On The Beaches of Pākawau

textured background of sandy shore with ribbed surface
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com
On The Beaches of Pākawau 

One morning in small-town New Zealand, a pod of pilot whales became stranded on the beaches of Pākawau. Every man, woman, and child took to the scene. I remember my family, spilling from the car and watching my parents sprint barefoot to aid the whales. I tried to follow along with my siblings but my legs felt suddenly weighted, heavy as lead, while I stood paralyzed in the dry sand by the road. 

It was like a movie. 

People everywhere, running up and down the beach, checking each whale for signs of life. They were everywhere. Some whales lay motionless, others laboured to move their tails, more still, determined for shore. People digging madly. An old woman on her knees. Trenches. The relay line of water-buckets, hand to hand, tipped water at every exchange, still, the buckets came. People gave the shirts off their backs, bandaged the whales from waterlessness. The whales, like war, just kept coming. Grey sky, grey sand, grey water. Everything a murky confusion; everything hanging in the balance. 

Then, from deep inside me, a voice I'd not heard before: "FIGHT!" it said, "FIGHT!" I must do something! Determined, I set my sights on the water. No longer afraid, I focussed every cell of my being on one solitary whale. I ran for it. I sprinted. The rippled sand exposed by low tide pained the arches of my feet, but I didn't falter. Upon reaching the whale, I sobbed my apologies to it. With water up to my waist, I felt a strange sensation of hot and cold—the burning heat of urgency and legs numbed by the ocean's chill. 

I initiated a connection with the whale by way of touch. I ran my hands over the smooth sleek of the whale's skin. I met its eye. The whale kept rolling side to side and knocked me over and into the water several times before I found my footing. I tried to rock the whale, back and forth even further to get it unstuck. I knew its belly was caught on the bottom if I could just get it loose. I kept pushing. I tried from the other side, the back, the front. I made a dance of it. I was gentle. I sang prayers. I begged. Water. More rocking. More prayers. 


Centuries passed. 

Finally, I held the whale in a heart-wrenching embrace. I looked out across the beach at all the people doing the same as me. Some still pushing. Others, with buckets. A man, on his knees. There were still so many of them; people, and whales. Nothing had changed. Everything had changed. For the first time, I noticed there were porpoises as well. They were dying alongside the whales, and all the water in the world didn't make a difference. All the want inside me didn't seem to matter. Sadly, this became the one thing we didn't want it to be. Tragedy. And it was. 

A million years of grief the weight of sand, poured over my seven-year-old soul that day. We died and died, and would do it all again.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: