Crime in the North
I had a deep experience - I thought - in Sheepshead Bay, an arm of Prince William Sound in Alaska. Right after college I was working for a guy named 'Shorty' doing long line halibut fishing. Three of us were in a 16 foot skiff drifting down the current, laying a half-mile long set, a rope with baited hooks every six feet. One of the other two guys said he saw orca dorsals across the inlet, a quarter mile away. Since the part of Sheepshead we were working was Orca Inlet and the guy saying it was nicknamed Juice Bruce, I assumed it was just his imagination romanticizing the moment and the place. He insisted, and after a while I saw them too. It was certainly fun to have seen orca in the wild and I was happy to know I would have the memory. Then one of them diverged from the pack to our side of the inlet. This was pretty exciting because his (her) dorsal became more than a black dot in the distance and took a definite shape. He got closer and closer and it became more exciting and more fun. Then he sounded directly behind us about thirty feet away. I saw the white of his underbelly. He was going directly under us. I had heard sourdough stories of orca knocking over small boats with their heads, but hadn't believed them. It suddenly became too exciting and no fun at all. I would have wet myself if I had thought of it. The only thing we had in the boat to defend ourselves with was a .22-short pistol. A long minute later he sounded about twelve feet in front of us, less than the length of the boat or the whale. Later, I assumed that he had just been curious and was checking us out. I realized then that in between Hashem and man there is another kind of being, whom I called a godling, who is beyond our morality and who decides on whim whether we live or die. Perhaps the whale was what Neitzsche meant by an ubermensch, a superman.
Twenty-five years later I was in a cafe in Chile and I met an Alaskan who was, among other things, an experienced fisherman who had also worked Prince William Sound. I told him that story and he explained that it happens all the time. It had not been a chance encounter - the whale was stealing the bait off our set. I was undone to suddenly have this new and obviously correct explanation of what had been an important experience in my life. What I had thought was an epiphany was just a mugging. Which is a lot of what youth is about, attributing deep meanings to ordinary events.