Friday, May 18, 2007

Shore Pebbles from Author David Weale: Two Porpoises and a Moose

Two Porpoises and a Moose
by David Weale

It was one of those rare crossings on the Wood Islands Ferry where I hadn’t met anyone I knew very well, so was passing time in the lounge area with my head stuck in the morning paper, but looking up from time to time to be sure I didn’t miss anything. At some point I became aware of a general stirring among the other passengers, and observed that most everyone was scurrying outside, to the port side of the vessel.

I had a pretty good idea what was happening, and, sure enough, when I joined the others at the rail I saw two acrobatic porpoises cavorting playfully in the water near the boat, sliding in and out of the water to the beat of some inaudible rhumba. I’m not sure they were meaning to entertain the humans, but that’s certainly what it looked like, and soon there were so many spectators on that side of the boat I feared it might list. Suddenly, a rather uneventful ferry crossing had been transformed into a festival. Small children squealed with delight every time one of the graceful performers reappeared on the surface, and the adults were pointing and laughing -- sharing their high spirits unabashedly with perfect strangers. Indeed, within moments there were no strangers in the crowd, and I realized the people on the crossing were more familiar than I had thought. It lasted only a few minutes, but when the show ended the effects of the sighting lingered for the remainder of the trip. Thanks to the two porpoises the ferry had become a different, more congenial, and more enchanted place.

That experience at the rail was, for me, a revelation. In experiencing the grace and freedom of those two sea-creatures it seemed we all had touched somehow the deep-down beauty and freedom in ourselves. We became, for a time, unbuttoned and unblocked, and went our separate ways rejoicing, newly glad, and grateful for the day. Further, for the brief time we had stood together, watching the porpoises, there was a powerful feeling of solidarity: a sweet experience of shared discovery and delight, and of being fellow travelers, sharing a common Life. We were many eyes, seeing as one, and many hearts, beating in unison, and as I drove off the ferry at Caribou and continued on my way to Cape Breton I found myself lonesome, not so much for the other passengers, or even for the porpoises, but for that part of myself which had come swimming to the surface, but was already headed back under.

Mid-afternoon, the second day of our vacation, we were traveling along a remote section of the highway in the Cape Breton Highlands, somewhere between Cap St. Laurence and Cheticamp. Earlier in the day I had remarked with mock indignation to Andrea, my traveling partner, that I felt teased and sorely vexed by all the moose-crossing signs, with nary a sign of a moose. “Either take down the damn signs, or bring on a moose,” I railed.

Well, it worked. Moments later we drove around a bend in the highway and were surprised to see a very large number of cars, trucks and RVs parked on either side of the road. “Must be an accident,” was my conditioned response, even though there was no sign of a crash. What we could see was a large congregation of people standing on the side of the road, staring off into the distance.

“A moose!” we cried out in perfect unison.

Soon we were standing shoulder to shoulder with the others, peering and squinting at a large bull moose feeding so far upstream he was scarcely visible to the naked eye. It made me wonder how anyone had spotted him in the first place, but even at that distance he had the same magnetic power the two porpoises had demonstrated the day before. The magic was simply that he was there, and we were close enough -- though only barely -- to see him. And, just like the previous day on the ferry, an instant camaraderie emerged among spectators from all over the continent, and beyond.

We struck up a conversation with a young, professional couple from New York City who were on their first trip to the Maritimes, and positively ecstatic about what they were witnessing. The woman, a lawyer, was attempting to take a picture of the moose without a zoom lens, and I teased her good-naturedly, saying the animal would not even show up in the photo, and that her friends back in New York would all give her a hard time about the phantom moose she had spotted in Canada. She laughed, but said even a tiny dot in the picture would help her remember, and then proceeded to shoot away. To everyone’s surprise Andrea then suggested that she take a picture through our binoculars. I had never heard of such a thing, but she informed us that on a previous trip she had taken a picture of a whale that way, and that it had turned out just fine. The woman was skeptical, but decided it was worth a try. Personally, I thought it rather foolish, but like so many other foolish moments in life it had the redeeming quality of providing amusement. If I had been just a little more into the spirit of the moment I would have taken a picture of the woman, as she was taking her picture of the moose, with the camera held up to her eye, and the binoculars, in her other hand, aligned in front of the camera. It was a curious sight, and visual documentation of how separated we are from all that is wild.

The sight of that New York woman, twice removed -- by camera and binoculars -- from the object of her fascination, struck me as a powerful reminder of our alienation from the natural habitat and its creatures, and of how deeply we miss it. And I wondered whether our desire to get close to the wildness “out there” is a symptom of our estrangement from the wildness inside each of us, buried beneath protective layers of conventional behaviour and civilized routine. That, at least, was how I felt as I left the scene. We were a hundred random travelers on the side of a road, and that solitary moose had triggered the same recognition and wistful longing in all of us. We were, however, much closer to our vehicles than we were to him, and when he went his way, we all went ours. We lost sight of him, but it was a strange comfort just to know he was out there somewhere.


David Weale is the author of The True Meaning of Crumbfest (Rattling Books, 2005).