I had stepped away to our cabin after dinner for a few minutes of quiet. The guests, a charter of kayakers mostly from the United Kingdom, started to convene around the fire pit where David had staged the logs for a burn. I could hear them laughing, telling stories, and eventually, singing. As I listened, I felt my sadness growing, punctuated by the sounds of people, strangers to one another just days earlier, creating friendships. I knew I would be welcome if I went down to join them but I couldn’t imagine how to get there from where I sat. I just felt so sad. And alone.
David came to check on me, and gave me hugs. He wanted to know what I was feeling. This place I sometimes go is very difficult to explain, and it’s not at all intuitive for an extrovert. For my part, I’m still surprised when my melancholy sneaks in and takes over, even though it has been a familiar visitor over the years. I know that when I am tired, over-extended interpersonally, and haven’t had quite enough quiet, meditative time, my balance is disrupted. In spite of my outgoing personality, I am an introvert, and my reserves get depleted occasionally without me noticing. I told him, in that moment, that I sometimes felt I didn’t know how to find the on-ramp to joy.
“Don’t believe everything you think” is a saying I associate with the lessons of a meditation practice. It makes me laugh because it is so true: we really shouldn’t believe everything we think! When you notice and allow all the wild and chaotic thoughts that your mind in “monkey” mode can have, you also notice that all your thoughts aren’t created equal. They don’t all deserve your attention, and they shouldn’t all be followed. I can know this, and recognize the melancholy-dipped lies my mind is telling me. I can know all this and still not easily shift to a different mood.
The antidote for this sort of cloud cover is to get out, shift my body, and so my perspective. Last night, I felt so stuck that I knew my only other remedy was to turn off the light and sleep. A good night of rest and the dawn of a new day would help lift the darkness.
What is wonderful about the transition from one day to the next are the possibilities born in the new day: grace, redemption, joy, and sometimes, what can only be described as magic. This day can stand in stark contrast to yesterday, and moments of transcendence can emerge and be held.
This morning, I woke up late, and David let me know that the guests were all going on a morning boat ride to look for whales and otter. We both decided to go along, and had an extraordinary time. The guests are delightful and adventurous – several of them stayed out on deck in the rain for the three hours we were out. We saw numerous humpback whales on our way to a sea-lion haul out, a small island covered in sea lions.
And then magic happened. Just on the other side of the haul out, we stopped the boat because a humpback whale was right in front of us in the narrow channel. As she surfaced near the shore, we saw she had her calf alongside her. They surfaced with a slight delay to one another, one blow half the height of the other. Rather than the more concerted surface-dive motion that adults make, the mother and baby seemed to float up and down between breaths. They were so close to us, and to the shore. They rounded the point of the island, and made their way into the wider pass where we eventually lost sight of them.
We then headed over to a small cluster of islands where Bill had heard that otter had recently been seen. As we neared, we saw over a dozen otter, most of them mothers with little ones on their chests. They scattered a bit as the boat slowly approached, but stayed nearby, giving us a chance to observe them swimming with their young. They observed us back. On a large rocky outcrop just past the otter group, we noticed seals draped on the rocks, well camouflaged by the match between their fur color and the shore. As the boat navigated around the rock past the otter in the water and the seals on the rock, we saw several seal mothers with their pups.
Within just a few minutes, we had the extraordinary experience of seeing three species of mammals with their young in their natural habitat.
Bill, the captain, decided to take us home through Browning Passage, one of the most spectacular channels in the world for diving. The Pass is a quiet place, especially today with the steady rain and low cloud cover. The channel is deep, and although there is shore on the east side of the Pass, the west side has a rocky, vertical drop into the water to depth. Both sides are lined with trees and dense forest. The boat progressed slowly down the passage and all our eyes were trained far ahead on the eastern shore, looking for wolves before the boat noise might spook them. Suddenly, we saw two wolves trotting in our direction along the high-tide line. They stopped as we neared, and then trotted up into the trees, out of view. Everyone saw both animals. It was exhilarating, and we laughed and chatted giddily.
The boat continued through the passage, headed for a spot near the end of the channel where hooded nudibranchs are often found. Known locally as ‘hoodie nudies,’ these members of the slug family have a translucent appearance, like jelly fish, and when out of the water are known to smell like watermelon jolly rogers. Nature can be so unusual sometimes… When we came around the point, instead of hoodie nudies we saw two more wolves. These animals were harder to see than the ones we’d seen at the high tide line on the other side of the pass, as their colors matched more closely the stones and beach sand. They were also much less concerned with our approach: one of the two stood for a few minutes looking at us before turning and walking toward the tree line.
We came back to God’s Pocket that morning having seen six of what I call “The Big Seven” animals available to us in this area: humpback whales, bald eagles, sea lions, otter, seals, wolves, and the missing seventh, orca. The eighth animal is bear, rarely seen in this neighborhood. We were all a bit wet and cold, and yet our energy was high, excited about what we had seen.
Seeing so many of these animals and their young in the wild waters and on the islands of British Columbia anchored a special day of fellowship and shared experience on the boat. For me, it was a reminder that I am both small in the universe, and yet still an important part of my ecosystem. My melancholy may visit, but my world is full of magic and miracles if I can let myself see through the mist. And when I can’t, I can let today go and trust in a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow will bring new possibilities, including grace and magic.
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