by Tina Olivero

    See You Next Year, Lucy

    She came around me from behind. Under water, through my mask, she looked even bigger because of the water amplification. I was singing, okay humming. I’m not sure if I was humming because I was nervous or if it was because it was the only way I knew how to speak to her. The same song, I hummed into my snorkel over and over. It echoed into the water ways. To this day I can’t remember the name of it or where that song came from, but there it was.

    As she came by my side her giant right body encompassed our space. Her tiny right eye looked at me. She stopped in mid-water and listened carefully to my notes. My heart was racing. It was like time stood still. Five seconds felt like an hour. She was huge, beautiful, majestic, and calm.

    She was so graceful and calm that she made me calm. I have never seen or imagined such grace and such massiveness all in one beautiful creature. She blew my mind.

    We got acquainted with each other by feeling, we looked at each other with curiosity and my humming got louder and I wanted to hear her sing too. I felt an overwhelming urge to communicate with her in every way I could.  Through my actions, movements, noises, and even my thoughts.

    Then miraculously she dropped down underneath me and turned over. Her belly facing mine. I looking down, she looking up. I could see every barnacle on her underside. She was absolutely huge. I felt like she was asking me to rub her belly. I felt it was an act of submission, like a puppy dog who wants to play and get his belly rubbed. Could I?

    I was at the surface of the Atlantic Ocean so diving down to her in my wet suit was not really an option for my first real live whale dance. I was too afraid of the unknown and yet I was in absolute awe. There she was, Lucy, one of the biggest whales on Earth.

    Newfoundland waters are home to the planets largest gathering of Humpback whales during the summer months. The Humpbacks are known for migrating from the warmer Dominican Republic waters, up the East Coast to feed on the abundant herring and masses of capelin. At that time of year schools of capelin are so abundant that we can catch them in a bucket.  It’s a whale’s feeding haven.

    Ocean Quest Adventure Resort and Spa, of Newfoundland, Canada, is where my brother John Olivero works. John gets the profound privilege of being on the Newfoundland waters, giving tours in the beautiful summer months. The sights and experiences here are truly among the best in the world.

    John has fun taking people out in an Ocean Quest Rigid Hull Inflatable boat on a daily basis from June until August. Aboard the Adventure Quest 2, teams of 10 or so snorkelers, equipped with wet suits, head offshore from Petty Harbour, for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

    Not too far offshore whales are spotted and beckoning us to play. They are in that kind of mood this time of year. They are fed, they are happy and they want to play. It’s so exciting when we find them. It feels like you just found your long lost friend.

    When we get to whales John counts down for us to take the plunge. “Now, now, now”, John hollers, as we all jump off the side of the boat into the cold Atlantic waters. Protected by a wet suit and the sun’s summer heat on the water’s surface, we find our way through the surface waves and literally swim to play with the whales.

    For me, it was an adventure of a life time, the highlight of my summer and one of the scariest things I’d ever done – until I did it. Reflecting back makes me super excited for my next close encounter. Could I find Lucy in the south this winter?

    After we played for a while, Lucy rose to the surface. I slapped my hand on the surface, she slapped hers on the surface. We began to learn to play with each other. Lucy’s pectoral fin is the longest in the world, some 12 feet long.  Lucy weighs about 36 tons and she’s about 45 feet long. Yet in the water, as you watch her she moves without effort, she’s at ease and perfectly buoyant. She’s pure magnificence. Whoever designed all of this, can only be creative and masterful. My adventure with Lucy brought me to a deeper understanding. An understanding that the pleasure of seeing her and playing with her was not just my joy, I was also her pleasure. Our adventure together was not independent of one another but profoundly connected in the giving and receiving of our play. This is the beauty of life.

    I met Lucy for the first time, on the final days of the whale watching season, 2014. The sun was about to set and just like that, as if by magic, Lucy started swimming South. She’s headed for the Dominican to play in warmer waters.  She raised her arm to say good bye I felt her in my heart and I heard her in my mind.  Lucy said, “See you next year”.

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