I'm somewhere above the border of Nebraska and South Dakota, speeding along at 572 mph and 54 minutes from landing at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Lana Del Rey's Born to Die has been entertaining me between in-flight episodes of Suburgatory and Parks and Recreation. I really find Amy Poehler unfunny. Still.
Last week, I was on the opposite flight, but probably over the same point of the country by this time of the day. I was headed to Los Angeles, determined to trade in my tweed winter jacket for sunscreen. I dutifully answered work emails in between playing tourist at Venice Beach and trying to not look too young in front of a unexpectedly mature crowd at the Avengers/Dead Kennedys/X show at MOCA.
But several hundred feet off the shore of Dana Point, I felt it appropriate to give my ever faithful iPhone some most deserved rest. I was captivated by the wind, boats shifting anxiously against the ropes that held them securely to the dock and the bluffs, now fully visible from afar, hanging above the beaches. My untrained eyes were dry—determined not to blink and regret missing a fin poking out of the glittery ocean. Despite the regurgitated matter that appears when I think about being forced to watch Free Willy 1, 2 and 3 as a child, I was anxious to see an Orca whale. They are rare in Southern California, but sightings have been frequent recently.
Only fifteen minutes after departure we had our first sighting. A gray whale rose from the waters just in front of Sanden and me. After a group of sea lions and noisy water fowl had distracted our attention to the other side of the boat, our grey whale was joined by a friend.
We tracked the pair with the captain of the Dana Pride quickly rattling off the specifics of how baleen whales opportunely filter krill through their plates. I took rapid shots with my point-and-shoot, not removing my eyes away from the duo. But an hour into our journey, I'll admit, even I tired of their routine. They'd peek their backs out of the water and then dive back into the water for another five minutes. And repeat. I would make a horrible migrating sea mammal.
Sanden started framing shots for Instagram. I was tempted to do the same, but WAIT! Our usually well-rehearsed captain scrambled to point out something that would make anyone raised in front of a television turn their eyes away from a screen. The whales were mating. And he wasn't joking.
No, we didn't see anything graphic. Their dance was more of a rhythmic roll with a poignant fin poking precariously out of the water every few minutes. As if we were trapped in a nineties Lisa Frank illustration, a pod of dolphins swam through their proximity. I waited for a rainbow to frame the scene and stars to shoot across the cloudless sky. The whale love we witnessed lasted approximately fifteen minutes. I thought I'd do our male a favor and not time it exactly, but shortly after they returned to their instinctual migration, we set back for the shore.