12.01.2014

Waves

Last night my extended family congregated along with hundreds of other tourists to observe the "parade of the penguins" on the southwest end of Phillip Island in Australia, a couple hours from Melbourne. As my nephew pointed out, it was more of a parade of the humans, compelled by some collective peer pressure to assemble together along the beach and watch Little Penguins (aka Faerie Penguins) come ashore, returning to their burrow nests after a long day feeding at sea.

Some other more astute and business savvy humans had accommodated this parade of humans by setting up a nature center with an assortment of trinkets the humans find so irresistable that they will hand over money for them, and a viewing area with bleachers where the humans could huddle together against the cool and forceful sea breeze to observe the cute little penguins coming home from work.

I found the whole thing to be rather gauche and don't think nature should be held ransom to consumerism. The viewing of the penguins natural instinctive behavior should be free and the humans in charge should be required to make all their money in food, souvenir, and service sales. But humans have not collectively disenfranchised blind consumerism yet, so nothing I can do about it.

We arrived at the penguin viewing a good 90 minutes before the penguins graced us with their presence. This ensured us some rather good seats, in exchange for a long wait in the bracing sea breeze. As we were walking the wooden boardwalk toward the viewing area, I approached a good looking woman in the uniform of nature center staff and elucidated from her where the best vantage point would be.

"When you get down there," she said, "There are two viewing areas. Most people sit in that first area because it is the first one they come to. But if you go past that to the second set of bleachers, it's a bit nicer because there are less people and you can get right up the front to see the little guys come in."

I nodded my understanding and we shared a knowing smile. I had the inside scoop. Sometimes all it takes is a strategically asked question. Most people don't ask questions. Presumably they think they know it all or will figure it out.

We had dressed appropriately against the wind chill factor. Even though the ambient temperature on land was probably about 80 degrees, the sun was setting and the wind coming off the Bass Strait in the Southern Ocean we sat beside was chilled to the temperature of the sea. Earlier in the day, I had swum in the more tranquil and protected waters of Western Port off Cowes on the north side of Phillip Island and I estimated the water temperature to be a brisk 50 degrees F (10 C). So the vigorously churning whitecapped waters of Bass Strait were probably even cooler and the southerly wind had encountered no land between where we sat and Tasmania some 500 miles to the south.

Even though we had a long wait for the penguins, I was quite content to contemplate the raging sea before me. Most of the people around me were monofanatically there to see penguins and could not escape the tunnel of this vision, notwithstanding the appearance in the skies above us of thousands of Sheerwaters returning to their nests, an awesome though not as cute and cuddly spectacle. The Sheerwaters glided gracefully in the skies, weaving between their comrades with fighter pilot precision to avoid in air collisions. The calculus of that given the sheer number of Sheerwaters was incomprehensible to me but it was all the more impressive as a result. I am sure millions of years of evolution had culled the Sheerwater flocks of their clumsier individuals, clearing the skies for these precision aerial acrobats with their long pointy wings that dwarfed their small bodies. In ornithology class in college, Sheerwaters had always been my favorite bird, the way they skim the surface of the sea and pluck unsuspecting squid and small fish from just below the surface of the water to eat. When they bank to make their sharp turns, the tips of their long wings dip in the water cutting a thin wake.

The tide was going out and as the shadows of dusk deepened around us, I watched the battle between the large incoming waves and the rapidly receding shoreline. As the riptides hurtled backwards into the sea, they would collide with crashing waves and send up explosive plumes of spray along the peaks and valleys of the interacting waveforms. I was quite content to enjoy the dynamic of this physical inorganic phenomenon until the waterfowl appeared, though my narrow minded comrades probably interpreted this as boredom.

Nature is fantastic.

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