When I was a girl, I slept with the whales—above my pillow hung an oversize photographic poster of a pod of orcas and across the room swung a large paper mobile of seven whales: grey, blue, minke and so on. Beside my bed, a goldfish swam circles in a small bowl, making the water splash and swish, as if they were sounds from the sea. And so for years, through elementary and middle school, and onward to high school, I dreamt of whales. I swam with them in a deep blue ocean, flew above a jumping pod, or watched from the shore as they surfed in crashing waves. After high school, the poster came down, the mobile was stored in a box, and when I moved away, the dreams subsided. Now it’s been years since I’ve closed my eyes and swum with these, my favorite creatures.
Today, we drove out to the Snaefellsness Peninsula to explore the shoreline and view the massive glacier that inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. And, too, we went because we’d heard about a whale. First, we stopped in Arnarstapi. The wind howled and we bundled in our snowsuits, hats, and mittens hoping to walk the 2.5 kilometers to the next village over. We peered down the sea cliffs and searched for puffins. We jumped over the caves and watched the waves collide against the shore, throwing wild sprays of water hundreds of feet into the air. But the wind and cold were too much for the little travelers, who were more interested in trying to dig in the mud or roll down a grassy hill then move forward along the trail. So after an hour or so we turned back and drove to Hellnar. After spotting a seal, we hiked down the small path to a tiny stone house that sheltered us and served up amazing vegetarian quiche, seafood stew, warm freshly baked bread, and hot, hot coffee.
Stomachs full and with our bodies warmed, we decided to push ahead to try and find the whale. Sooner than expected, we saw the sign for Litlaloa and turned down a rocky, unpaved road until we reached the ancient stone walls. My pulse raced with fear as I jumped out and dashed over the rocky sea wall to the shore. And there he was. Enormous. Newly dead. Alone. And laid out across the rocky beach in front of us like a sorrowful offering from the sea. This beautiful creature, fully intact and untouched, stared up at us. In the freezing climate, no bugs crawled on his skin, no birds tried to peck at his thick skin. My heart swelled and then cracked. My stomach churned and the wind picked up again. It was time to return home.
Now, back in Reykjavik, a two-hour drive south, nestled at home on the couch, I am far away from the wicked wind and agitated sea, but my mind is still with this magnificent creature, still grieving for him. Maybe tonight, again in my dreams, I’ll swim with whales. Maybe I’ll swim with this one.