmy Buffett eats there. We dined on Won Ton Tiger Shrimp, a cold cucumber soup that had me swooning, an UpCountry tomato, maui onion, hearts of palm and Point Reyes Blue Cheese salad and Ono caught three hours earlier. The Ono was broiled in ti leaves and served with jasmine rice and gingered peapods. Check out the page and you’ll get a feel for the place and they also have a few online recipes. Look at the Black Pearl dessert. Right.
We watched the surfers and the sun go down and that was about it. The very last day we went with the Pacific Whale Foundation out to get a closer look at the humpbacks. There are about 1500-2000 of them wintering with their young off the coast of Hawaii right now. They are birthing, breeding and teaching their young well and not focused, at this point, on krill. Hunger will kick in and drive them back towards Alaska in the summer but for now they seem awfully comfortable and content splashing about around Maui. I wonder which is worse- swimming back to Alaska or taking the red-eye, by way of LAX and Atlanta, back to Tampa? The hunger factor is probably about equal.
Oh- and the birds were great, too. I love the raucous mynahs that are ever present and the doves are like little minature, prettier versions of ours. We went upcountry to visit the Surfing Goat Cheese Farm only to find it closed. The drive up Haleakala was worth it in any case and while I was poking at baby goats through the fence at this spectacularly beautiful setting, a Nene came waltzing by. They say that this rare Hawaii State bird gets it’s name from it’s call but I think they sound more like little cows: they mostly go “moo-moo.” I did not see any lepers (sorry, Hoss). In the end, it was a perfect five days. Sadly, some parts of Maui are getting strip-malled and over built so we may not enjoy it again in the future as we have in the past. Two chronic problems: the local news weather report is boring and they still haven’t discovered the convenience of consonants.
Here is a picture of a mother humpback nursing her calf. I didn’t quite see that either for a moment when I first saw them at the surface but that’s what’s happening. The two nipples are located at the base of the belly. (Humpback whales don’t twin; it’s a gestation of just under a year and the usual spacing is 2-3 years. 6-7 years is sexual maturity.) Mother had her pectoral fin raised for quite a long time; who knows? maybe that’s a comfortable position for nursing. Judging by the small dorsal fin, the calf is likely brand new. This baby will gain 4-6 pounds per hour, well over a 100 pounds per day, consuming daily upwards of 100 gallons of mother’s milk that is 40-60% milk fat (compared to approximately 4% in humans.) Am I the only one who thinks that’s a pretty remarkable conversion of krill?
Now I’m going to work in the yard and get ready to start at the family shelter for the winter. I’ll come by today and see what you’ve been up to.