An Excerpt from The Ocean Container
What can I see?
Thin mist blowing through the branches of wind-carved Sitka spruce, cracked, grey bark and thin lower branches hung with a wispy lichen known as speckled horsehair. (I’m using your names for these things because I don’t have my own, and I want you to understand.)
At the base of these trees are some salal bushes, ripe with purple berries, beyond my reach. Below them are deer ferns, and a variety of other low-growing plants, which from my vantage point seem almost tropical. Like an Henri Rousseau jungle. It’s an observation you, too, might make—if you were this low to the ground. You might see it this way despite knowing the latitude is too far north for a jungle. 53º north.
The mist alternately accumulates and thins. When it’s thin and the light is right, dew sparkles, berries glow, and the various greens are distinct from one another. Sometimes, when there are gaps in the mist, one can see a faint blue sky. To you, it would be the same colour blue as a 1956 Buick Special. A colour known as chalfonte blue.
Within the groundcover is a tiny rose-like plant—a dewberry with a single raspberry-like drupelet atop its central stem. I can see it from the interior corner of my left eye. It is a miniscule prize, and for this reason rarely harvested. To me it is worth everything, and I attempt to reorient my body in order to grasp it between my thin, prehensile lips. With great effort I succeed, and am able to vacuum its meager juices through my keratin filter teeth.
It is the last thing I eat.
I was stranded
Prior to the dewberry, I had eaten nothing for many days. I have eaten nothing since. And yet when I came here the food was plentiful. There were ripe salal berries at water level, and I plucked them. I stirred up the bed of what was—temporarily—a saltwater lake. I opened my jaw, filled my mouth, strained out the water, and ingested a bounty of sand fleas, small fish, and even the odd sandpiper—a kind of bird. Some of them had washed inland during the upheaval. I needed to compress them in my mouth so they could slide freely down my gullet. I heard their little bones snap like dry twigs.
There had been great turbulence, and I know now that my inland access was granted by a tsunami. It was one of the tsunamis referenced in oral histories of the first people to inhabit the area. It is estimated to have taken place sometime in the fifteenth century, but I can tell you with certainty it washed ashore at 2:23 pm on August 24, 1426.
I swam into what I thought was an inlet—in fact an inshore basin, its access to the ocean only temporary. I swam around for a few days, but couldn’t find my way out. It hardly mattered at first, what with the plentiful nourishment. But then the water levels subsided and I couldn’t swim at all. And now there is no water—just mist and damp. I know I won’t survive.
The spot at which I rest—from which I am unable to move—is the same spot at which I extruded the last major meal to occupy my bowels. Flies feed on my excrement, and they will soon feed on my flesh. I have reported the visual splendor of this place, but now my eyes have clouded over. I see almost nothing.
My internal organs are being compressed under their full terrestrial weight. My heart pumps with great effort, and I have lost most of my fat reserves. My skin is cracked and painful. And I am very cold—as cold as you would be if you were naked, floating in the North Pacific. The air temperature here should be no colder than the nearby water, yet I feel no warmth. Nor do I have, any longer, the strength to shiver.
It is sad to know my body—this life—will soon expire. It is also frustrating: I can hear the waves crashing against the shore. The ocean is not far away. And yet I have been unable to find my way back.
One day a person will walk through this forest and see what looks like a small piece of driftwood. They will wonder how a piece of driftwood found its way so far inland. They won’t recognize it for the jawbone of a whale. Of course they won’t. No one would expect the jawbone of a whale to be so small.
If there were a name for my species, it might be super-pygmy blue whale. That is because we are exactly like blue whales—like scale models of blue whales. The largest of our species is perhaps only two metres in length. We evolved to this size the last time atmospheric CO2 levels were above 400 parts per million, roughly one million years ago. Our food supply dwindled and we couldn’t sustain our weight. We lost body mass just as salamanders and other species are doing in your time. Or so the theory goes.
I know you might not believe such a species as the super-pygmy blue whale ever existed. Perhaps it is because you possess discrete knowledge of the evolution of whales generally. You may doubt that a species such as ours—some 46 million years removed from our ancient ancestor maiacetus‘s first experiments with life in the water—could have evolved and disappeared so quickly. But whatever your level of knowledge, I ask you not to doubt. Just let it be. Trust me when I tell you: we existed. Trust me also when I tell you: I have since been reincarnated many times, and am still on this planet.