AK Reader: A Whale of a Story (1988)

This essay was first published in the astrology magazine, Welcome to Planet Earth, as one of my Saturn/Uranus in Sagittarius series. I look back on it now appalled: never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the human race would go on to pollute the entire Pacific Ocean with radioactivity from Fukushima. 

This essay also reminds me that Reagan and Gorbachev had just achieved the impossible; their historic agreement to end the Cold War set the human race on a new, peaceful foundation. Or it could have. Furthermore, shortly after their remarkable raprochement, the Berlin Wall suddenly fell. What a miracle! Surely, East and West would now unite to form one harmonious world! But no. The Project for a New American Century ramped up in the 1990s, and the term “hyperpower” was invented to describe the swaggering U.S. attitude. How many nations have we been at war with since then? Not until Donald Trump took office did this nation remember what Reagan began to accomplish by assuming the possibility of a more peaceful attitude towards Russia. Furthermore, have you noticed? No new wars have been started either. Truly, Reagan and Trump do feel aligned, especially when I remember that Reagan, too, ramped up military spending for his Star Wars initiative prior to meeting with Gorbachev. Indeed, they share the motto: “Peace through Strength.”

But then what about Trump’s view of the natural world? This kind of story, that speaks of interspecies cooperation, feels to me like it’s down the road, if ever, given his businessman’s world-view, which doesn’t seem to include animals as treasured beings within the biosphere. I mean, Trump doesn’t even own a dog!

Meanwhile, this story still speaks to us. As do all stories where we are called upon to rise to the occasion and help a fellow creature in need. 

Saturn/Uranus: A WHALE OF A STORY (1988)

Thursday, October 27, 1988. Barrow, Alaska (AP): “Superpower saviors opened a path to the sea and freed two trapped whales Wednesday, as Soviet ice-breakers bashed through an ice ridge and Americans hacked ice holes toward the Russians.”

As usual, the whole world watched as this dramatic “human interest” story, pulling on our heart strings, unfolded. Would the whales be freed in time, or would the unprecedented international effort come to naught?

“Human interest” stories are considered “soft,” i.e., not as important as “hard” factual stories. But they do sell the product. So, as much as most reporters would rather cover something important, they are sometimes assigned to such stories, and token slots are created to give them room.

Once in a while, one of these “human interest” stories grabs us so profoundly that it becomes front page news. Last year we were riveted to the tube night after night as rescuers attempted to free little Jessica from the underground shaft. We rejoiced at their success, and looked closely at the pictures of the child, her head and limbs wrapped in bandages, when she emerged, cradled in the arms of her rescuer. Was she okay? Would the long days and nights spent in the dark tunnel damage her psyche?

This year it is the whale story. Coming on the heels of some “hard” news too: pilot whales washing up on Cape Cod shores, dolphins subject to some kind of immune-deficiency disease; fully one half of the seal population of the Baltic Sea sacrificed to industrial waste . . . Yes, a soft story about the plight of some sea creatures is entirely in keeping with the message our oceans are sending us, S.O.S., now.

The compassionate side of us is activated. Our collective heart opens wide, radiating out to touch these large, dignified mammals. We feel their panic, their irregular heartbeat, as they surface, time after time, noses cut to the bone in continual futile attempts to break up jagged icy prison walls. Daily pictures show one of the whales, its battered nose up above the water, facing — seeming to be in some kind of silent communion with — whichever Eskimo or whale expert is standing there this time, leaning in the whale’s direction.

The story hits the front pages. Media flock to Barrow, an isolated Eskimo village at the top of the world, 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. We hear of Eskimos cutting holes in the ice with chain saws “and their strong backs”; we hear of an American ice breaking barge trying to reach the area — and foundering. The effort, great as it is, looks futile. The nearest open water, we are told, is 200 miles away. Even our great expertise and massive technology seem impotent in the face of this emergency. Should all else fail, we are told, nets are being built right now to airlift the whales out of danger.

The whale story has magnified to become an “international incident” of the third kind. Whales are as foreign to us in their consciousness as aliens, and yet an interspecies bonding, however temporary and fragile, seems to be taking place here.

As the story drags on with very little change, the media grows restive. Reporters are in living in tight proximity. There’s only so much they can say about a story that is the same, day after day. They grow bored, start covering each other. The story is a media event. The media is part of the story. We see one reporter grinning and talking about how there are two trout caught in a stream a couple of hundred miles away, maybe we should go there next?

We start to look at the story differently. Hey, what’s going on here. What’s this nonsense about? Just another media hype.

“How could the media focus so much on this one incident and yet hardly notice Greenpeace’s constant and ongoing heroic efforts to save whales and other endangered species?”

“Had they taken all that money they spent trying to free those whales they could have fed thousands of homeless for a year.”

“The hypocrisy of this story is incredible? How many of those who were trying to help those two whales make it their business otherwise to hunt the rest of them?”

Disgusted, we turn off the tube, feeling like fools for getting all emotional about this, when we should be focused on the business of daily living.

Our idealism seems fragile. With one flip of the switch, it transforms into cynicism, an attitude which, actually, feels safer to us, more normal, more in line with the daily living we are supposed to attend to.

Each of the above cynical responses can be viewed as both true and appropriate, within the “normal” frame of reference. Yet so was our initial idealism both true and appropriate — within another, larger, frame of reference.

We need these “human interest” stories to help us break out of our myopic focus on daily concerns. Our awareness expands, lifts, lightens, as we travel in our minds far from home to imaginatively enter a situation which stirs our hearts into compassion. As we psychically enter and participate in the inner world of another being, our experience of ourselves stretches to encompass this larger reality. As our own personal boundaries dissolve into this immensity, we feel invigorated somehow, more alive.

Indeed, coming back to ourselves after such a journey is a sort of shock. There is a such a contrast, such a clashing between the smaller self focused narrowly on daily life and the larger self sympathetically resonating with all that is! To acknowledge the shock, to stay with it and quiet our busy lives down to the point where we can allow this shock to penetrate deeply in to our cells and psyches, is to trigger a transformation in the way we live here and now. No longer will we be so obsessed with trivia; instead, we will see whatever we are thinking and doing now with equanimity. We have gained the wider view within which to place today’s pressing, but passing, concern.

Our cynicism, fed by the media, and seemingly more and more prevalent in America, is actually but the flip-side of our inherent, God-given, but much maligned, idealism. We cynics are disappointed idealists. The great hope which initially inspired us has been dashed on the rocky shores of so-called “reality,” and we are pissed. Pissed, we think, because we were foolish enough to be idealistic in the first place. Pissed, in actuality, because the world is not measuring up to our ideals. The world. Our world. Us . . .

It is ourselves which we have so much trouble with. No matter how much we try to deny our foolish utopian dream, tinges of it remain, hovering around the edges of our consciousness. No matter how much we try to close down, we are human, our hearts can still be tugged by another, even one as alien as a whale.

Now let’s view this whale story in a new light. Let’s “get metaphysical,” and ask why this particular story was chosen by the collective unconscious to be one which the media would pick up on. Let’s assume the choice was no accident, and view it as a symbolic event of great significance to the human race.

The whale story has the makings of a modern myth, a healing tale for our times. It prophetically illustrates the possibility of an entirely new kind of planetary cooperation.

Placing the story within its larger heavenly context, it is notable that it began on or around October 6, the day when Saturn joined Uranus at the 27th degree of Sagittarius, to line up exactly with the heart center of our Milky Way galaxy. The story unfolded over a period of three weeks, surrounding the final Saturn/Uranus conjunction which climaxed on October 18, 1988.

Let’s look at the story from a Saturn/Uranus in Sagittarius point of view. Let’s see how it illustrates, in a number of different ways, our need for a philosophical perspective which gives value to not only all ways of life, but all living creatures.

The subjects of the story were denizens of the deep blue sea, whales, an endangered specier whose eerie and haunting songs have graced our ears through the marvels of recording technology for decades now. Their songs have been analyzed technically, and are found to be astonishingly complex sonar patterns, so intricate that some experts conjecture that perhaps they constitute a true language whose code we have yet to break.

The story took place at the top of the world, its rays of significance raining down upon the entire planet. Converging upon the scene were a group of rescuers as unlike one another as humans are to whales: oil companies, whale experts, small businessmen, Eskimos, whale hunters, environmentalists, the military — not to mention the joint efforts of the two superpowers, Russia and the United States.

This joint ice-breaking effort, dubbed “Operation Breakthrough” (how Uranian!), was further indication of how the ice has been broken between our two nations. “We feel very good about it. The cooperation has just been fantastic. The Soviets came in here with a very positive attitude and went to work immediately,” said an American spokesman. The Soviet ice-breaking ships were even flying the flags of both countries — “as a sign of cooperation between nations!”

The third-world Eskimos used small primitive tools to cut ice holes in the ice. This kept the whales alive, but it did not free them. The industrialized United States and Russia used their giant machines — though ours broke down before reaching the whales . . .  The Russian ice breakers made mincemint of that giant ridge of ice. This was the final act which gave the whales their freedom. The aboriginal and the technological ways of life joined here. Both were necessary in their own ways, both appropriate.

In the AP story of Thursday, October 27, there were several comments on the behavior of the whales which hint that we humans are beginning to acknowledge that perhaps a kind of interspecies communication took place here. “The whales are acting in a very excited manner, almost like they can sense freedom,” said a spokesman for the Alaska National Guard early Wednesday, when the Russian ships were still miles away from the trapped whales.

As the Russian ships broke through the massive ice ridge preventing the whales’ escape, the same spokesman said, “The whales seem to be doing fine. It’s like they expect something to be happening. . .”

Perhaps the whales engineered the whole thing. Perhaps they sought contact with us now in this way to demonstrate the kind of interspecies bonding that is going to be necessary if we are to attend to the drastic needs of our planetary home. Perhaps it will turn out these whales are not only our fellow creatures, and thus deserving of our compassion and care, but more. Perhaps, as they circle the globe deep within the deep blue sea, singing and dancing with each other, they sing to us too, they dance with us, too.

The ocean symbolizes the collective unconscious, where we all meet nightly in our dreams, where we all mingle together, each of us a mere drop in the ocean, all of us together a mighty surging sea.

The ocean represents the watery depths within us, linking us to one another, washing through us all. We are all biological creatures. We feel. As we feel for and with each other, as we personally sense earth and her cries for help, we are motivated to both bond and to act, together.

Newsweek’s article on the whales was titled, “Just One Mammal Helping Another.” That article concluded: “It was clear that our species had an emotional stake in helping these creatures survive. It was as if we had resolved to demonstrate to the rest of creation that technology doesn’t just mean better weapons, and that when our best instincts are engaged, man no longer is the planet’s most treacherous animal.”

Yes. And let us remember: the source of our power for destruction arises within a greater power — that of our human imagination, our capacity to both envision and manifest a new way of life upon the planet. We meet and unite as one, humans and other creatures together, first in our dreams, singing and dancing, then in action, to change the face of the earth. To allow her to breathe again, to smile again. That we may love her as she has loved us.




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