The porpoises charged all the way across Whale Channel to meet us and play with the kids. It was an amazing moment. Two guys had cameras, both scrambling to capture the action, snapping away. Above is the beautiful image taken by my good friend–and pro photographer–Steve Perih. It graced the cover of this year’s Patagonia kid’s catalog, hangs on my wall, and I’ve posted it here before.
Below is my shot, taken at the exact same time and place, under the same circumstances. Explains a lot, don’t you think? Like why I better stick to words.
There are moments in everyone’s lives that you just want to hang onto forever. This is one of mine. To have a photograph of it is, to me, incredibly lucky. To have one this beautiful, takes more than luck, though; it takes a great photographer. This image, shot by our good friend, Steve Perih (who also shot the new cover of Closer to the Ground–check out more of his work HERE), currently graces the cover of the 2015 Patagonia kids catalog. But the experience was even sweeter than the photo.
The kids and I were in the islands of northern British Columbia with Steve and two of my conservation heroes, mentors, and good friends, Bruce Hill and Gerald Amos. These three guys are among the handful of people who’ve had such an impact on my life, it’s important to me that my kids spend time with them as well.
After days of heavy weather, the wind fell out and Whale Channel magically turned to glass. A pod of Dall’s porpoises spotted–or heard–us, and we watched them come all the way across the channel to greet us. They twirled, leapt and swooped around the bow of the boat, as they often do, and we were all delighted to watch.
After awhile, the kids walked down the port side of the boat, and the porpoises moved to follow them. When the kids went to the other side of the boat, the porpoises surfaced to starboard, often swimming on their sides to look directly into the kids’ faces. I try not to anthropomorphize, but this was clearly some kind of communication, or at least recognition of something.
Several days later, we steamed back into Whale Channel, this time going in the opposite direction. And the same three porpoises raced across the channel, ducking back and forth under the boat until they spotted the kids. Then, as before, they held pace just a couple of arm-lengths from wherever the kids moved. I don’t know what, if anything, it meant, but it was a moment that feels, even now, somehow important.
It wasn’t all about the fishing, either. In fact, as fantastic as the fishing was, it was really just a small part of the whole experience. There were trips ashore to explore pristine beaches and pick berries in places without any visible evidence of human beings. A visit to the whale research station, where we listened to humpback whales talking through hydrophones. Huge, memorable meals made from the day’s harvest and the long stretches of time when we could just sit and read and talk as the scenery unspooled around us.
One afternoon, as we cruised along at our usual seven knot speed, a small pod of Dall’s porpoises spotted (or heard) us and came all the way across the channel to investigate. As the kids leaned over the bow to watch them leap and spin and weave back and forth, the porpoises would slow to match our speed, then swim on their sides to peer up and make eye contact. I’m not kidding. As strange as it sounds, there were moments of, maybe not exactly communication, but clearly some kind of real contact taking place.
Skyla and I spent a great afternoon snorkeling an inlet where a small river met the sea, and pink and sockeye salmon were stacking up before moving upstream. The fresh and salt water, both crystal clear, somehow stayed separate, swirling around like oil and water, creating an ethereal, dreamy view of the underwater world.
But most important, I think, is that the kids and I had time to simply hang out and share the experience. We made memories–images, stories and feelings that will last a lifetime. And it was important to me, also, for Skyla and Weston to soak up the wisdom of my good friends and mentors–Bruce, Gerald and Steve–who’ve had such an impact on my life. I doubt any of us will forget sitting on the back of the boat in pitch black night, with a spooky fog rising from the water, as Gerald told bigfoot stories that had the kids (and me) literally on the edge of our seats. That’s something we’ll remember for a long, long time.