a fish tale

Not through any lack of seamanship had she become encased, imprisoned, in ice. Unpredicted by any of the computer models, a radical wind-shift, a sudden plunge in temperatures, unseen currents combined in a rapid ambush to quick-freeze ship and crew in an icy hell. Her hull was double steel, as sturdy as it is possible to make an Antarctic explorer, but the marine architect’s best materials are no match for the crushing power of moving ice. She would crumple like an aluminum can. The choice before them now – wait it out, yearning for rescue before the crush, or set out across mile after mile of horizontal glacier in the slight hope of reaching a weather station. Here, all is white – sun’s rays and eyebrows, ice sheets and ocean foam in the distance. 

Here, the legendary albino cachalot is rumored to dive 3,000 meters in search of its arch enemy, the colossal squid. Deep below the frozen surface, the monsters clash in mortal combat. For decades – legends say for centuries – one particular white whale wins battle after battle, scarred and bloodied, he breaches for air after nearly drowning in the squid’s grasp, the enemy’s 20-foot-long tentacles clinging to his mouth with suction cups that don’t know they are dead. He is said to have stowed ships of old, sending harpooners by the scores to Davey Jones’ Locker. Poseidon reincarnated, at war with humans, destroyers of the seas. Every piece of plastic, every drop of oil, every spewing pipe and deafening explosion angered him more, made him more determined to eradicate the horrid species.

Unaware of the beast’s presence below, the crew waits. Fuel exhausted, generators dead, no sign of rescue. Bundled against the 60, 70, 80-below zero temperatures where winds blow unobstructed for leagues, they set out. The ship was still in sight when they heard the metal crunch and watched her slump sideways on her frozen death bed. Day after day. Fatigue. Boredom. Too numb to be afraid, they trudge, march, led by sun, stars, and compass. Is there still a weather station ahead? How long? Weeks, at least. 

An engineer’s mate was the first to drop. The stupor lasted only minutes before his breathing ceased and his skin turned blue. Silently, they stripped the body of useful objects – ice axe, knife, socks. The scene repeated – one a day, two or three a day. The survivor party weakened, diminished. Those remaining starred at each other through vacant eyes. Now there were three – the captain, a seasoned salt as tough as iron; a strapping young deckhand, and the associate chief scientist who defied her femininity with a combination of keen intellect and dogged determination. Mile after mile, day after day, no structure in sight. Nothing but ice and sky. 

She heard the men plotting to kill and eat her body. From then on, she walked behind so she could see them. She slept with a hand gripping her hunting knife – half her brain awake at all times, like the behemoth who ruled the seas. But she was sound asleep as the sun glared sideways across the frozen surface and the hunters approached their prey, knives drawn, stepping lightly, softly, insane with hunger and cold.

A massive roar, exploding shards of ice the size of ships, salt water erupting high in the air as if bombed from above – the massive white sperm whale erupted like a volcano through the ice, breached high, and with its massive weight, crushed captain and deckhand just as they were raising their knives to kill her.

She screamed awake and sat dazed staring into the massive eye of the whale four feet in front of her. Although the monster was slashed with scars, several harpoons sticking from its hide, dorsal fin nicked and misshapen, its eye was soft, somehow gentle, and even seemed to carry empathy, care.

Trembling, she stood, gingerly walked to the beast, stroked his side, and with her knife carefully surgically removed the harpoons. It must have hurt the whale, but he did not flinch. It was as if he knew the surgeon cut only to heal. They looked at each other with mutual gratitude. They were one. 

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on March 14, 2023, in parables. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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