Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Pod of Pilot Whales and Other Inspirations

I find myself captured by the report of the pod of pilot whales stranded on the Gulf side of Everglades National Park (one story is here; quotes are from the story).  Part of the difficulty in rescuing them lies in this trait:  "This particular whale species is also known for its close-knit social groups, meaning if one whale gets stuck or stays behind, the others are likely to stay behind or even beach themselves as well."

And, as you can imagine, there are difficulties in herding whales:  "The whales are stranded in a remote area near Highland Beach, the western boundary of Everglades National Park and about 20 miles east of where they normally live. It takes more than an hour to reach the spot from the nearest boat ramp and there is no cellphone service, complicating rescue efforts."

And even if the whales allowed themselves to be herded, they face obstacles:  "The short-finned pilot whales typically live in very deep water. Even if rescuers were able to begin nudging the 41 remaining whales out to sea, Mase said they would encounter a series of sandbars and patches of shallow water along the way."

I see so many possibilities for writing prompts (full confession:  I've already written 1 poem inspired by these events).  There's the poetic rhythm:  pod of pilot whales.  And that name:  they're pilot whales, but they're unable to steer themselves to safety.

I love a species that has "strong kinship bonds," as an NPR story phrases it.  If I needed to create a writing prompt, I'd bring a news story about the pilot whales to my students.  I'd talk about the scientists who explain the pilot whales to us, and I'd wonder how scientists might see our human species if they had to explain us to an audience who didn't know us well.  Do we have strong kinship bonds?  What are our traits that would make no sense to outsiders?  I envision fun sci-fi possibilities, in addition to standard compare-contrast ideas.

The whales have become stranded at the beginning of Art Basel Miami, another news event which has seized my attention.  I find myself thinking about a pod of whales making their way to Miami but getting stranded on the wrong beach.  I think about the differences in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale coast and the southwestern side of the peninsula.

I have artist friends who will spend this week-end at this festival.  Before we moved here, I'd have sworn that I would be one of those artists.  But I find myself unwilling to brave the crowds, the traffic, the parking.  I'd rather stay home and enjoy a nighttime walk through the Christmas lights of my new neighborhood.

Am I a wise pod member or a pathetic pod member?  There are so many siren calls--what will nourish me most?

I'd rather wait until the crowds leave.  Art Basel Miami can be more like a drunken Mardi Gras than an inspiration.  I'd rather explore the new Perez Art Museum next week.  And then I want to come home and make some art of my own.

And in the meantime, I'll write another poem about the whales.  It's not what I expected when I sat down to write.  I had a vision for a poem that combined apocalyptic visions of a woman who still bakes bread although no one can pay for it combined with my friend's Hindu story about rings that expose our true love, rings found in the belly of a fish.

I'll save that inspiration for another day.

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