A Tribute For Ruffles

On the year of my 60th birthday, I hear that you have gone missing. By the summer of 2011, your death is official, the oldest male in the Southern Resident Community. A gray box in the Orca ID guide will mark your life and death.  Your body has been laid to rest by the sea, a banquet for your neighbors.  

If the estimated year of your birth is accurate, you and I would have been born just months apart. We have led parallel lives on parallel planets that somehow holographically occupy the same point in space. My ocean kinsman, I am grateful for encounters with you, many more than I surely deserved.

Mostly, the limited views I had of you was like identifying a human from the top of their head only.  But in rare moments, in the time span of one breath, I was given the opportunity to try and really see you—to catch the momentary splendor of your strength and beauty when you cartwheeled.  I took in my breath as you surged and porpoised toward some new location; I watched you rest and travel in the middle of your pod, surrounded by the members of your clan. 
Photo by: Monika Wieland
Over the years, I saw the stateliness of your movements become more labored.  I could see you getting old. This observation I hold tenderly, because it is the true privilege of time spent with a known individual. You were a creature from another place, as alien as outer space, but I could see that you were slowing down.
Source: Trickster Wine

My true relationship with you has been fashioned of imagination, joined to your life in dreams and in the wanderings of my heart.  In ancient times, legends speak of Coyote or Raven and the Celtic seal person, the selkie—animal people who came to walk the land in human form. Now, without a culture that can hold such a vision communally, I must do it alone and in the secret spaces of my mind.  In that way, your death does not end my connection with you. As a spirit whale, you would be free to come with me to the Planet of Land

Source: Seattle Times

Such a thought makes me smile. How surprised you might be to find out I was more than a two legged creature on the shore or boat, making loud sounds of excitement over very move you made. I would take you to Thanksgiving tables, set with family and friends.  I would show you humans making art and serving their own, humans singing and inventing and gardening. I would also tell you about human schisms over race, religion and politics, and how full of lust we are for power, possessions and all things technological.  You had never known nuclear families like ours, nor the herd life of land animals fighting for dominance, territory and females. Unlike you, I would say, storms make humans scurry inside protective shelters and gravity binds us to the earth. Finally, I would explain the human hand that gave rise to so many things, good and bad.

I like to think of us walking on the sacred trails of the islands and then to the top of the hills and mountains, where we would rest and look out over vistas you have never seen. You would tell me you knew little of the lives of the strange creatures who move through the water in such different ways, sometimes nearly mowing whale families down in their haste to arrive, sometimes moving alongside the clans for hours at a time, sometimes silently skimming the water with a long structure you had observed for thousands of years. Perhaps you would recite an old orca legend, about salmon that once filled the waters and how, with the coming of humans, they catastrophically disappeared from your world.
When we had our fill of such stories, we would return to the water’s edge and slip beneath its opaque cover of dark blue. You would show me a world of sound and connection, for the water does not allow the concept of boundaries that my land planet does. You would tell me how the cold tempestuous waves swirl around your skin and how the only heat you had ever known was the warm milk of your mother and the hot blood that ran in your veins. You would show me salmon and herring, upwelling and tidal current and I would understand that all of it was you—for who can find the line between the things that give rise to life and the life that develops? I would recognize that the salt water I call ocean and Salish Sea is you. I would see the nations of the ocean planet beside you and understand that they cannot be separated from their home or from each other. I’d like to think that this conversation, without words, would occur like bell tones in our bodies.
An aside. I would hesitate to tell my spirit kinsman the name we have given him. The ruffled edge of his fin was his trademark but it never defined him.  Calling Ruffles Ruffles seems a bit like calling Lincoln Stretch or Benjamin Franklin Fluffy.  Or imagine perhaps Chief Seattle being dubbed Red. Nor would I describe how we watched and marked his movements. Imagine trying to know—say, the poet Billy Collins— in this way.  Yes, his literal bowel movements we could know, and the way he moved through space. “He is walking, he is sitting, he is sleeping.” We would know much about his animal life but this would not account for the deep wisdom of his soul and the way he lived his life.
No, I might just never mention it.  
Photo by Jeff Lorto

And so, for this tribute, I will use no name for you. The Salish language family has many sounds that mimic the sss . . . Sound of the Sea. Let this sound in my heart suffice for now. I salute you. You have held my focus on the world that gives rise to mine, the ocean planet that sustains life. From your existence, I have learned much about my own. I will keep alive your stories and use your charisma to talk about the fragile and powerful place that created and nourished you.  I trust the great mystery of your being will continue to accompany me. I am simply and profoundly grateful to have witnessed your presence.

This entry was posted in Ruffles.

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