Okay. It's a LITTLE Magical...
Saturday, November 13—4:43PM
Antarctica is a photo negative. The sea is slate grey. The mountains are white, with rare outcroppings of black. The sky (because it’s overcast today) is back-lit white with fluffy dark storm clouds scudding under the overcast day.
If you could figure out how to make your iPhone reverse all this monochromatic from white to black and vice versa (and I’m sure there’s a way; Eric could figure it out), it would be a photo of the Rocky Mountains.
Everything here is the wrong color, and it creates this bizarre, hostile, tranquil fairyland. Stu James once told me that he was colorblind and couldn’t see some colors unless he was looking at slides—so he’d be the only one eager to see someone’s vacation slides. And now they have those glasses that correct color-blindness and those videos always make me cry… Anyway, Antarctica is like my eyes have switched from cinematic technicolor to Ansel Adams black and white. It’s probably why that improbable blue is such a shock.
I’d gone back to the library in a down vest to watch the world go by when Lucho used the PA to announce that there were orcas off the bow. And there they were—appropriately monochromatic in black and white, easily and casually looping through the water. Three. No, four. No, maybe five or even six of them. I’ve had a yen for orcas since I wrote for the National Wildlife Federation, and seeing them in the flesh was a buzz. I was watching from the library, open-mouthed and grinning, when I saw a cluster of orange jackets looking in an entirely different direction.
What were they looking at? More orcas! And then MORE orcas!
All in, the naturalists estimate it was a pod of some 30 orcas, spread wide and communicating with sonar about where the fish were. And they were as fascinated by us as we were with them. Lots of people got photos of the orcas swimming under the bow.
I was drawn outside eventually, forced to bear a closer witness. The air was still but chilly—but it was worth it since hearing them exhale a breath is a great way to look around in time to see them curl through the surface. But so chilly… I gave up resisting the magic. Went back to my cabin. Pulled on all the damp foul weather gear and made it to the bow for the first time. (I’ve stood on the balcony over the bow before, but this was my first time leaning on the bow itself.)
I was clustered in with all the photographers, their foot-long lenses probing the chill air, and I was clutching my iPhone in its little leather case…but no one mocked me. And then someone—I suspect Tua, who has this Marine God vibe to him—gave a shout and we all turned in time to see humpback flukes disappearing into the water. So beautiful!
Although the orca pod wasn’t a whale-eating variety (the naturalists, using their strange occult powers, knew these were fish-eaters), several male orcas decided to harass the humpback. Young thugs tormenting the biology teacher when they caught him outside school, like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So the humpback decided to use the tools he had to force them to back down—which was the Nat Geo Explorer itself. To our gasping delight, the whale sounded next to the bow five or six times in a row, switching sides which made photographers seize with happiness and rush to the other side.
I was in the right place once, but my photos just looked like swirls of water. But I could see into the water and saw a huge white patch move under the ship. What the hell! I turned to Tua, who was refusing to run from side to side. Too godly and omniscient to chase a view. “Wait—was that the orca?” “Humpback.” “But I saw all this white.” “He rolled to look at us. That was his belly.”
Ooooh!! That is so fucking cool!
Eventually the cetaceans wandered off, so we did as well. I took a moment to observe a war of wills between a snowy shear-something and Adam the diver, who was working to help Photographer Tommy. Two pert and sassy birds landed on the bow to have a look at the nice floating platform, and Tommy was waiting patiently for them to take off, his huge phallic lens held rock steady in his hands. Adam attempted to encourage the bird to leave (“Ready, Tommy? You know which way it’s going to go?”), but the bird just kept hopping backwards a foot at a time along the rail, refusing to be scared off. Eventually Adam gave up; it was wonderful. The wind had picked up and I was cold so I left, and when I left, the snowy shear-whatevers were in control of the bow.
Which seems appropriate. A pure-white bird in a monochromatic landscape.