Dreaming of Whales
“Words carry oceans on their small backs.” - Lidia Yuknavitch
Imagine a girl living inside the ocean, dreaming of a girl living on the moon. Sometimes, the girl on the moon can see her reflection in the ocean. Or perhaps, on some days, what she sees is in fact another girl? If only there was a bridge to bring them together and reassure them of each other’s existence. Reassure each other that even though the world is split into two and you could easily fall into the end-of-the-world crevice, the volcanoes and the ice were still alive in another world, somewhere.
Imagine several girls around the globe dreaming the same dream, at the same time. They all know and love each other, regardless of where they’re from, and play until dawn while the sun and dolphins watch them. They are only girls and have no magic powers, but they both dream and act upon those dreams.
They won’t be princesses when they’ll grow up, no, that’s a dream of the past, a dream none of them could make anything with now, this is the promise they make to one another. They’d grow up to be marine biologists, aviators, cosmonauts, foresters, and writers. It had happened before. In another time and place, to other girls and many girls before them. They’d rise together. Together they’d build a future where their existence was possible.
They all carry the same tattoo on their forearm: “Words carry oceans on their small backs”. It’s a quote from the old times, when you could still cut trees and print books. When plastic hadn’t fully engulfed the ocean and the wind. Before the earth turned into desert. Back when there was still hope, the air was still breatheable, and magic was floating both under and above the ocean.
If nature had a single sound, what would that sound be? Where would you find it?
Imagine a girl on the top of a mountain, a girl who lives with the wild goats and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. In the morning, she watches the mountain peaks rising above the clouds. Like her, they’re almost floating towards the sky. The first time she went paragliding, she felt so close to the edge of the universe, like she could reach the stars if she wanted.
Imagine a girl who sleeps outside, under the stars, watching the sun fade to purple, orange, yellow, then blue. Imagine that nature is her temple.
Imagine this girl is you.
In a world without mountains and clouds, where would you go to worship, to pray?
Imagine a girl living in the forest, in the hollow of a tree. She only saw the fireflies once, when she was five, on the path down to the waterfall, you know where, right after you pass the old glacial lake, in the land of the mushrooms and the woodpeckers.
On the night of the great fire, she tried to make it to the old waterfall one last time, to save the woodpeckers and herself, to take their story into the world, but the forest keeps burning and their voices die in flames. Her last thought was: Where do animals go when forests burn?
She knew the answer: Birds fly away, mammals run, amphibians and small creatures burrow into the ground, hide out in logs, take cover under rocks. Other animals, like the elk, hide in streams and lakes.
The oak seeds are so hard that fire helps them germinate and grow. The shrubs and grasses fertilized by fire-created nutrients will grow lushy; deer and other grazing wildlife (even mice) could make a meal of them.
She knew that forest fires are a natural and essential part of an ecosystem. The nutrients from dead trees are returned to the forest during a fire, but the fire needs to end at some point. When fire rages through dry underbush, it clears thick growth and sunlight can reach the forest floor, allowing seedlings released by the fire to sprout and grow.
She knew the answer, but it was too late.
Imagine a girl bursting into flames.
The trees tried to speak to the nearby humans when they started catching fire, but they were engulfed into flames far too quickly. They would have told humans how to save the forest, and themselves. How to take the roots of the strongest birch tree and rebury them somewhere else, so that magpies could still nest.
But the trees burst into flames far too quickly, they were engulfed and became nothing but gray clouds, their ghosts haunting the land of the country, the neighboring cities, and the nearby mountains for months and decades.
Love itself became a thing of the past. The rain forgot how to fall. The ocean stopped caressing the shore. Once the flux and the reflux stopped happening under the moon, the whales and the dolphins were the first to die.
The day the rain touched the grass and the dry surface of the earth for the very last time, it was night time, but not dark. Oh, how the grass and the ground needed that rain! The rain travelled around the globe under the full moon. A blood moon, it was, for the girl on the moon was bleeding through all her pores. It was like a grand goodbye, a brush across the canvas of forgetting, turning all the world’s pieces into one. Humanity slept through it all and the rain remained unheard, the crying of the girl on the moon remained unheard, except in the forest, where every leaf, every speck of dust, every bird, every crawling creature heard them. That was right before everything caught fire.
The rain forest turned into a degraded savannah.
Imagine a world without trees.
Imagine a girl who grew up to be a writer. Imagine a writer who travels around the world. She still got to live in a world with trees and oceans, a world where rain used to fall. She can still remember the smell of the waves splashing against the shore, the backs of dolphins rising to the water surface, the sound of a woodpecker in the forest at noon against the trunk of a tree, the light flickering through tree crowns, the brown and red mushrooms growing in the shade, the trees that although cut can grow hearts and moss, the fireflies that dance through the forest at night leading her way, the rain and the stars, the animals in the wild, the balance of an ecosystem still present, with things and souls in their place, and people-islands connected by land in the ocean. She can still remember it all, but her role is now strictly documentary.
Imagine a girl who grew up among books, who taught herself how to read, in a foreign language before even learning to properly speak her own. A girl for whom the central city library was nothing but a big second home, one where every voice in every book was a friend and a parent and – above all – it was heard. And she, the reader, felt heard as well. In the old attic, under her writing desk, she’d build herself a fort. Sometimes the fort turned into a forest. She could paint herself a world as she had only seen in history books. She’d read about the man who goes in search of the strongest roots in the forest and replants them all over the world. She’d dream of travelling with that man, of being that man, of becoming the very soul of the forest.
Imagine a girl who loves books more than anything else in the world, who one day stops reading books, not because she wants to, but because there are hardly any trees left, and she wants to rescue the last ones. Imagine a girl who longs to save the forest. But despite no longer reading, she stills knows all the books she has read by heart, and sometimes she even adds her own details to make the stories more real. She still carries that old tattoo on her arm. One day, her time will be nothing but a fairytale and most likely nobody will even manage to read any books about the people who used to be like her, or about anyone else who used to matter to her, or about anything at all – facts, numbers, objects, landscapes, dreams. Perhaps they’d know something about this time of the earth by word of mouth, if – without trees – there would still be air. If there would still be people, caring about other people. For empathy was declining too.
Imagine a girl who can no longer breathe.
Imagine a girl who invents a new language for the new world. It all starts out of necessity, because she no longer knows how to talk to herself in a world without sunshine.
A is for abyss. B is for birds. C is for catharsis. D is for doing. E is for estranged. She wants to keep something from the old alphabet, as long as she can still remember it, but she won’t need all of its letters, not at first. R is for remembering.
Out of the words of the new language she builds a net that won’t help her cross no longer existing oceans.
Imagine a girl living in the middle of the desert.
There used to be water at times in her desert. A couple of years ago, a lake appeared out of nowhere in her desert. Some locals called it a miracle, while others called it a curse. All to dive into it though, to swim in its cooling turquoise water, while the mirage lasted; even those who were afraid, even as the lake turned into a green sludge.
Every night, from now and until the end of the world (which she knows was near) she’d dream of oceans, dolphins, whales, rain, and summer storms. In water she would reinvent herself. If only she’d remember how to breathe life into the ocean. How to make the earth and air fill up with water, not war.
Imagine a girl living inside the sun. How long could she possibly survive there?
Imagine a girl, still alive somewhere. A girl on a boat, carrying a message. How loud must she be to wake up the world? If that girl were still alive, if words were still possible, if books were still a thing, and if writing were still a form of communication, the girl would speak to us and tell us everything she knows, if we were still there to listen.
Imagine waking up in a strange new world, with whales found in courtyards, dead, how else. And when a whale dies, it does not sink into the ground. It stays there. It just stays there and bleeds, until it rots.
A blue whale aorta alone is large enough for a human to crawl through. A lot of people did just that and died inside. It was better than dying of too much sun exposure. So many dead whales mothering dead girls!
I am a girl who – at the turn of the twenty-first century – used to travel, write, and daydream. I collect the memories that my world is losing. Losing or letting go of, I don’t know.
In my dreams, I’m almost always flying above the ocean. It’s either the ocean or the sea, I don’t know. From the airplane, in plain daylight, I see whales, all sorts of whales, giant blue whales and orcas, almost rising to the water surface. The water is crystal clear, and smooth, like the turquoise water of a glacial lake the ones I read existed decades ago in what used to be Canada or Southern Germany. Our flight and the whales’ swim appear synchronized.
Once, I went whale watching close to the Polar Circle, in the middle of a storm. It wasn’t stormy when we’d left the harbor. On the rocking boat, it was freezing cold. I stayed outside, on the upper deck, and let the cold rain hit my face, hoping the wind and water would help me be less dizzy and more awake. They didn’t. We saw no whales. Eventually, we went back to the shore. Never again did I go searching for whales. I knew better later, I knew not to invade their personal harbors.
Air travel is no longer possible. I still remember my first flight. I had never felt lighter as when we left the ground. I didn’t feel trapped, and I didn’t feel sick. Since then, when flyinh above the ocean, I’d wonder: what if we were to crash? I’m not a good swimmer, but I love water. I keep promising myself to become a better swimmer, but don’t. Like in my childhood, when I’d sink in the pool while swimming on my back, water still gives me cramps.
Our forests keep burning. I still remember how it felt to rest under the shade of a tree. The smell of the forest as I’d enter it during my alpine hikes. The feeling of home, because the trees, the mountains, and the lakes were there. Oh, how I long to lie down on a carpet of dried leaves in fall, compostable garbage as a friend used to say.
Have you ever noticed how tree crowns grow around each other? There’s both a border and an embrace between them. I’d watch the mushrooms and the birds. It took me many years to hear a woodpecker in its natural space. Soon land travel won’t be an option anymore either. And then?
In reality, I’ve never seen non-captive whales. I saw captive orcas, on an Easter Sunday, at the Edmonton Mall, one of the biggest malls in our world back then. I wish I hadn’t. Orcas, despite being killer whales, have never been reported to have killed a human. Although considered whales by most people, orcas are members of the dolphin family.
Dolphins are a lot like us humans, but we aren’t enough like them. I saw free wild dolphins once, in Florida, when Florida still existed, without searching for them. They were swimming synchronized, at sunset, much too close to the shore. People were busy with themselves, taking selfies, but the dolphins were there.
The dolphins swam underneath the water, from one side of the pier to the other, and carried on towards the shore. Then they changed course and went back where they belonged, into the vastness of the deep dark water. I never saw the dolphins return.
We’ve been gentrifying while our entire planet was dying at our hands.
There are oceans unfolding down our path, but we are not following it anymore. It started with birds laying down branches on the route to the ocean, before they killed themselves in the water instead of flying away, but then it became much more than that. We were all rivers before we are oceans. If only we could remember how to breathe life into the ocean, how to make the air fill up with water again, not war.
The whale is my spirit animal. Whales keep resurfacing into my stories, and into my dreams. In dream symbolism, they represent the unconscious, rising to the surface to meet the conscious – they’re a call to listen to our intuition, to our inner voice, and let them come true. Whales symbolize fertility, calm, and peace. In times of trouble though, being the large mammals that they are, they can be the weight of the world.
Imagine that the girl from yesterday and the girl from tomorrow are not the same girl. The girl from tomorrow would love to tell the girl from yesterday: Wake up, your world is on fire! But there is always a wall between them, and it gets higher every day, towards the end of the world. The excessive UV light exposure changes the girl from yesterday, her skin color, who she is, who she can become, to herself and to another. The girl from yesterday turns red, and the girl from tomorrow, in the times of post-radiation, turns blue. In the beginning, they were a rainbow, like all girls, but towards the end of their world, they no longer will, they no longer can – remember it.
Imagine you are a girl waking up on a strange little planet, in a strange new world. There is no food, no shelter, and you are all alone.
Imagine that hundreds of years later, on what used to be the earth, humans are long gone, the ocean is gone, the mountains are gone. The girls’ statues are almost still there, in the deserted desert, their bodies standing like the darkened trunks of trees after a forest fire, while their faces have been erased by decay and time, specs of dust blowing in the wind, near a lost shoreline that won’t return.
Imagine the seed of a birch or an oak tree, it is either or both, buried deep down into the scorch of the earth. The seed knows that the womb of the world may one day again awaken and push it towards the surface.
The seed has seen it all and can wait for a very long time before it decides to grow.
The seed knows that all it has is one single chance to find the right conditions to take shape – it’s either that or nothing. But if it does, oh, it if would! It could turn the whole world into a land of living dreams, floating above oceans.
Perhaps the girls, or at least one of them, would be reborn.