Whales and Dolphins and Seals, Oh, My!

Yesterday afternoon, my husband, Tom, and I went for a walk on the beach. This is something we do frequently, now that we are living by the ocean. Actually, we live on the shores of Monterrey Bay in Northern California. For those of you unfamiliar with NorCal, it is not a hot, palm-tree-fringed coast. The Japanese current comes down from Alaska, and the waters are cold. Most of the summer, fog covers the coast in the morning, pulls out for a bit in the afternoon, and pours its chilly self back onto the land in the late afternoon or evening. When it’s 100ºF inland, it might get up as high as 80ºF here on the coast. Mostly, summer temperatures are in the 60s or 70s.

But yesterday afternoon, it was warm and the fog hung far out on the water. The sky was cloudless. I spent some time tipping crabs. There are hundreds of small crabs that thrive in the wave zone. They often get tipped upside down by the receding water and wave their eight legs in the air frantically, trying to right themselves. If another wave doesn’t come along to right them, they eventually give up and pose upside down, legs rigidly extended. If the tide is going out they are sometimes eaten by seagulls or just die from exposure. I have a hard time resisting their little flailing legs and I tip them back upright to give them a fighting chance. Yes, I know they’ve been getting tipped upside down for millions of years. Still.

I love shells of all sorts, and collect them whenever I am visiting a beachy place. The shells in our area tend to be a bit drab and there isn’t a lot of variety, but

Sand_dollar_testI look for sand dollars. They wash ashore frequently in this area. When alive or recently deceased, their shells are purple. I check to see if they are alive, which isn’t easy to determine, but if they still have their hair-like legs on the undersides of their shells, I pitch them back in the water. (I make it a point never to take a live shell. I never buy shells, because these are harvested live to assure they are unbroken and unblemished.) If the sand dollars have lost their legs and the “velvet” that coats the outside, they are truly dead and I pick them up if unbroken. The shells are quite fragile, so finding an unbroken sand dollar isn’t unusual, but it is the exception. I’ve been placing the shells to bleach in the sun on my front porch. They range in size from about one inch across to three or four inches.

The water was full of life—and not just surfers and screaming children. There was a huge pod of dolphins roiling the waters, their dark backs and fins rolling smoothly out of the waves like synchronized swimmers—which I suppose they are. There must have been a hundred or more of these beasts just offshore. A small seal or three poked their heads out of the waves. They come in quite close to swimmers, and they sometimes get quite a reaction from people who aren’t expecting a largish animal to surface right next to them.

And then we saw the whales. Further afield, perhaps a half a mile from shore, great spouts of water appeared above the waves. Like geysers, the spouts rose high in the air and lasted for a fairly long time. Several times, I saw whales breaching, leaping out of the water and falling back with a mighty gout of water rising as they hit the surface. I was told by one passerby that humpbacked whales had been spotted in the bay, but today I heard that blue whales were out there yesterday as well. They were too far away for me to tell which we were seeing.

People all along the beach were stopped, standing on the sand and shading their eyes as they stared out to sea. Everyone was smiling, pointing, talking to strangers. People were rejoicing in the sight of the whales as though they had just seen angels.

It was, in a word, magical.

How To Stay Married for 41 Years


Giorni_Wedding_photoMy husband and I were celebrating our 41st wedding anniversary the other day. We were having a meal in a restaurant, and unusually, it was just us and our grown son and daughter. It seemed kind of odd; none of the many other assorted relatives and in-laws were present for once. It was just the four of us together, as it had been when the kids were growing up. After we ordered, our son asked, “So, what did you do to stay married for 41 years?”


We were caught flat-footed and unprepared. My husband, as always, had a snappy comeback, but I just shrugged. How to explain? But I thought it was a good question, one that deserved a good answer. After some rumination, I arrived at what seemed to me to be the answer–for me, anyway–and sent it off to the kids. Our daughter thought it was good enough to share with others, so I am sharing it here:


“The other day in the restaurant, Sean asked how we managed to stay married for 41 years. Of course we were unprepared, and your Dad’s response of “Don’t get divorced” is certainly one approach. But I thought it was a good question, and one that deserved an answer, so I have been thinking about it.


“I think the answer is: Get over yourself.


“I probably don’t have to elaborate, but I will, a little. Marriage requires consciously working at it all of the time–and never more than when there are difficulties. We all go into a romantic relationship with a lot of expectations and fantasies. In the beginning, we think all our expectations and fantasies have been realized. (Nature’s sneaky little way of assuring the DNA gets passed on, I suspect.)


“Eventually, after the fairy dust wears off, we start to realize that the beloved is not, in fact, perfection. In fact, he or she definitely has some flaws that need looking after. And maybe he or she isn’t Prince Charming or Princess Aurora after all.


“It takes some effort to also accept that you yourself are no prince or princess either.


“So then it becomes a question of can you accept your spouse, flaws and all? Because you cannot change another person. You can only change yourself. Either you are willing to accept that other person with their flaws and disappointments, or you are not–it’s your decision. As far as your own weaknesses and imperfections are concerned, you also have to decide if you should and will change them to accommodate the other, or not. Obviously (I hope), it’s a process of mutual accommodation, which involves both spouses abandoning those expectations and fantasies that aren’t helping.


“It’s also important to abandon resentment against the other for not being the person you hoped and wished they were and appreciating who they really are. Resentment will poison a relationship to the point where it can never recover, and after all–is it his/her fault that you made them up?


“I don’t mean that you have to abandon your dreams, just your fantasies about what marriage with this person was going to be like. As they say, it is what it is.


“And pick your battles. Some things are just not worth fighting about. It’s just not all about you.


“As Anne Landers used to say, when troubles arise in a marriage, you have to ask yourself if you are better off with your spouse, or without him/her? It’s a simple, but very important question that can sidestep a lot of kerfuffles and soul-searching.


“And I guess my final word is: it’s important to remember that everything changes. For example, when a couple has a new baby, it’s gonna be very tough. Stress, sleep deprivation, not enough sex (for the guy), and (for the woman) too many demands on her (including sex)–all are a perfect recipe for a failed marriage. But it changes. Newborns grow and start sleeping through the night, and eventually you wean the baby, and get enough sleep to start feeling like yourself again. So it’s important to hang in and keep working at it until things get better–or at least long enough to see whether things will get better or not.


“I hope I didn’t come off as some old crone pontificating about life. I think both of you are doing great and do work hard at your relationships. But you asked.


All my love,