• Otter Views: Racing the Whale

    Once the wind died, Monday proved bonny for walking and cetacean-spotting along the Lover’s Point-Asilomar coastline. Far out at sea, rolling dark backs and dorsal fins glistened in the winter sun. Thin white blows hung on a horizon so sharp that bygone mariners would have feared sailing over its edge.

    Closer to shore, long vees of pelicans glided past, as evenly spaced as holiday bulbs on a string. Their flat trajectory matched the horizon until some sentinel rock or breaking wave created an updraft. Then each flight line would veer off as suddenly and sinuously as ice skaters playing “crack the whip.”

    After rounding Point Pinos, I turned to count one of those long pelican strings. That’s when I spotted a whale far behind me, way out past the two-mile buoy. Its blows indicated it was heading languidly southward. If I maintained a steady pace, I was sure I could reach Asilomar before it did. I crunched off determinedly along the path.

    But racing a whale is harder than it sounds. For one thing, my whale kept disappearing. I’ve lost sight of race rivals before, but never for an hour at a time. In canoe paddling, channel swells might hide the other boats, but they eventually surf back into view. And even way behind in a footrace, I could still see the distant ant-column of faster runners up ahead.

    But after the Point Pinos sighting, my whale utterly vanished. As I rounded each point and outcrop along the coast, I’d stop and scan the sea behind me to no avail. I figured I must have so far outpaced the whale that its spouts were no longer even visible. Out of consideration for my overmatched rival, I slackened my speed.

    This left lots of time for reflection. Luckily, the current holiday season has provided much to reflect upon. My first thought was for the 20 intrepid crews who had left Monterey Harbor the previous night to stage California’s only open-water holiday boat parade. With complex arrays of colored lights dancing and twinkling in an inky sky, the fleet processed grandly up the coast past Cannery Row, looped back to the harbor entrance, then repeated the circuit.

    A headline in Monday’s Herald deemed the seagoing pageant “informal,” but it certainly looked formal to shivering spectators ashore. Counting the ghostly, glittering outlines of the boats was akin to counting pelicans in flight, but there were 18 vessels at least. I’d say the crews displayed high-level formality in getting the boats safely in and out of the harbor and keeping them in line amid bumptious winds and seas. The Spanish Armada should have been so formal.

    My favorite entry was the fish, with the Christmas tree a close second. I was pleased to learn later that each boat won a prize, even if only for “bluest” or “most attenuated” lighting design. Judging by how cold the icy wind felt in various viewing nooks along Cannery Row, the salt-whipped crews offshore definitely earned their blueness trophies.

    As I waited for my whale to catch up, my mind roved over other recent holiday season events. Enjoying a much warmer night than the boat parade was the PG Holiday Parade of Lights, which drew hundreds of bundled celebrants to Lighthouse Avenue. This year’s top selling curbside novelties were pulsing, multi-hued sorcery swords.

    Stilwell’s Fun in the Park made up in merriment, jumping castles and free carnival rides what it lacked in snow. Across town, the Monterey Aquarium welcomed thousands for its free local admissions days. The psychedelic jellyfish exhibit with organ music by Booker T was very jiggy, but the see-through crashing wave tunnel got my vote.

    Another chilly evening took me to a PG Catholic church, which treated members and their guests to an elaborate holiday dinner and cabaret-style music revue in the parish hall. I missed the dinner, but the show set hosannas ringing in the lavishly decorated hall, which even featured an ersatz skating rink.

    These reminiscences occupied me until I reached a bench overlooking Spanish Bay. Scanning the horizon slowly and methodically, I finally spotted a single whale spout far to the south, seemingly off Cypress Point. “No way my whale could have gotten that far ahead,” I reasoned. “Must be a different one.”

    The walk back was relatively cetacean-free until Point Pinos, where two pods of feeding Risso’s dolphins flew ragged kite tails of spectator gulls. Then, just off Lover’s Point, a mother humpback and her calf swam serenely by as the sunset turned the sea a shimmering, incandescent pink. As if energized by the twilight, the calf put on a show of its own, leaping, spinning and breaching repeatedly.

    I was impressed, but I think I could still beat them to Asilomar.


    posted to Cedar Street Times on December 13, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views


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