Saturday, August 13, 2011

Day 74: Kayaking with the beluga whales

Today's adventure was back on the Churchill River. Today's fix was two-fold, kayaking plus belugas. It was wild.

Being my timely self, I arrived at the beach half an hour before we were scheduled to push off into the river. So I waited, nay, I prepared. I staked out which kayak I would take, watching the belugas on the horizon. I played with my paddle, twirling it and getting accustomed to the weight, like a fencer balancing a new sword. I eagerly went through the ritual of preparation. Splash skirt tightened, life jacket fastened and adjusted, hair pulled back, ready face on. I was preparing for the battle against the waves.

Finally, after signing the weaver, I carried my kayak down to the beach. I maneuvered into the seat with expert balance and skill. I stretched the skirt. I stretched it again. And I got someone else to hold the back and stretch it again to the front. No go. The skirt didn't fit the cockpit. I tore it off, in mad fashion. Resolutely deciding that I would rather go with no skirt than wait another five minutes for the staff to find a new one. So I hoped back in, lifting the boat with my hands to push off into the water - too eager to allow the staff to help, though help he tried. He gave me a bit of a push, which I took full advantage of, dipping strongly into the water with each stroke, I was flying. The strain in the shoulders and back, the delicate grip on the paddle, the rush of water and wind. I was flying and out to the buoy in a minute and past all the other kayakers who had had a head start in another minute. And another minute more... the first beluga.

Like going into battle, I had this fear. Not of my equipment that I had been trained in, had kayaked over a hundred miles in and had complete confidence in, but of the unknown behavior. The first sign of the beluga up close was a burst of bubbles and a streak of white beneath the surface, headed right towards me. Will it ram me? Will it flip me? And then it didn't. Instead, this massive beluga whale swam underneath me and blew a giant burst of bubbles right under my kayak. Like floating to the clouds on carbonation. The fear dissolved with the bubbles, and I became giddy with excitement. 

The next whale that came, I paddled to keep up with. Chasing it and him chasing me. We were led further and further out into the river. Playing with each pod while the rain started to fall around me, the water in the river jumping up at each drop. And I laughed harder. It didn't matter to the whales that it was raining, they were still swimming and playing, so I laughed. And when I laughed, the belugas came closer, maybe responding to the sound. Five together, ten. They swam all around me and I began to giggle and shout. Hello! Hello my friends! You are so beautiful. I love you! Thank you! Thank you! Namaste! 

When the rain subsided, I was soaked but happy. Being far from all the other kayakers who had stayed near shore, I could hear them. The whales. They were calling to each other. Were they calling to me? The vibrations were enhanced within the cockpit, I knew when they were right below me. At one point, 4 whales circled beneath me, calling and calling, so vocal. And I paddled with them. Whistling to them in response, the closest to their communication that I could get. But I paddled with them for 10 minutes and they would surface right beside my kayak, an arm's length away, breathing and taking my breathe away. I kept paddling with them, getting a bit ahead in my excitement and having to wait for them to catch up to me or pass me so I could catch up with them. One pushed his nose against the stern of my kayak as I paddled hard, following and nudging in my wake. Another swam along side me, tilting his head so our eyes met. I stared into the eye of the arctic survivor, the intelligence of water and ice. Then they fed, circling and splashing in the water ahead of me, a fin raised above water like a salute. 

I have no pictures of these amazing whales. For once memory will have to replace a snapped image. For once, the flowing picture in my mind will have to be the one that remains real rather than the one still image that a tourist might be able to capture and then look at for years after, making the picture real rather than the experience. This experience, untainted by lens, will be with me for the rest of my life. Kayaking with beluga whales.

I also had to say goodbye to friends today. I will miss you greatly Sarah and Amy. Firefly will never be the same! Or the northern lights without blankets wrapped tightly around. So many great people I have been able to meet, but they keep slipping away so quickly. I hope to meet you again!

1 comment:

  1. Matt was telling me about this yesterday... can I just say how mega friggin' awesome this is?!