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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Big Blue, swimming with "yes"

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I thank you God for this most amazing day, 
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, 
and for the blue dream of sky 
and for everything which is natural, 
which is infinite, which is yes.

~ e. e. cummings


The last post was a bit of No.

When you’re a child, you want what you want, freely, if you’re lucky. But somehow, sometime you learn not to want everything that you want. Because someone says NO. Then, when you hear No often enough, after a while you start to say it yourself. Pretty soon it's your first response to a lot of things. You even say it before the question is asked, before the want is wanted. I hate to say it, but for some, it even becomes their favorite word.

There’s a woman whose life seems to be the answer Yes. (My favorite word.) Shelley Gill was at Don’s school last week, and he said she was the most inspiring assembly speaker he’s heard; the kids thought so too.

What Shelley always wanted was Alaska and a dog. When she turned 18 she moved from Florida to Alaska with $14. With her $14 she bought a husky dog. Years later she became one of the first women to compete in the 1,100 mile dog sled race, the Iditarod.

When Shelley Gill's daughter Kye was nine, she wanted: To swim with a Blue Whale. She knew all about them, because her mom had been working to protect them, driving a whale-research boat, hanging out with marine biologists. Though there were once at least 200,000 and maybe as many as 400,000 of them swimming in the waters of the world, by the 1960s blue whales were on the verge of extinction because of hunting practices. As you may know, the blue whale is the largest animal that has ever lived on earth. Bigger than dinosaurs. A blue whale’s heart is as big as a VW Beetle. She eats 4 to 8 tons of krill a day. A blue whale’s tongue weighs as much as an elephant.

National Geographic says:
Blue whales are baleen whales, which means they have fringed plates of fingernail-like material, called baleen, attached to their upper jaws. The giant animals feed by first gulping an enormous mouthful of water, expanding the pleated skin on their throat and belly to take it in. Then the whale's massive tongue forces the water out through the thin, overlapping baleen plates. Thousands of krill are left behind—and then swallowed.

Shelley Gill in Alaska


Did mother Shelley Gill say No to Kye, that no one could swim with such a creature? You might be sucked into that cavernous mouth like the little krill!

No. They traveled thousands of miles down the coast from Alaska to Baja, Mexico. They took a little boat quietly out on the Pacific, to a spot where blue whales range within one hundred yards of shore (the same place where 29,000 were hunted and killed in one winter season in 1932). But every time the boat approached, the blue whale would pull farther away. Finally the boatman said, “I think you’re just gonna have to jump out of the boat and into the water.”

They did. The boat left them in their snorkel gear treading water, and the blue whale slowly glided up to them. Blue mama nudged and hovered. Kye reached out and touched the skin near the whale's eye that's the size of her soccer ball. They gazed at each other, eyes to eye. "Time stops. This moment belongs to Big Blue and me. I twirl like a manta ray in her surge, dancing in the depths of her deep, blue sea." They played and swam a surreal ballet, a human girl and her mom with the largest animal that has ever lived, because the girl wanted to. That's the book Shelly Gill wrote about it at the top of the post: Big Blue.


Photograph by Flip Nicklin, National Geographic

 detail of Anne Barrow's illustration of Kye swimming with a blue whale

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I imagine that yes is the only living thing. 

~ e. e. cummings


Watch and listen to Sir David Attenborough talk about this magnificent creature, the blue whale, and find out how long she can stay under water without coming up for air.

Then fill your ears and heart with some fresh Yes from Richie Havens, who still knocks me out forty-one years after Woodstock with "Freedom" (my second favorite word), his improvisation on the Negro Spiritual "Motherless Child."





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66 comments:

Elisabeth said...

Inspirational Ruth, that blue whale and a mother's determination to say 'yes' rather than 'no'.

I stand in awe at all you represent here, Ruth, the women- mother and daughter, the whale and the music. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Elisabeth, to feel this inspiration from these women and the whale, for me, is an opening to myself, to what is possible. Thank you.

steven said...

ruth what a stunning, breathtaking and inspiring post! when i was very little i visited my mum who was working at the university of manchester in england at the time. she took me to see a building where a skeleton of a blue whale hung from the ceiling. you can imagine that for a boy accustomed to english robins, sparrows, cockroaches, mice and a border collie, that this was a life-changing event!! my mum has always stood by and behind me when i attempt something that in her own view is too big, or in the english vernacular "beyond my station". i'll be back to enjoy this post again at the end of the day. wow. steven

Ruth said...

Steven, I'm excited that you are inspired by these adventurers too! There is something profoundly beautiful contemplating a small girl, and a small boy, learning to explore their worlds, and a huge whale who plays and eats and sleeps all day. For us small creatures to find this from nature is just so joyful. I love that juxtaposition of "beyond my station" with possibility.

Louise Gallagher said...

Oh Ruth! What 'synchro-ni-zing' we have today!

My post, which I wrote last night, is a poem titled... Oh Freedom!

thank you for this powerful and poignant reminder about our power, as people, as human beings, as mother's and parents and caretakers of this planet called earth to say YES -- to life, to love, to dreams and to FREEDOM!

Thanks my friend for starting my day with such grace and song and inspiration.

California Girl said...

Admirable story; wish I were more like Ms. Gill. You're right about saying "Yes" to opportunity.

May I recommend "Wind on the Water" by Crosby Stills Nash? It's the most poignant, haunting song about the whales. I still cry when I hear it.

erin said...

thank YOU~

deep breath. big blue ocean of today.

xo
erin

blueoran said...

Yes, yes, and yes. Thank you for the resounding affirmation and a swim with the tallest bluest leading man of all of salt Hollywood. Whales are cathedrals. St. Brendan celebrated ever Easter on the back of a whale during the seven years in his immrama. The songs of whales under the deep blue are sonic sonograms of our deepest heart. And as T.S. Lawrence understood in "Whales Weep Not!," their essential vowel is Yes. What a great post. - Brendan

ellen abbott said...

what a great story. I try to say yes as often as I can. my husband though, the first word out of his mouth is 'no', without even thinking. it's a guy thing I think.

Maureen said...

What a magnificent experience that must have been for Shelley Gill's daughter. And how wonderful that the experience is in a book that will delight and inspire.

Some years ago I went on a whale watch off the Massachusetts coast. I have never forgotten how filled with emotion I was when a pod swam close alongside the boat, porpoise accompanying. To see these creatures in their habitat is to understand just how extraordinary our world is.

Thank you for a wonderful post, Ruth.

Margaret said...

If this video fills me with such awe, what would actually being there be like? Really, this leaves me with such desire for a world filled with beauty and truth. Such gentle creatures... I loved the cello in the "Freedom" clip... (my 3 year old LOVED it... his reaction was so fun to watch!)

ournextchapters.com said...

OH what a great post. Funny thing my teen just posted yesterday.. "A teen wants what a teen wants."

Kids...

but I love this post, b/c yes, sometimes we kid so bombarded with the word "no" that we become pessimistic.

julie king said...

what an awe-inspiring story, ruth. as a single mother i tried to teach my two children that they could do anything. what i love about shelley gill is that she took action on that belief.

Friko said...

The whole post is a song, a life-affirming song.
Thank you for letting me share it.

(Sorry to be a pedant, it's David not Richard A. Richard is a film maker, David is the naturalist, a 'national treasure, much loved in the UK)

Terresa said...

Forget the whales, the ee cummings quote, ah!!!!!!!!

Grandmother said...

"To all the has been - thanks. To all that will be - yes"! I'm grateful for your post and the reminder to live the yes. The whale video was awe inspiring; the Richie Havens song, fabulous.

Barb said...

Yes and freedom seem so interconnected - I thought of my Grandchildren as I read your post, Ruth. I hope they'll dream big, seek yes, and move forward in freedom.

cathyswatercolors said...

Hi Ruth, Great post. Ms. Gill is something, following her dreams with just 14 dollars. The power of YES... No? I need some yes in my life. I need some inspiration,your post certainly helped,now to find the energy,after working all day! xoxo cb Peace

Shari Sunday said...

Beautiful, wonderful, inspiring post. Such a huge dose of optimism and pride after so much trouble and worry in the world. We just need a little reminder sometimes of the wonders of this world. Thank you, Ruth.

Vagabonde said...

I learnt a lot reading your post on whales – such big and magnificent creatures. What a lovely tale about both mother and daughter – it is nice to have a passion for something then follow it through to its accomplishment. It is an inspiring tale.

As for Richie Havens he has been a favorite of mine for a long time. I enjoyed watching the French video and realized that he had grown older just like the rest of us. I saw him live at the 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival where he sang several songs on his guitar, all alone as I recall, then I went and bought his LP record. I have several of his records and needs to get the CDs instead as I can’t play records in my car. Actually come to think of it, those 1960s records may be considered “antiques” ?

Patricia said...

You made a difficult day end on a high note, Ruth! Thanks for this post about the whale encounter. I love that the mother empowered her daughter by entrusting her to the care of the whale. This is such a respectful story about interacting with wildlife.

Thank you also for coming by. I am glad that you will root for VCU. Either Butler or VCU wins this round for the good of college athletics. In its way, it is sort of like the small humans going up against the giants (NCAA, ESPN, et al) but these are not such benevolent behemoths.

Loring Wirbel said...

Wow, the old "getting to yes," with both Iditarod and blue whales. What a story! Not hearing much of that sort of yes these days.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes - I'm glad you said yesterday's post was only a 'bit' of 'no'. For you have the poem, after all.

I'm seeing the two posts together as a no-yes balance or continuum. Both necessary, both working magnetically alongside.

Me said...

e.e.cummings & Richie Havens.
Excellent. TDA-The Dude Abides.
Bravo good post.

Ruth said...

Louise, thank you for connecting with me here yesterday, and all days. Your poem is haunting with its questions, things I ask myself a lot.

Something came alive and leapt out of the sea inside me when Don told me this story after school one day last week. Thank you for the link, Louise and for your thoughtful poem.

Ruth said...

Thank you, California Girl. I'm listening now. It's a beautiful song about a tragically ludicrous story of supply and demand.

Ruth said...

Erin, an open sea-sky.

Ruth said...

Brendan, thank you again here for the tremendous gift of the Lawrence poem, which I had not read. I see (from Robert at Solitary Walker too) that I must read more Lawrence poems. This one really blew me away. Then I read the baby tortoise one, such an armored delight.

Ruth said...

Hi, Ellen. Hmm, I wonder. I know some guys who are just contrary. If you're negative, they're positive, and vice versa. Some women too. And I know some women who live in No. Thanks for your visit.

Ruth said...

Maureen, I can picture it, especially having seen Attenborough on the boat in utter jubilation. I mean, I get excited if I just see a small fish in the water!

Ruth said...

Margaret, maybe you have another budding musician in the family, like Lorenzo's wee Isabel at that age (who now plays cello). I wonder if all your six children are musical?

Ruth said...

HisBell, and now I wonder what your teen wants.

Ruth said...

Julie, an artist as beautiful as you, bestowing freedom on your children . . . the world receives new swimmers in the vast ocean of beauty.

Ruth said...

Friko, thank you for listening, and for tweaking the song with your much appreciated help about David, not Richard.

Ruth said...

Terresa, there are two, above and below. I love them both.

Margaret said...

Ruth... every child is musical except for ME. (but I want to be musical...does that count?) Actually, Spencer was excited about the whale - I reread my post and I see my sentence was misleading... BUT he does love bass and guitar and I have the smallest child-size cello - It's a little bigger than a guitar (made in Germany) and it has the best sound. I want my youngest daughter to take lessons on it and then Spencer in a few years! (I'm homeschooling my two younget daughters next year through 8th grade (that's the plan...) The video of Will singing the Flogging Molly song ... Spencer ran and got his toy guitar and was "playing" it in the background. LOL

BTW, Will got accepted to Univerisy of North Carolina School of the Arts!!!

Ginnie said...

And I thought the Orcas were exciting! I can just imagine the thrill of watching a whale like this, Ruth. I have seen a gray whale breach in the distance but when I saw the tail of this blue whale rise and fall in the video, I almost stopped breathing. And to think it only eats those tiny krill! No wonder Kye wasn't afraid to swim with one. There's gotta be a huge sermon there somewhere, don't you think. :)

Babs-beetle said...

Wow! I hadn't realised the blue whale was quite that large! What a beautiful creature!

I love Richie Havens 'Freedom'

Ruth said...

Mary, that's a beautiful motto!

Ruth said...

Thanks, Barb, I pray that this generation will wield Yes.

Ruth said...

Cathy, me too. Energy and peace to you, for what is most needful.

Ruth said...

Shari, it's all around us, always. the pain and the joy. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, I was thrilled to see Richie Havens looking and singing as vibrantly and youthfully, agelessly, as ever.

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

I will have to get Big Blue after reading your beautiful descriptive introduction. Such a moving affirmation of parental love, of freedom and imagination. A mother as protector and nurturer of childhood dreams and fantasies, instead of their douser.

I remember going on a whale watching boat trip off of Cape Cod a few years back, with María, my daughters and my parents. Their seeming gentleness, closeness and movements that can only be likened in my mind to 'playfulness" inspired such feelings of improbable tenderness for those great creatures. But nothing could prepare me for the surprise and thrill that awaited us when one of the whales suddenly breached out of the water, its entire body seeming to hover in the air gracefully, before splashing back down. It will forever stand as an unforgettable moment in my life, akin to another type of breeching, the birth of something mighty and ... free. Yes, freedom. The last thing I expected at the end of this post, was to find Richie Havens at Woodstock. It came as just the same kind of jolting surprise as that airborne whale, the same kind of unexpected delight, and instantly made so much sense. Yes, freedom. Yes.

Evelyn said...

Amazing piece, as always.
Have you heard Richie cover Tupelo Honey/ Just Like a Woman?
oh man, he is talented. Sings right to my heart. His voice is an inspiration.

Amy @ Soul Dipper said...

Thank you for further spreading an understanding and full appreciation for another living being.

Another step towards acknowledging connectivity.

Dan Gurney said...

Yes, Oui, Si! Hai, Da!

What if school children were required to learn "YES" in 200 languages? I think I'll add that to my kindergarten curriculum, well not 200, but why not 20?

Whales and Sequoia both stun us with their largeness. I am equally stunned, though (I will say) with smallness and also in betweenness. The Attenborough video clip was great. I really enjoyed it and your whole post on these most magnificent creatures. 1932... a tough year for whales and redwoods alike!

ds said...

YES! Whales make me so happy--the blue is beautiful.(I've seen humpbacks frolicking; they are a marvelous sight too, if less rare.) What a wonderful mother, to give her daughter that gift.
Struck by Attenborough's comment that the whale's ancestors were "deer-like." Thought of your Doe...
And Richie Havens? :D Clapped right along with Sean Penn, I did.

Robyn said...

Yes... magnificent inspiring post!

thank you
I'll return to enjoy more.

Ruth said...

Patricia, now I am even happier to root for VCU, picturing them dancing with the "big whale" of either Kentucky or North Carolina! :D

Ruth said...

Loring, we need more Yes. Sometimes we have to change the channel.

Ruth said...

Robert, that is just as I see the two posts too, thank you for that. The way of No can be a gentle Yes in a way, for we are saying Yes to something after all. That kind of No, with a Yes to restoration is important. Maybe it's very like life and death: Yes and No are both ever present.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Me. Happy anniversary, and bravo to you for the love.

Ruth said...

Margaret! Ah, such celebration, I feel it! You brought these children into the world and foster all their artistic outpourings. Your support of Will has been just phenomenal, and well he is such a bundle of ability. I always feel that there is far, far more capacity in our kids (in all of us) than we ever begin to release and cultivate. But if we can just open the windows and doors, feed them well with inspiration as well as food, hopefully they will find at least some of it.

These days of YouTube that allow your little one to see a giant creature playing! Oh it is rich and wonderful.

It's absolutely fantastic that Will was accepted to UNC's School of the Arts! I guess we know who ya'll will be rooting for in the Final Four?

Ruth said...

Boots, the wonders you have seen. It must have been thrilling to see that whale breaching. I wonder what you will see cruising around Norway of the wild sort. How I envy you, leaving today! Bon voyage!, my dear.

Ruth said...

Hi, Babs! Quite huge, yes, though not all blue whales get as large. You can see the one in the black & white postcard is not as big as the one Sir David walks inside.

Richie Havens sang for 2 1/2 hours at Woodstock. He was the opener, with four songs. Then they kept asking him to sing another four, and another. I think that happened four times. Imagine! It's the most memorable performance from the movie for me.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, I feel a little sheepish because I have not even seen the book. There is a copy at Don's school, but of course it was checked out after Shelley's visit. It was not available in my local bookstore either. So I plan to order it from Amazon myself. I'm a bit afraid to read it and see how much I could have added to the post had I read it first. But I'll overcome that, looking forward to getting "immersed" in the story.

What a beautiful and thrilling memory of watching the whales with your family. I absolutely love watching whales, dolphins, porpoises and other such creatures in their play (on film only so far), for their movements in water make me feel there is no reason for such speed and frolic, other than pleasure. Watching them out at sea I might want to jump on one of their backs!

By the way, do you suppose a blue whale's tongue that is the size of an elephant is blue like you?

Ruth said...

Evelyn, thank you so much. I tried to find a recording of Tupelo Honey or Just Like a Woman, but I didn't succeed. I do love his voice and performance.

Ruth said...

Amy, thank you for carrying it farther.

Ruth said...

Dan, I'm inspired by both your ideas: teaching kids to say Yes in 20 or 200 languages, and being equally stunned by the small. I couldn't agree more.

And you are such a champion of trees. I walked through the redwood forest of northern California with my son Peter on my back; it was tremendous. The huge and the small and growing!

Ruth said...

ds, I am so glad you found a happy spot here, my friend. And Yes, I was struck too by that deer reference of Attenborough's!

Ruth said...

Robyn, thanks so much, I'm glad you felt inspired by this story too, and these artists.

Susan said...

"Yes" opens a lot more doors to opportunity and adventure. I wish I had had the mentality and the means to have said more of that word at the right times when it would have made a difference in my children's lives.

Just a beautiful story first told by Ms. Gill and related to us by another wonderful story weaver. :)

Stratoz said...

amazing post, will have to come back to check out the videos. Thanks for sharing this story.

Pauline said...

YES!

deb colarossi said...

wow.

I hope I say yes enough... it's hard.
( especially when there are financial repercussions :) )
I am nothing like this mother, this woman, and yet I understand. I wish I could say yes to myself more, that part really struck me..
I registered for a half marathon last week? That's something.
And I picked a date to go to see my mother. It's a huge yes for me Ruth. It feels much harder than living out a dream... And yet it will be an example to my children as much as anything.

We went whale watching off Cape Cod once, it was spectacular. And saw one of the last orca shows at Stanley Park in Vancouver . There is so much about life that is almost unbelievable... this is part of the yes/no mystery, faith, love...

ah. ...

I was thinking of you the other day when I was searching for google images of Boblo Island. I worked there for three or four seasons and wondered if by chance our paths had crossed?