Wednesday night, my subconscious planted me in a parallel universe version of the San Juan Islands, Washington State. The green hills around me were made greener by the greyness of the sky. Lumped about like mossy turtle backs, the hills were imprints of every story book American northwestern frontier – yet slightly more exotic, tropical, foreign, the sort of Eden whose splendor is equalized by malignancy and Malaria.
The water pooling between island shores formed rippling arrows motioning us toward deeper wilderness. For a split moment, I recalled Heart of Darkness and wondered if this is really where I ought to be.
Old, western shanty towns littered water fronts with their two story saloons offering sweating glasses of tonic to gritty gold miners and oil prospectors. The wood plank walls were gray and splintered, still strong but brittle as my grandmother’s dry white hair.
I was on a floating dock filled with people, revelers and tourists like myself. Our platform was attached by hinges to an old failing but once stately mansion with balconies fenced behind wood-turned railings. My neighbors were a mix of nineteenth century prostitutes, tattooed college kids, and vintage 1980’s golfers wearing madras and Ray-Bans. I was wearing Keds, but the man next to me was wearing dark brown Docksiders with bright white soles. We were motley strangers, but we were here together.
I was the first to spot it, a large slick back breaking the water’s surface. My heart beat quickened. I’d found my pinnacle moment and I wanted to share the excitement. “Look!,” I pointed. “It’s a whale. It’s really a whale!”
“We don’t have whales here,” someone said.
“No, there! Just watch.”
A sculpted, dark tail flattened against the white void above the horizon.
The long, broad body grew more visible beneath its lucid home. I crawled fast through the crowd to get closer. The whale was larger than the dock and heading straight for us, lonely like I was and trying to make contact with anyone. “What kind of whale is that?,” someone asked me.
“I don’t know. Something of a cross between a Humpback and a Whale Shark,” I said like I knew. It’s back was broad, slate blue with white leopard spots. Its sides bore barnacles and it’s eye was a tiny black bead, similar to those on a stuffed animal, only this one was surrounded by scratches from boat propellers and age.
The whale dove and disappeared into the deep below us. We felt a slight bump and heard hinges snap, wood crack, and the far end of the dock began climbing upward, pointing toward the mansion’s rooftop gutters. The dock was now a sand papery slide, and our bodies began to slip rapidly toward the water until the airborne stern crashed fast back onto the surface. We were drenched with spray as though we had completed the log flume ride at Silver Dollar City.
I didn’t care if I rolled right into the frigid bay as long as I’d had a chance to see that whale. Maybe it would let me ride its back for a while like that girl in Whale Rider. But this didn’t happen. I stayed firmly attached to the solid wood planks beneath me. I watched the whale rise and fall once more as it left us there untethered. Most everyone wanted to kill that whale. It endangered us, broke us away from our familiar world and now we didn’t know where we were heading. But I loved the whale and was grateful it chose an encounter with us.
Now we were floating fast into the current like a canoe. We were coming up on a dark bend as the islands seemed to grow closer and the space between them increasingly compacted. Someone behind me ordered, “Everybody, row! Row! Row! Row!” And we did as though nothing was strange, as though nothing had ever happened.
Any good writing instructor will say that writing about dream sequences is SO over done. Unfortunately, I often find my subconscious far more fascinating than my conscious self. Do you ever dream about marine mammals too? Feel free to share your subconscious aquatic encounters & interpretations in the comments section here.