Friday, August 25, 2006

Misspent Youth

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.


  1. Gladys Knight9:22 AM

    A whale of a story my friend, And one where you got to use the line "I was in a cafe in Chile and I met an Alaskan"

    Also "attributing deep meanings to ordinary events" is not just for the young, it is for the pretentious news readers on TV. For some reason they seem to think there is great meaning and importance to the death of a child in Colorado ten years ago while during those ten years they chose to ignore the deaths of thousands of children in Rwanda. I guess the bigger the event the less meaning it has. If the earth were to cease being it would be a non event with no meaning becasuse noone would report it.

    Maybe Obi Wan would feel a slight diruption in the force.

  2. I personally don't believe anything has actually happened until I hear it from the rumor-repeaters on Eyewitness News at eleven.

  3. paintedtoes6:49 PM

    "Which is a lot of what youth is about, attributing deep meanings to ordinary events.

    I disagree, my dear JK. Youth can be wasted on the young. It is the experience of life that allows one to appreciate and attribute deep meaning to the seemingly mundane.