Tuesday 6 November 2012

The Book of the Whale: Extract From Eyes of the Wild

This December Earth Books is publishing Eyes of the Wild, which provides an understanding of animals as guides to self-knowledge by revealing close encounters with some of the most magnificent creatures of the wild. The book is written by Eleanor O'Hanlon, a conservationist and writer. Here is an extract from Eyes of the Wild:

The Book of Whale - The Circle Closes
1 The Story of Francisco “Pachico” Mayoral
Laguna San Ignacio

Baja California Sur
March 2010

Where the lagoon opens to the wind-driven Pacific, the gray whales are rising all around us. The green water roils over the slow serpent-turning of their spines and the pulsating mist of their breathing. A barnacled head rises straight from the water as the whale thrusts upright and stands balanced on its tail, “spyhopping” for a moment above the surface before it sinks again as smoothly as it rose.

A mother breaches with a gusty exhalation, her calf’s head resting on her side. The calf slides beneath the surface and swims towards our boat, a dark shadow undulating through the graygreen swell. I dip my hand in the water, waiting for the calf to come near, when the mother herself breaks through the surface beside me, rising beyond all expectation and soaking my skin with the spray of her breath. She brushes my hand with her back and the sudden contact with the sea-washed smoothness of her skin unleashes a powerful burst of inner warmth that is still pulsing like sunlight through my heart as she sinks back.

Behind me the boatman has bent down to touch her calf. He is murmuring to it in Spanish, caressing it with the tones of his voice and the movements of his hand. A slight man in his late sixties, with sun-darkened skin and luminous black eyes, his full name is Francisco Mayoral, but to his family and his friends he is known simply as Pachico.

Forty years ago, in February 1972, Pachico Mayoral was fishing for grouper near the mouth of the lagoon, with his neighbor, Luis Perez. That day the gray whales were particularly numerous; they were spy-hopping and breaching all around his panga and he was anxious to avoid coming near them. Like the other fishermen on the lagoon, Pachico was wary of the grays, which could overturn a panga with one slap of the tail and fling the men into the water. A few years before, several San Ignacio fishermen had died in such an accidental encounter with a gray whale.

That day something entirely new happened. A gray whale deliberately approached them and lingered alongside for more than an hour. It swam under and around them and made the panga rock by rubbing the underside with its back while the two men sat immobile, unable to pull up their fishing lines and start the engine for fear of causing a dangerous collision. Until, finally, Pachico reached out his hand and touched the whale on the side.

As soon as he touched it, his fear vanished. “I began to stroke the whale. And I could feel that the whale liked it, so I kept on stroking it.”

He’s sitting next to me in the dining tent that evening after dinner, still in his salt-stained jeans and drinking a beer, while the canvas walls crack and rattle in the strong wind that sweeps across this side of the lagoon each evening. As I speak no Spanish, camp manager Ruby is translating, her dark eyes bright with intelligence, at the other side of the trestle table.

“We went back and we told the others but they did not believe us at first. They all thought we were crazy. Even Carmen, my wife, at first she did not believe me either, and I thought, but she’s supposed to love me!”

Pachico tells the story simply, with warmth and humor, as he has told it to others before me, but there is a stillness and clarity behind his words that give them power.

“After that, I changed inside. I saw everything differently – even the plants, even the stones. The only thing that I can compare this to is the feeling that I had when my first child was born.”

What are the whales seeking to communicate when they approach the boats? I ask.
“I believe that the whales come to share peace with us. They are bringing us peace and showing how we can live together inharmony.”

“I also have these things also from my father,” he adds, after a short pause. “My father always told me that it is more important to be honest and truthful than to have money. I am poor but I have peace and happiness. I have a vision of being able to share these things with the people who come to the lagoon to see the whales with me. I know when they feel connected to the whales. I know when they feel touched by them inside. Without the need for speaking, I sense this. For me it is no longer so important to touch the whales physically because I always feel the connection with them in my heart.”

I feel the same way, I tell Pachico. When I first came to the lagoon, the experience of being approached by the whales and invited to touch them physically was so overwhelming that it changed forever the way I relate to my fellow creatures. Three years later, I feel connected to the gray whales inwardly even when I’m no longer near them physically and cannot touch them.

In 1978 biologist Dr. Steven Swartz arrived in San Ignacio Lagoon to study the grays with a colleague, Mary Lou Jones. With Pachico as their guide and friend, the two scientists soon began to experience their own astonishing encounters with the grays.

Between 1978 and 1983, they documented more than five hundred friendly interactions with the whales. One female was so playful and free with them that they called her “Amazing Grace”.

“She would roll under the boat, turn belly up with her flippers sticking three to four feet out of the water on either side of the craft, then lift us clear off the surface of the lagoon, perched high and dry on her chest between her massive flippers.” Steven Swartz wrote. “When she tired of the bench press technique, Grace would do the same thing with her head, lifting us out of the water and letting us slide off to swirl around her in circles, like a big rubber duck in the bathtub with a ten-ton playmate.”

Links and previous related posts
Eyes of the Wild:Journeys of Transformation with the Animal Powers

1 comment:

petoskystone said...

Such a sweet exerpt :)