In the early 1980s, the Big Guy was on a whale-watching boat off Boston. As a whale was sighted, the cry from the crew went up.

Whale to starboard!

All those paying to see whales rushed to starboard. Well, those who knew which side was starboard rushed there, getting the best positions right on the rail, as it were, and the others followed the cognoscenti.

But whales swim around, whale-watching boats bob around, and in a matter of minutes the sneaky cetacean had disappeared from the starboard view and surfaced elsewhere.

Whale to port!

And all the whale watchers rushed to the other side. (Of course, if everyone had just stayed where they were at the outset, the viewing opportunity would likely have come to them. Whales swim around; whale-watching boats bob around . . . )

As the passengers moved from side to side, the boat listed with their combined weight: noticeably, if not quite alarmingly. For those inclined to be nervous about such matters, the question had to arise: Would this be the time that they tipped the boat?


In our house, it’s become shorthand for ephemeral, albeit often impassioned, enthusiasms.

I think of my personal enthusiasm spurts: exercise, diet, housecleaning, and time management regimens. I think of our societal enthusiasm spurts — seasonal flooding on reserves, year-over-year boil-water advisories on reserves, refugees, domestic violence, and icky conditions in our food chain. I think of how easy it is to run from rail to rail; how hard to set and maintain a course. On anything. I mean, does anyone even remember the Congo? Haiti?

Starboard! Port! Repeat!

As my little boat rocks from side to side, as the ship of state lists erratically, I hold my breath just for a moment. Will this be the time that the whole thing tips? Almost certainly not. But I do wonder how much forward momentum is lost in the wallowing. I just don’t wonder for very long . . .


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6 Responses to Whale!

  1. Tom Watson says:

    This reminds me of the time, many years ago, when two grandchildren were coming from Manitoba to spend a week or so at our summer trailer on Horseshoe Lake, near Parry Sound. Before they came they asked what we would do while they were there. I sent a list and included on the list “watching for whales.” After they were there a day or so, one of them asked where we went to do whale-watching. I clarified: “We’re not going whale-watching, we’re going watching for whales.” They asked, “Where?” I said, “Out on our lake.” They followed up, “Are there whales out there?” I said, “No, but it doesn’t stop us from watching for them!”

    Those two are 30 and 28 years old now, but they still chuckle about going watching for whales with Grandpa.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Yes, it’s always good to introduce children to precision of expression early on . . .

  2. Reminds me of the time the Prince and Princess of Wales visited Vancouver.
    A friend was in attendance and as they came into view, a little boy in the front row said, quite disgustedly, “They don’t look a BIT like whales!”

    Expectations can often turn into expletives. Surely there is a sermon in this: rather like the Tea Party congress in the USA — they voted in all those nutters and they still haven’t gotten rid of government “interference” — damn that pesky roadway infrastructure and health care, etc.

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    In real life, of course, that’s exactly what happened off Tofino. Everyone rushed to one side just as a big wave came up on the other side. Freak of fate, or freaky coincidence — the same effect.
    You treat whale watching much as I pendulums (pendula?). I wonder how far they can swing before they reverse their arc. So far, the idiot wing in U.S. politics seems to suggest that the pendulum can continue to swing farther and farther….
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Further to your own piece today, there is some risk in giving exposure to extreme points of view: it can lead people to think that there are many who think as they do, validating their ideas. I’m hoping that the Republicans find their way through this quickly. Every political system needs a healthy exchange of ideas; every political doctrine is better for having to respond to thoughtful challenge. In my view, the USA would not be well served by a scenario in which only the Democrats were a decent option. No matter how a one-party state arises, it’s not a good thing.

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