Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Metropolitans and Whales

I apologize for the slackening of substantive posts. The truth is I have been woefully commandeered by my (alleged) career as of late. And you know what Confucius said: "When the accounting gets rough, the creative juices stop flowing."

Anyway.

Two beautiful reads I want to recommend:

FROM SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: This first article is from a recent Sports Illustrated 'Where Are They Now'? edition. 1969 New York Mets. Sports journalism loves an improbable rise to victory but this one hits close to home for me. In 1969, this city desperately needed a reason to believe.

The Mets will always be (at least to me) an incomparable link between what baseball once was (from it's Polo Grounds nascence - with Rogers Hornsby on the coaching staff, for crying out loud!!) to what baseball became (the cookie cutter stadiums, the outsized contracts, the media insanity). But through this evolution came the '69 Mets - an improbable collection of rising stars lead by the long overlooked gem, Gil Hodges. Somehow, they'd defeated the Baltimore Oriole machine. Hodges own son questioned his father before the series on how he thought they could possibly beat the Orioles. Hodges replied, "Shhhh...I got twenty-five guys in that locker room who think they can can win..."

Just shows...ya gotta believe.

FROM NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: When I was a child I was obsessed with whales. I can give no tangible source of this obsession. Finback, humpback, blue, beluga, orca...these were distinctions I could catalog before I could master reading Dick and Jane books. I'd like to think that my whale fixations gave planet earth its first evidence that I possessed some form of usable, noteworthy intelligence.

Perhaps it was the whale's other-worldly majesty that captured my imagination. These times also saw a long overdue backlash against the whaling which victimized these gentle beasts for a century. Such an underdog struggle fighting the throws of commercialism certainly could have tapped into this Sisyphean gene I seem unable to shake. (We all could argue that such a gene has manifested itself in my devotion to the New York Mets).

I don't know. Whatever. Something clicked. And since those days of my youth, two things have happened: (1) whale populations have rebounded and (2) I did NOT become the ocean-trotting whale scientist-advocate which I suppose everyone predicted I'd become. Career-wise, it appears as though I've become one of those barnacles that clings to a whale's underbelly, hoping for the ingestion of stray parasitic handouts.

ANYWAY!

The Times Magazine section had a beautiful article about interactions between humans and gray whales in Baja. Apparently in a lagoon, a place where humans once hunted grays into near extinction, grays now engage humans in such a manner that indicates a shared intelligent curiosity. Other studies higlighted by this article reveal how whales exhibit heirarchical communications and complex emotions (such as grief), all of which lead to the unsettling realization that these beasts which our previous generations had ravaged unmercifully, demonstrate an emotional sensitivity whose closest earthly comparison is...us: humans, long their murderers. The following passage slayed me:

"A female humpback was spotted in December 2005 east of the Farallon Islands, just off the coast of San Francisco. She was entangled in a web of crab-trap lines, hundreds of yards of nylon rope that had become wrapped around her mouth, torso and tail, the weight of the traps causing her to struggle to stay afloat. A rescue team arrived within a few hours and decided that the only way to save her was to dive in and cut her loose.

For an hour they cut at the lines and rope with curved knives, all the while trying to steer clear of a tail they knew could kill them with one swipe. When the whale was finally freed, the divers said, she swam around them for a time in what appeared to be joyous circles. She then came back and visited with each one of them, nudging them all gently, as if in thanks. The divers said it was the most beautiful experience they ever had. As for the diver who cut free the rope that was entangled in the whale’s mouth, her huge eye was following him the entire time, and he said that he will never be the same. "

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