Morning whales

I cover a lot of ground before I get out of bed in the morning. The review usually includes life history, current hip, knee and lung functions and the weather.

This morning’s mental surge included my obituary, not because I have twice had cancer but because I have so far twice survived cancer. I’ll throw in a 20-year-old diagnosis of coronary artery disease. One of my achievements in 2020 is realizing that a defining aspect of my life since 2000 has been fear of dying.

I am a slow learner and it’s obviously taken me a long time to embrace the fact that I am not yet dead. Now I try to remind myself of wheelchair athletes, aging skiers and writers and composers who kept on working, probably with pain, despite terminal diagnoses.

It occurred to me this morning that my obituary could lede with “died after a long battle with fear” instead of the usual long battle with disease. Admittedly there have been mobility complications but the truth is I feel pretty darn good, though not proud of my learning curve.

I looked at the gray dawn outside and my last backpack, hanging on the wall opposite the bed. It’s a red Gregory I bought in 2012 because it was the right size for a 40-year anniversary hike into the High Sierra with a few buddies from firefighter/trail crew days. Maybe it was just as important in my purchase that the model is called “The Savant.” I have always looked for packs smarter than I.

Seeing me stir, Cowboy hopped onto the bed to lie across my torso and look out the window.

It didn’t take me long to shake off the obituary thought. That’s not how I want my obit to read. Happily just then, I found a New York Times story about the discovery of a new kind of blue whale.

It was beautifully described by Times writer Katherine J. Wu.

“Weighing up to 380,000 pounds and stretching some 100 feet long, the blue whale — the largest creature to have ever lived on Earth — might at first seem difficult for human eyes and ears to miss.

“But a previously unknown population of the leviathans has long been lurking in the Indian Ocean, leaving scientists none the wiser, new research suggests.

“The covert cadre of whales, described in a paper published last week in the journal Endangered Species Research, has its own signature anthem: a slow, bellowing ballad that’s distinct from any other whale song ever described. It joins only a dozen or so other blue whale songs that have been documented, each the calling card of a unique population.”

Denis Scott/Corbis

With a great touch of modern media capability, the Times included a recording of the whale’s song.

I played it on the iPhone for Cowboy, who is more familiar with the call of coyotes. He immediately released me from captivity. I rose to make coffee, warmed by the thought of the “slow, bellowing ballad” of mysteries beneath the sea.

 

Cover photo is Getty Images.

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