Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rest In Pieces

A fin whale beached itself near Florence, Oregon the other day. That hardly ever works out for the whale, and it didn't this time. There's always a lot of speculation over the health, physical and mental, of a stranded whale; what could cause it to heave up on shore? Was it itchy, or morose? Fin whales, being equipped with baleen, eat nothing but small fry and crustaceans, but I've been around long enough to know that sometimes it's the appetizers that will do you in. You get into enough krill, and you just want to go lie down for a while. I'm that way with bean dip.

There was the customary quandary of how you get rid of such a massive dead thing. People are always drawn to these scenes, although I would venture that none of those attracted have ever picked meat out of a mess of crab and discarded the shells into the kitchen wastebasket on a hot July day, thinking it will be okay just overnight. There was talk of towing the whale out to sea, burying it in place, or just leaving it. What there was no talk of was the solution that a very bright person came up with in 1970 when the same thing happened in the same area.

That very bright person, a demolitions expert from the highway division--let's call him Sparky--reasoned that if a beached whale was set with enough charges to blast it into smithereens, the gulls would carry it away before it hit the ground. If you've ever gutted a fish while on the ocean and tossed the bits you didn't want into the air, you have found that this is exactly what happens. So it was a very elegant solution from nearly every angle except reality. You can be an expert in a lot of things, but no one is an expert in everything. In this case, the engineer in question was sadly underinformed about the bodily integrity of the whale. What you think should happen is not necessarily what happens.

Sparky spiked the whale with explosives. The gulls were in attendance in force. So, unfortunately for Sparky, were the news media. The whale was duly detonated, and instead of vaporized whale shrapnel raining down upon the land, pieces of blubber the size of Volkswagens went airborne and came down upon the citizens and infrastructure of Florence. One chunk came down and cratered a car. Nobody, today, is willing to say it was a fluke.

The entire event was so implausible that, for a time, it entered into the realm of urban mythology, until it was clawed back into its rightful slot in history by those who had been, after all, witnesses. Sort of like the Holocaust.

So our current whale was dug into the sands with minor ceremony. It's a shame. I fear that people will be less inclined to come up with creative solutions to our problems when faced with the possibility of personal humiliation. And we'll just have to come up with some other way of dealing with Rush Limbaugh.


  1. Your story is full of laughter, surprise, and sadness. I pity the poor whale but darn - chunks of blubber the size of VW Beetles? Sparky had the right idea in theory, but...

    I watched your video link. You can write like crazy, Murr. (for profit!)

    Oh, I'm with you on the bean dip.

  2. I watched you on YouTube, too! 15" Mac Powerbook, check. I feel like a spider on your wall having seen you in action. Tee hee!

    I like your philosophy, and wish like hell I had your mail carrier's salary and benefits, but have to disagree that getting paid for writing takes all the fun out of it. The only thing that takes fun out of it is writing something that was somebody else's idea. Congratulations on the prize!

  3. Not my Powerbook. It was a prop. My computer weighs five hundred pounds. Getting paid is great, but HAVING to get paid is scary. Those of us without discipline need to get that bi-weekly check. I have been amazed, though, to discover that just having an audience, of any size, is enough to get me writing. If someone wants to dump money on my head, though, I won't duck.

    PS: Posts about The Writing Biz and about wall spiders are coming up!

  4. Murr, I agree with you wholeheartedly. If someone asked me to write a column that had to be submitted by Friday at noon in order to be paid, I'd freak out. I do believe it wouldn't be fun anymore. Julie is extraordinary, that's all. She encouraged me to start blogging two years ago.

    A few gals at the office in Delaware loved my little e-mail stories, passed them on to friends and family, and asked for more. THAT is what keeps me going.

    So, I hear ya.

  5. All I know about Julie is she is talented and generous (a sign of good mental health), and also the only person I know besides me who uses "het up". I'll bet she uses "hove up," too.

  6. Great story!
    Very innovative thinking on the part of Sparky. I tried to take care of some bills that washed up in my mailbox the same way.

    Poor little things though... the whales.

    I happen to think you are the perfect person to get paid on a weekly basis for your writing. I don't understand that there's a question in there... but I may have missed something..

  7. Good thing I wasn't eating when I read that last line -- I can't imagine how much effort it'd take to dig half-chewed egg and toast spray out of the keyboard.

  8. Loved your last line, Murr! Gotta admit it's one of the potential options on my own personal "How to Deal with Rush" list. I understand that "Sparky" was really an engineer called George Thornton and he only took charge because District Engineer Dale Allen had "gone hunting" - in some other location, obviously, since someone (or something) got to the whale before he could. Now, Sparky Thornton might have been a demolition expert, but evidently NOT a ballistics expert, since whale blubber is precisely the sort of thing (like ballistics gel) that you would use to halt a bullet in mid-flight so as to be able to study the markings on it once it came out of a gun. (This looks like some crazy thing the Mythbusters would do). So a whale is NOT the sort of thing you "blow to smithereens" - more like hunks and sections, since it has extraordinary stopping power, and makes a helluva mess besides. But I guess Sparky can be forgiven because he reportedly got his advice from the freakin' Navy (!) who told him to treat the whale like he would a rock he wanted to get out of the way...Well, yeah, if we're talking about an 8-ton, 80 percent saturated FAT rock! Anyway, Murr, loved your take on this historic event from Oregon's past.