Haibun: Winter Humpbacks

For Margaret’s prompt at Toads, A Whale of A Tale, a haibun.  Humpback factoids:  Humpbacks can grow to 60 feet (18 meters) long, and they can weigh a whopping 40 tons, according to the NOAA. Their flippers can grow up to 16 feet (5 m) long, which is the largest appendage in the world. Their tails are also massive and grow up to 18 feet (5.5 m) wide. Like most whales, females are larger than males.   They feed off fish and crustaceans, especially off menhaden and brown shrimp which are plentiful for their diets and migrate every winter passing by the NC coast from December to January on their way to the Caribbean.  They often calve off the NC coast with their babies following them to their summer homes. This is also being posted on dverse for Open Link Night

Winter Humpbacks
“Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory; I look deep down and do believe.” Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

My ancestors came here generations ago from England. They settled on the North Carolina coast and changed from being farmers to watermen. My great-grandfather in particular was a salty old man and often said he would stop looking at women when they screwed his coffin lid down. He would leave Durham during the fall and winter and trek down to his hometown – to live in a shanty on the beach and fish. It never went out of his blood, that fishing. He would serve as a cook on fishing boats and once cooked for Teddy Roosevelt when Teddy was a middle-aged man. Pap as we called him, loved his time on the water. He loved telling me tales of the boat going out and casting their nets and hauling in the load of fish.

But my favorite tales were of the migrating humpback whales, longer than the boat, breaching up and often destroying the nets. The humpbacks migrated down from Maine and on down to the Caribbean. They often spent a month eating menhaden and brown shrimp to build up their fat layer on their way farther down south. Pap said many a day a humpback or two would breach and often lunge up out of the water. Fishing would be forgotten as the men watched these gigantic creatures swimming along side of the boat or breaching. The calves were the size of the boat.. I loved the tales. As an adult I would always go down to the coast in fall and winter and go out on one of the fishing piers, empty now that it was cold winter, and watch the whales feeding or swimming or breaching. Like my great-grandfather, I inherited that love of the ocean.
cold winter ocean –
humpbacks lunge towards the sky
singing their songs

whale off NC coast in winter

 

43 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Frank J. Tassone
    Oct 03, 2018 @ 05:35:48

    Reblogged this on Frank J. Tassone and commented:
    #Haiku Happenings #2: Toni Spencer’s latest #haibun for #withrealtoads!

    Reply

  2. coalblack
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 12:11:41

    Love the detail about cooking for Teddy R.!

    Reply

  3. kim881
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 15:23:40

    It didn’t come as a surprise that your ancestors originated from England, Toni, with your love of Oscar Wilde, gardening and food! With the sea and boats in your blood, you’d love the Norfolk Broads and the North Norfolk coast. I would love to see whales. We’ve had a few beached ones here but I would like to see them in their own environment, swimming in the sea. I’ve so enjoyed your haibun! The haiku is stunning. 🙂

    Reply

  4. Björn Rudberg (brudberg)
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 15:30:50

    The fisherman’s view of the whale with both awe and hatred for the destruction of his nets is strongly felt… but I think often we see them as competitors for the fish…

    Reply

    • kanzensakura
      Oct 04, 2018 @ 15:32:57

      Actually there was no hatred at the whales for destroying their nets. It was frustration for a day’s lost work with some humor worked in as well. I am sorry I gave that impression. It was cedrtainly not meant.

      Reply

  5. charliezero1.wordpress.com
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 15:44:30

    The stories I watch about whales and their habitat are sad and what every sea creature must do to survive in such frustration. Your poetry is outstanding work my friend.

    Reply

  6. anmol(alias HA)
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 16:20:14

    I really enjoyed this retelling of the tale — the entire experience seems wonderful in its view and memory. The haiku captures that lunge so well.

    Reply

  7. Glenn Buttkus
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 16:26:07

    This is an outstanding haibun; I lingered on every word and line. It transported me and soaked me in sea salt and kelp–one of your best–just a joy to bump into out here on the trail. In 1960, in Puget Sound, my Dad and I were salmon fishing when a 25 foot Orca kept going under our 17 foot boat, so I can relate.

    Reply

  8. Sherry Blue Sky
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 16:32:37

    I loved every word of this. It is so amazing to see these huge beings come up, out of the depths, alongside one’s boat, their big old eye looking in, their breath smelling ancient, their exhalations like the voice of God. I love the sound of your Pap, a true old salt, a mariner through and through.

    Reply

    • kanzensakura
      Oct 04, 2018 @ 16:47:30

      He actually sat out Hurricane Hazel in that shanty, perving on the roof holding on and having tired himself down. The storm surge engulfed the shanty reading yo to the roof eaves. My father drive down to get him and waded out to give him a hand to thevtryck after the surge receeded a bit the next day!

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  9. Dorianna Ric (paint-it-poetry)
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 16:43:55

    This reminded me of when I lived in Maui. Whales are loved there as well and part of tourist attractions are to rent boats for the sole purpose of watching the whales. Nice write

    Reply

    • kanzensakura
      Oct 04, 2018 @ 16:50:52

      Thank you. Thankfully the whales are revered and loved but the tourists haven ‘t caught on yet. No nasty boats if looky-loos polluting the waters and getting in the way of their breaching. If this happened during the summer, I imagine this would change. Thank God this happens in the bitter cold of an Atlantic winter.

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  10. Frank Hubeny
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 17:36:42

    I like this description of your great-grandfather: “My great-grandfather in particular was a salty old man and often said he would stop looking at women when they screwed his coffin lid down. “

    Reply

  11. sanaarizvi
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 17:54:20

    This is incredibly heartfelt, Toni! ❤ I can picture those “gigantic creatures swimming along side of the boat” and share your love of the ocean 😊

    Reply

  12. Grace
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 19:29:21

    That is a sight to see as I have not seen one myself. Good for you to inherit that love of ocean.

    Reply

  13. oldegg
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 20:23:17

    I loved how personal your tale was as you told it to us with such great detail and affection.

    Reply

  14. V.J. Knutson
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 20:24:09

    Enjoyed this story of your Pap. Whales hold such fascination for me – your words made me want to be there.

    Reply

  15. Vivian Zems
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 20:31:45

    Magnificent creatures and you told the tale well!

    Reply

  16. rothpoetry
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 20:45:49

    A beautiful Haibun Toni. Your grandfather’s story was wonderful. He sounds like a really interesting man. Love the Haiku at the end.

    Reply

  17. Abigail Gronway
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 23:18:32

    I really enjoyed reading your haibun. One winter my children and I braved the cold to visit the Outer Banks from Chesapeake, VA, but we didn’t know to look for humpback whales. We were hoping to see the lighthouses, but they weren’t open for tourists that time of year. We did visit the NC Aquarium though, and we saw some other things that interested the children, including their first ferry ride.

    Reply

    • kanzensakura
      Oct 05, 2018 @ 01:19:18

      Glad you enjoyed your trip. Thankfully this is not very well known otherwise we would be swarming with tourists and boats polluting the waters and moving into the breaches. I watch from the end of a pier with binoculars. One has to be patient and wrapped against the cold. Not a good activity for small children

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  18. Brendan
    Oct 05, 2018 @ 04:36:46

    Rich and wild.

    Reply

  19. lynn__
    Oct 05, 2018 @ 15:05:30

    Magnificent…your haibun, tales of great granddad, and the whales!

    Reply

  20. mhmp77
    Oct 05, 2018 @ 19:11:41

    kaykuala

    Information or news on whales center most on sad episodes of beached deaths or cruelty on the high seas. Their nuisance to man is pale in comparison. They are still considered fondly especially with their showmanship at places like the Sea World are unforgettable. Wonderful take, Toni!

    Hank

    Reply

    • kanzensakura
      Oct 05, 2018 @ 20:12:21

      And the watermen while annoyed at having their nets destroyed take it in stride realizing the whales will soon be moving further south and that there is plenty if food in the area for them all.

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  21. Gina
    Oct 06, 2018 @ 09:38:57

    they are marvelous creatures, some how I feel put on earth for a reason we haven’t really understood. your haibun was a lovely story, very historical to me, generations connected by the sea.

    Reply

  22. memadtwo
    Oct 06, 2018 @ 12:50:41

    A wonderful melding of nature and nurture. Whalesongs…(K)

    Reply

  23. Salt Water Gossip
    Nov 19, 2018 @ 21:29:13

    Finaly sombody who will document facts. All i ever see now is poems. . .

    Reply

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