I have heard many people use many words to describe Granny (J2). Awesome. Impressive. Epic. I have thought the same things about her, those and more. At the end of a year filled with unnecessary loss we bid farewell to a life long in the making and whose memory will be even longer in the retelling. She was a leader. A mother---in every sense of the word, to generations of her kin. She was a teacher, a companion, an icon.
This day was inevitable though that does not help to dull the pain of her passing. For years I would watch for Granny every spring and the sigh of relief that accompanied that first sighting of her was always a welcome one. As the years passed, for no other reason than out of time and habit, I began purposefully searching out that familiar notched dorsal fin every time I was in the company of J-pod. I would think myself silly when I saw her, as present as she always was, but I would be grateful she was still with us all the same.
This fall was my last encounter with her, though I wouldn’t know it at the time. It was sunset, the wind was picking up but it was still warm as the last bits of a long summer had not yet been chased away by a swiftly arriving fall. I was at Lime Kiln with some of those people who are dearest to me when the whales arrived from the north. The waves seemed to excite the whales as they breached, cartwheeled, and tail slapped their way down island. Suddenly Granny was there, right in front of us, closer to shore than many and in the company of her youngest great-granddaughter, Suttles (J40). The two surfaced once, twice, a third time, and then disappeared to the south, gone as quickly as they had come. I sometimes wonder what I would have said or done had I known that was the last time I would see her. Would I have changed anything?
Every moment spent in her presence was one in which she taught me something new. Over the years I learned, and I suspect many others did too, a variety of lessons from her, both great and small. She taught us patience. She showed us how to lead by example. How to listen to each other, to the world around us, and to our own hearts. And she taught us how to throw ourselves skyward for the sheer joy of it every once in a while, for the heck of it, just because we can.
Even in her death Granny leads by example----'This is how it should be,' she tells us, even now. 'This is when we should be parting ways…at the end of a long life.' The tears in our eyes and on our cheeks are for the loss of a whale---a beloved friend---who has led a life whose length alone is worthy of remembrance and of celebration.
The times ahead are ones I cannot predict, for I do not have the gift of foresight. But whatever they bring---be it triumph, tragedy, or something in the middle---may we face them with the same tenacity and dignity as Granny. She lives on in the whales that still remain, in the calves that have yet to join us. She lives on in our hearts, and more importantly in our deeds.
She is epic and awesome and impressive and she will always be.