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A Northwest Passage
E.M. Swift
February 22, 1993
A group of kayakers discovered that the Ice Age is alive and well on Glacier Bay
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February 22, 1993

A Northwest Passage

A group of kayakers discovered that the Ice Age is alive and well on Glacier Bay

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Fwwwiiiisssssshhhhh! Peekaboo. Mark started rocking back and forth, hacking his lungs out. I thought he was having a heart attack. As it turned out, he'd been startled by the sound of the whale breaching so nearby and had inhaled half a dozen no-see-ums as he was taking a deep breath.

As abruptly as it had appeared, the whale decided the show was over. Swimming on the surface, it took off across the bay, bellowing as it went. Other than breathing, this was the first noise it had made. Bellowing—loud, plaintive, angry, who could tell? We followed the whale for a few minutes, but it swam so much faster than we could paddle that pursuing it was absurd. Finally, we coasted.

We were about to head back to camp and our salmon dinner when the whale, in one final transcendent display, threw itself out of the water as if it could fly. It crashed back into the sea, white water exploding three stories high above it. Twice more the whale breached its dark body barely visible through the cascading water. Silence for a moment. Suddenly its giant flukes appeared, perhaps 20 or 30 feet above the surface. Bizarrely high. It was as if the whale were doing a headstand. The flukes seemed to hang there, the humpback upside down, teetering in a madcap display. Then that giant tail crashed onto the surface of the bay, the resulting concussion like that of an exploding stick of dynamite.

Silence. Let it rain, I was thinking. Let it pour. This is some uncommon place God and the glaciers have wrought.

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