Sunday, August 30, 2009

Whale Waiting in St. Louis

In the dream, I was in eastern California, trying to get to Yosemite National Park -- eager to get there, determined to get there, demanding to get there. One problem: I was on a boat.

That dream occurred before I agreed to update the condo, so I hope that now my mode of transportation, metaphorically speaking, is more appropriate.

Under most circumstances, it doesn't get any better than being on a boat. For 27 years, I've sat in small boats next to large whales. I've watched whales off both U.S. coasts, in Trinity Bay off Newfoundland, off Vancouver Island in British Columbia, in Patagonian waters off Argentina and in Baja California, Mexico.

Before you can do any whale watching, you have to put in some time waiting for the whales to appear. I know that from experience, plus I've written books and numerous newspaper and magazine articles about whales, whale watching and whale waiting. And so I wait, all the while wanting to move to San Francisco and live close to my really big friends.

The first time I visited my son in The City, we stopped at Ocean Beach, near the famous Cliff House restaurant. I looked across the street and saw houses, the homes of people who can get up every morning, cross the road and greet the Pacific Ocean. "What is this neighborhood?" I asked. "I want to live here."

The neighborhood is the Outer Sunset, where sand collects in driveways and you fall asleep to the sound of real ocean waves, not synthetic ones on a pathetic white noise machine. The weather, say those who live in San Francisco, is not ideal. Even Wikipedia agrees:

"The Sunset (particularly the outer Sunset) can be foggy for many consecutive days during summer. The Sunset's finest weather is usually from mid September through October, when regional air patterns transition from onshore to offshore weather and the area is free of fog."

That six weeks of beautiful weather is bestowed on all of The City, and oh, how I would hate to miss it this year, no matter where I end up living.

I will not be living in Yosemite National Park -- I don't think that is allowed -- but I do want to acknowledge its magnificence. Writing for The Century Magazine in 1890, John Muir had this to say about Yosemite Valley:

“The walls of the valley are made up of rocks, mountains in size, partly separated from each other by side caƱons and gorges; and they are so sheer in front, and so compactly and harmoniously built together on a level floor, that the place, comprehensively seen, looks like some immense hall or temple lighted from above. But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.

“Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life. Some lean back in majestic repose; others, absolutely sheer or nearly so for thousands of feet, advance beyond their companions in thoughtful attitudes giving welcome to storms and calms alike, seemingly conscious, yet heedless of everything going on about them.”

I first went to Yosemite to meet a waterfall, as research for my book "The Extreme Earth: Waterfalls" (Chelsea House 2007). Said to be the highest free-falling waterfall in North America and the fifth tallest in the world, Yosemite Falls plunges 2,425 feet into Yosemite Valley.

I was entranced with that waterfall and by several others in the park. I also was captivated by the granite -- the texture, the sheen, the striations. Twelve different types of granite have been identified in Yosemite National Park, and one large boulder abandoned by a glacier in the Merced River is another type altogether. The story of the formation of the valley is amazing, too, a tale of how El Capitan and Half Dome were formed in the course of the assault by massive rivers of ice that carved the valley.

About 20 minutes out from the San Francisco Airport, American Airlines flies right over Yosemite Valley, and if you are paying attention, you can wave to Half Dome, to El Capitan and to Bridalveil Fall.

But before I fly to San Francisco again, before I sweep sand from my driveway, before I race across a road to hear the ocean roar, taste salt on my tongue and revel in my natural element, I have to wait.

(To see a short video of some of my whale watch photos, go to

1 comment:

  1. I just cannot wait for you to come out here! This is truly an amazing city...I don't think you will regret your decision to move.