Road trip to Oregon August 2011. I'm thinking ahead to other places, other lives. Well, actually this life, but another chapter. There's that constant feeling that I might be missing something, that there's something else. Oregon might be fun to explore. So I loaded up the car, contacted my nephew, and made one hotel reservation (in Hood River, Oregon).
I love to drive, but my stamina for the concentration it takes to drive all day is getting lower. Not to worry, this is America, where motels are abundant, my credit card bill is paid up, and I can speak the language. First stop for the night was Arcata, CA, in Humboldt County, home to a State College and long known for pot production and dropping out into the forests of the Trinity Alps. It is a cute little town, with a town square surrounded by shops and restaurants, laid-back atmosphere. I stayed at a Motel 6, ate at a popular Mexican restaurant and strolled around the square.
As I drove back to the motel that night, I saw a lighted sign above the freeway warning that 50 miles ahead cars were stopped on Hwy 101. Highway 101 is the only route to Oregon at the coast, and its closure would mean that I'd have to travel inland through the mountains, an extra 3 hours of driving that would detour around miles of beautiful Oregon coastline. I asked at the motel desk about the closure, but they had no information. I called the California Highway Patrol but they had no information; as far as they knew the road was open.
So next morning I ventured north, trusting in the highway gods. Almost to the border, traffic suddenly did slow to a clawl. As I inched along, I saw cars parked on the shoulder and dirt and people walking along the road toward a bridge. It suddenly occurred to me that the highway was crossing the Klamath River, where a grey whale and her calf had wandered some weeks before. After about a week the calf had swum back to sea, but the mother whale had stayed behind. No one knew why, and there were fears that the fresh water would harm her skin, and that she wouldn't find enough to eat in the shallow delta.
I parked my car and walked out to the bridge. When I got to the middle, I could see her. Below me, a huge pale shape circling below, blowing air and water out of her spout, and seeming to be enjoying herself for the amusement of onlookers, or waiting, biding her time in the dark green of the Klamath. Mesmerized, I stayed and watched too. She had room to turn easily and to almost disappear into the water, but it was clear that an animal this size could not live in such a small amount of space. I was on the road because I needed more space. I knew that she was in distress ... I certainly would be, if I had wandered into such a restricted environment. There must have been scientists around to monitor, but I couldn't see anyone bothering her. The people watching were quiet, respectful, but also interested.
A tall young woman carrying one and trailing two or three children and a husband came to stand next to me on the bridge. We exchanged greetings and I asked if she knew anything about the whale. She lived nearby and had been to the bridge daily, she said, for two weeks. Authorities had been trying to chase the whale out into the sea by making noise up river, and by making whale sounds down river. But she was not expected to live much longer. I expressed my sorrow. The woman told me that the Hurok Indians, who lived along the riverbanks, had told her they find whale skeletons near the river frequently. It would seem that this might be a hospice for grey whales. Perhaps it was her time. She and her calf had come up river, mother had said good-bye to her baby, sending it back to sea, and she was waiting to die. This, then reminded me of the nature of things. I felt grateful that the Klamath opened into the sea, to allow what was there to find a peaceful place to rest.