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Issue 8-11

Let Us Consider the Whale

The grandchildren who traveled with us for two weeks this summer are now old enough (16 and 13) to be counted as “adults,” meaning that we paid full entrance fees for them in theatres, historical sites, and on the whale-watching trip ($50 each!).

We had cool, rainy weather the two weeks in June that we divided between the Maritime Provinces and the East Coast, so I grabbed a Weather Channel-predicted sunny Wednesday and we made our way to Barnstable Harbor in Cape Cod, taking our place with 200 others on a Hyannis Whale Watchers Cruise, which was associated with the Marine Biological Society. I ruefully thought to myself, Whew! Two hundred bucks for tickets. I hope we see more than a whale or two off on the horizon.

Several years back, David got on a whale-jag, studied whales, read up on them and collected some beautiful whale figures displayed on a shelf in his office. But despite our regular travel, we have never been in a place to see whales in the ocean.

“Any whale-sightings?” I asked the ticket lady as we paid the fees and made ready to board the ship. “Oh, yes,” she said. “This has been a really good season.”

I bet, I thought dubiously, mentally figuring how much each whale cruise was raking in. Let’s see, some 150 adults times $50 each, not to mention food and drinks… My skepticism oozed all over the place. Well, at least it was a pleasant day on the waters; Cape Cod Bay shimmered under the sunlight.

A PA system broadcasted our guide’s announcements. This ship participated in marine-biology studies and conducted research crucial to the survival of whales. At least she was a professional biologist—that was good. “Are you local?” I asked the woman sitting next to me. Her conversation with friends indicated detailed knowledge of this cruising event, and the pilot even greeted her as he passed by. “Yes, I live in Barnstable. You are sitting in exactly the right place”—we were on the port side of the boat. “See that cord?” She pointed to a rope blocking our way toward the bow. “When we start spotting whales, they remove it, and we can all edge on to the foredeck. That’s the best place to see whales.”

Caitlyn Mains, 16; Karen Mains, 67; Nathanael Mains, 13

Rounding Provincetown, the pilot began to aim for the sea. Suddenly, off in the distance, I spied a white spume—at least I think it was a spume. “Whales!” announced the public-address-system voice. “Ten o’clock on the port side of the ship!” From that point on, it was whale-spotting for at least another two hours straight. A pod was traveling and feeding together. They breached the waters in twos and threes, their flukes regularly striking the surface. Several gathered around the ship—our narrator naturalist calling out their location, “Starboard—3 o’clock! Portside—11 o’clock.” She was so familiar with the whales, she could identify them by their scars. “That’s Lulu. Lulu has a calf.”

The afternoon was filled with amazing implosions—whooshes of air from blowholes, to the right and to the left. The crowd on the ship sighted whales in groups here, there; the guide called out names. The huge cetaceans danced their water ballet so close to us, we felt like we could reach out and brush their sides with our hands.

All I could think was, Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights. … Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps. Psalm 148:1,7, RSV.

I had this strange feeling the whales had come to see us, to check us out, to raise our delight with their wild plunges, flapping their huge tales in greetings, putting on a show to the oohs and aahs of the watching passengers.

In the July 12 New York Times is Charles Siebert’s article “Watching Whales Watching Us.” He traveled with marine biologists who are studying whales on Isla San José, in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Through their research, these scientists have been able to relate the high-tech sonar tracking devices in military-training exercises to the unexplained beaching and stranding of whales. “Necropsis performed on a number of the whales revealed lesions about their brains and ears. The results of the examinations … added a whole other, darker dimension to the whale-stranding mystery. In addition to bleeding around the whales’ brains and ears, scientists found lesions in their livers, lungs and kidneys, as well as nitrogen bubbles in their organs and tissue, all classic symptoms of a sickness that scientists had naturally assumed whales would be immune to: the bends.

“It might sound like something out of a bad sci-fi film: whales sent into suicidal dashes toward the ocean’s surface to escape the madness-inducing echo chamber that we humans have made of their sound-sensitive habitat.” The marine biologists in Baja are making conclusive links between the deleterious effects of sonar and other human-generated sounds on ocean ecosystems.

In the course of these studies, however, other startling discoveries have been made. The whales seem to be attempting to communicate with the humans. Toni Frohoff, a behavioral and wildlife biologist, has become a pioneer in the field of human-cetacean interactions and is the research director of TerraMar Research, which is dedicated to the protection of marine mammals and their ecosystems. “Studying human-gray whale interactions was a natural progression for me and my work,” Frohoff told Charles Siebert. “And yet even as somebody who has specialized in human-dolphin interactions, I was not prepared for the profound nature of what’s going on down here. … What we have here are highly sophisticated minds in very unique bodies, living in such a different environment, and yet these whales are approaching us with some frequency for what appears to be sociable tactile contact. And with no food involved.”

Siebert tells of going to sea in the panga of a fisherman who worked with the scientists. A mother grey suddenly appeared off their bow, exhaled, and slid under the water again, only to re-emerge with her male calf. For some 30 minutes the two rolled and frolicked, weaving in and out around the little fishing boat, coming close enough so the journalist could actually pat the calf. Then it seemed as though the show was over. “Not, however, before she abruptly decided to admit us into that exclusive club of unwitting whale riders, the many Sinbads and other, real-life seafarers of this world,” Siebert writes. “And there we suddenly were, borne up on a swelling promontory of whale back, giddily airborne and helpless.” In short time, the mother whale gently placed the boat back down in the waters, then swam off with her little one, executing a giddying and spectacular series of breaches. And the occupants of the little panga reached shore, overwhelmed and stunned by their encounter.

Our brush with whales this summer was nothing compared to this journalist’s, but I certainly understand the feelings Siebert writes about in the story of another whale encounter with a female humpback hopelessly entangled in a web of crab-trap lines. Hundreds of yards of nylon rope had become wrapped around her mouth, torso and tail, the weight of which was causing her to struggle to stay afloat. A rescue team jumped into the waters, hawing and hacking at the lines, hoping to stay out of the path of her tail, which could kill with one struggling 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.”

Although we traveled this summer up the St. Lawrence Seaway, visited Old Quebec City, toured Prince Edward Island, listened to Scottish music on Cape Breton Island, took a bus tour of Halifax, stayed for a morning at Plimoth Plantation, trekked the grandchildren along the Freedom Trail in Boston (in the rain), walked the Lexington Commons and crossed the historic bridge at Concord, when asked about the highlight of this journey, my answer would definitely be, “Whale-watching off Provincetown.”

Do you sing this hymn in your church? Without knowing it, the scientists, the fisherman, the rescue teams, little children on the whale-watching ship sing it whenever they say, “Oh, how wonderful! What an enigma! Look, look. Over there—no, over there!”

    God is love, let heaven adore him; God is Love, let earth rejoice;
    Let creation sing before him and exalt him with one voice.
    God who laid the earth’s foundation, God who spread heavens above,
    God who breathes through all creation: God is Love, eternal love.

Let us, however, be intentional with our praise.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
    Psalm 148:9-12, RSV.

Sometimes, when we take a really deep look at the world, and see Him, nameless though He might be, some of us are never the same. Let us look deeply into the deep.

Karen Mains


We are devising a Bag-Party-in-a-Box concept and would like to hold some "test" home parties in September. We will use these to build our model. The video we shot in Kenya telling the compelling story of Mary Nduta, our first Global Bag Project bag-maker, is now on DVD. If you are in the Chicagoland area, and think you could gather at least six friends, please contact us at . If you are not in the Chicagoland area, and would like to hold a pre-Christmas season Bag-Party-in-a-Box, please contact us as well. Our goal is to sell 5000 bags before the holidays.

Sewing machines, bought in Kenya, cost $170. If you would like to purchase a machine for a Kenyan bag-maker, we will exchange names between you and the Kenyan businesswomen. A group of you, a family, a small Bible study or a listening group might like to make the purchase of a machine as a Christmas project. Checks can be made out to Global Bag Project and mailed to Box 30, Wheaton, IL 60187.

Annual Advent 24-Hour Women's Retreat of Silence: December 2009

In 2009 we will be trying a new logistics approach for the annual Retreat of Silence. We will be holding back-to-back retreats with the same speakers and the same template. The first retreat will run from Wednesday, beginning with dinner, December 2 through Thursday, ending by 4:00 in the afternoon, December 3. The second retreat will run from Friday, beginning with dinner, December 4 through Saturday, ending by 4:00 in the afternoon, December 5.

This will make room for those who work during the days and don’t feel as though they can take time off during the week.

Our fees will be $120 for a single room with private bath. However, if you register early, by October 15, your fee will be $100. If you bring someone who has NEVER attended a Hungry Souls Advent Retreat of Silence, the welcome fee for any new attendees (and for you) will be $90. (The weekend retreat costs us $5 more. Add that amount to the fees -- $125, $105 or $95.) The cutoff date for registrations is November 25. Since we must give a firm number to the Bishop Lane Retreat Center in Rockford, IL and pay for that number, we cannot return payments after the cutoff date.

Valerie Bell, Karen Mains and Sybil Towner will lead these two retreats again this year. This Hungry Souls Retreat of Silence is a guided retreat. We begin silence at 9:00 the first evening. If you are interested, contact our volunteer registrar Melodee Cook at .

If you are outside of the Chicagoland area and would like to fly in for any of our retreats, our staff or volunteers will be happy to meet you at the airport and facilitate any sleeping arrangements that might need to be made for our silent retreats.

3-Day Retreats of Silence 2009

Hungry Souls is planning to hold several 3-Day Retreats of Silence for those who desire a more intensive experience. These are guided retreats and will be held both during the week and on the weekend. We are in the throes of logistical decisions right now, but if you are interested, keep your heads up and we will give you more information as decisions are made. Because we must pay St. Mary’s Monastery (2.5 hours’ drive from Chicago to Rock Island) a deposit, we will have to ask for fees up front. Some of the retreat will be held during the week, and some willl be held during the weekend, for those who can’t get away from their jobs. We have room for 12 women at each session. We will also attempt to offer retreats at centers in the Chicago area. To register, contact Susan Hands by e-mail at 


The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to

Karen Mains

Karen Mains

"Sometimes, when we take a really deep look at the world, and see Him, nameless though He might be, some of us are never the same. Let us look deeply into the deep."

Book Corner

Frommer's: Cape Cod, Nantucket & Martha’s Vineyard

Frommer's Cape Cod, Nantucket & Martha’s Vineyard 2009

By Laura M. Reckford

Good guide books are essential for good vacations.

I have shelves that hold the travel guides for all the places we have visited (more than 40 countries in the world, at last count) both Stateside and abroad. I keep a file of all the local newspaper clippings, city tips and pamphlets I pick up—just in case we ever return. It’s surprising how invaluable these tools are. Some places we do revisit—what a joy to have been in Paris six times in my lifetime! Friends and family are the recipients of my travel-guide loaners. And when I go to recapture a locale we have visited in my writing, all my travel material has been preserved—a rich resource for evocative journalism.

I wish I had begun keeping travel journals—journals set exclusively aside for each trip. Caitlyn Mains, our 16-year-old granddaughter, compiled one in the days between the time we returned from the East Coast and she flew home to Phoenix. How else do you remember the place names, the events, the surprises (Papa going past the same roundabout in Sandwich, MA seven times in our attempt to find the Dexter Grist Mill)?

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