I’ve always loved bones. Growing up on a farm I saw a lot of dead animals and I had a pile of bones I kept tucked against a mound of tree roots. I loved touching these, tracing the bones with my fingers, imaging the lives of the animals that once inhabited them. I imagined dinosaurs and wild horses and cows charging free of fences. Most of these were bird bones or lizards or ground hogs, though some were from our barn cats, and I kept these for years. Probably, even now, there’s a stack of small and delicate bones somewhere in that pasture.
So yesterday when we walked Kincaid trails and veered down by the beach, I decided to finally visit the dead humpback whale that washed up on the beach last month. I hadn’t seen it yet. It seemed wrong to gawk at a dead animal, and one that had once been so large and powerful and beautiful. I’d hate for people to stare at me when I’m dead.
Yet, I have to admit that I was fascinated by the idea. I wanted to see it.
Here’s a picture of the whale after it washed ashore. The photo isn’t very large but you can still see how huge it was. Photo credit: KTUU.
A month later, it’s still huge but it’s begun to disintegrate.
See how the flesh is falling off, how it is basically returning to the earth? I find it beautiful, in an odd sense, and I especially love how the whole carcass is bathed in the golden light of autumn.
It was windy on the beach and the smell was hideous (last week my partner took the dog for a walk here and she rolled against the whale and she still smells). It coated my nose; I could taste it in my mouth. I covered my face with my arm as I walked near. No one else was on the beach and for some reason, it felt almost holy. And I suppose that death is holy, about the holiest of all things. I felt like genuflecting, the way we used to in church. I didn’t, of course. But still, that’s how it felt.
I love this next picture and how my shadow, blended with the whale’s shadow, makes it appear as if I have wings.
I didn’t stay by the whale for long, mostly because of the smell but also because it felt as if the whale belonged alone, there on the beach, in that autumn sunlight, with the shadows and colors casting around it.
On the walk back to the car, the wind picked up and the sun lowered in the sky and the air became colder and I could feel winter in the air. I like the idea of snow falling on this whale’s carcass, so quietly, so silently, until it covers its bones, almost like a blanket. For some reason, it just seems right.