On a wilderness shore sits the remains of a whaling station which operated in the early 1900’s. Our group landed at Rose Harbour in the Zodiac and explored the beach, including intertidal life. Perched above us were two rusting boilers, huge sentries of the whaling industry. I got to poke my head inside and imagine the carcasses dropped into the top hole, the oil that was saved at the side, and the bones which filled the floor.
I thought of the whales, fifty feet and more, who gave their lives to feed man’s desire for lamps and soap. And I was sad. But I also thought about the families on Haida Gwaii who depended on these animals for their livelihood. Scratching out an existence so far from civilization must have been a monumental task. So little in life seems to be black and white.
I saw the ancient ramp that served as the resting place for these beings, and the spot where their flesh was carved up in preparation for the boilers. And I felt back in time … to the whales and human beings of a century ago.
Later that same day, Captain Greg told us about a whale who had died last October. It was washed up on a beach and was decomposing there. Did we want to go? There would be a horrible stink to the place … We all wanted to be there.
As we came ashore and walked towards the big brown shape, the wind at our backs meant the experience was just visual … so far. But then we were ten feet away and I’ll never forget the smell. Part of me wanted to run away but the bigger part wanted to be in the presence of death.
My late friend was probably eighty feet long. Its flesh was falling off its bones and puddling in the hollows. Huge vertebrae were bleaching in the sun. And we were transfixed. I moved closer. I could have reached out and touched him or her. It was a communion.
Some of us talked. Many of us didn’t. There was really nothing to say in the presence of such grandeur and sadness.
Hundreds of whales near Haida Gwaii remain free, lifting their tails high as they feed on herring. May it ever be so. And may we humans continue to receive the nourishment we need.