I remember the beach. The tree line right near the water. Some other family’s RV in a camping space nearby. But I don’t remember the animals, their fins piercing the water of Strait of Juan de Fuca. Or at least I think I don’t remember.
But this fuzzy memory – or lack thereof – is foundational to so much of who I am. A camping trip when I was 4. The first time I saw orcas, the animals I would seek in some way for the rest of my life.
Tahlequah’s Grief and My Ache
I have this ache within me about whales, all whales but especially killer whales. I imagine it comes from these early sightings, from the way my parents’ voices lowered as the black bodies lifted out of the water, from the huff of their spoutings. From wonder.
I imagine we read books and talked about this memory, one that was very important in my family, so important that we named our first dog Sooke after the fishing village near where we camped.
Somehow, orcas have become precious to me, and I don’t think it’s because of the time my brother and I watched one of the many Shamus practice her routine at Sea World, although that was very cool if also very sad, even when I was 7.
I’m exploring this haunt of longing just now, prompted by Tahlequah’s grief over her dead calf. I sobbed every time her story crossed my path, and I wanted to pull our son Milo so close, to hear him breath. Tahlequah’s grief has blown sea-breath into the space in me that finds killer whales so powerful.
I’m going to write into this space.
The Aching Space for Writing
So much of writing is mystery, at least good writing. The writing that comes from the places we haven’t already worked out, the writing that sits in hollow spaces waiting for us to explore. Those places carry the breath of wordish life in them. . . and when we follow the shadow inward, we find truth and hurt and hope and big fishy breaths of life that we didn’t know we carried.
So much of what we read – especially online – is processed, carefully shaped into palatable forms that meet SEO standards or selling goals. So much is what we’ve already figured out, already understood because we think that a writer’s job it to provide answers. It’s not.
A writer’s true work is to journey into the mystery. We wander into the darkness of our own memories, our own questions, our own mysterious aches . . . and we let readers wander with us. That is our only work. Not answers. Not solutions. Not even understanding for anyone but, maybe, ourselves.
So journey into the mystery, friends. It’s enough. It’s more than enough. It’s good.
I’m not sure what my journey into this ache and longing for orcas will be for me, but I intend to follow it wherever it will lead. I’ve already gotten started, and all I can say so far is that the ache gets deeper the further I go.