TALK OF THE TOWN

Ed Reilly


 

A Whale of a Tale of the Tail of a Whale


  Since Jean says that I do not write enough about Niskayuna's fine Parks and Recreation program, we opted for a mini-vacation by signing up for its sponsored trip to Cape Ann.  Though inveterate Cape Codders, we had never been to the other cape.


  The trip, led by our very capable Director of Recreation Nancy Tucker, began when our Wade Tours bus pulled away from the Community Center at 7 a.m. last Friday. Our group included several persons whom I see regularly at the Center, some newcomers, and a few with whom I enjoyed renewing acquaintances formed years ago. Close-by seatmates were Rose and Barney Miller and George and Carol Evans. Barney, only recently retired from KAPL, used to run certain computer programs that I had written when I was there.


 George I had first met when our sons played Little League in the 1970s, and I even remember the exact day.  He was standing behind the pitcher serving as umpire of the moment. As my son Dan came to bat, I stood behind the backstop to watch the action.  A pitch came in at what I still think was eye level and George barked "Strike one!"


Thinking that I was off duty and unrecognized, I yelled "Too high, ump." And George yelled back "And so are my taxes." Since I hadn't been able to think of a suitable riposte for almost 20 years, I decided to spend our three-day trip punishing him with wordplay. My first opportunity came when a tour guide boarded our bus to expound on beautiful downtown Gloucester.  She told us that there was a Russian ship in the harbor taking on herring to bring back home.  I told George that the story was an obvious cover if I ever heard one, a Red herring.


     According to the guide, the body of a well-preserved Viking had once been dug up near Gloucester and was later identified as Rolf Ericson, brother of Leif (from dental records, I suppose, found in the office of a Brooklyn dentist named Howie). According to legend, the villagers gave the Viking a proper funeral, but then proceeded to forget where they had buried him. "Just think, George," I said, "They could dig again and turn over a new Leif."

We passed the former home of Clarence Birdseye, the frozen food mogul.  From a high second-story porch, the master must have enjoyed his Birdseye view of the harbor.


There are many fine older homes in Gloucester that are open to tourists.  We visited one built room by room by a famous interior designer named Henry Sleeper.  He had made a fortune in the China trade, and didn't need an alarm to protect his treasures since, weighing only a bit over a hundred pounds, he was a light Sleeper.


Visiting the Sleeper home was a last minute substitute for an intended visit to the castle of John Hammond, the inventor of the seaplane. We were told that he was no relation to the Hammond organ people even though he owned several organs.  One consisted of several hundred pipes and was very valuable, so he built a castle around it. A man will go to great lengths to protect his vital organs.


The Gloucester harbor is large and beautiful.  On a clear day such as we were enjoying, one could see the Boston skyline on the horizon, 26 miles away, centered between the points of land that define the harbor entrance.


     On Friday night, we had dinner at a place that advertised live twin lobsters, but when mine arrived they were dead.  They were so embarrassed by this that they had turned deep red.  The waiter asked me if I wanted a bib for my lobsters.  I said no, but I'd like one for myself.


On Saturday morning, we embarked on a whale watch. The ride was pretty smooth, but every now and then the boat rocked to and fro with each gentle undulation of the ocean.  We had a swell time.


Seventy minutes out, the whales arrived on the predicted schedule.  One, a Finback named Wally, slipped me a fin to mention his name in the column, but I gave him his fin back.  He swam away with a younger whale on his back.  I asked him how he was able to do that and he answered "He ain't heavy, he's my blubber!


The largest whales are larger than any dinosaur that ever walked the earth.  Most of those we saw were Humpbacks.  The males of the species compose melodic songs that are sometimes wailed in unison over a span of 22 hours.  The melodies change from year to year and season to season.  How the individual whales communicate in order to stay in tune is a mystery.  How can anyone think of taking the lives of such magnificent and intelligent creatures?  Save the whales.  Save the wails.

                                                                   
        





                                               

The highlight of watching a whale occurs when it raises its characteristic tail high out of the water as it begins a five minute dive for food.  I was kidding about Wally, but many of the whales do have names.  They are given to them by marine scientists who are able to spot the same individuals over and over again by the unique markings on the underside of their tails.


The dining room and all guest rooms at the Twin Lights Inn where we stayed have a breathtaking ocean view.  If you had been assigned to create a universe, would you have thought of allowing the sky to change colors minute to minute?  Would you have thought of giving water just the right viscosity and wind just the right strength to form the surf that slowly washes over brown rocks of just the right color to complement the sky?


And in forming the rocks, would you have thought of making scooped-out indentations in them here and there to collect little pools of water?  And would you have thought of gulls to glide quietly overhead, enjoying the majestic sight and sound of the surf as much as the humans who watch and listen?


The answer is that either you would have, or else your cosmos would not have worked.  This is the best of all possible worlds because it is the only possible world. All things are interrelated, as witness the almost simultaneous extinction of the dodo bird and the tree whose seed the birds propagated by eating its nourishing fruit.


Such thoughts occur to all of us from time to time, religious and irreligious alike, and when they do, constitute the highest form of prayer.

 

6/11/1993

 

Postscript: George Evans loved the column, and even chided me for forgetting to include the "blubber"" pun.  So I put it in here in his memory.  Sadly, he died a year or so ago.  My son Daniel and his wife Anna Vendetti Reilly live on Brendan Lane with their son Patrick Daniel and daughter Laura.