In 1989 scientists discovered a whale swimming all alone in the Pacific Ocean.
He has been tracked as far north as the Aleutian Islands and as far south as the California coast. His species has never been identified, nor has he ever been spotted traveling with a pod. He sends his calls into the deep year after year at a frequency of 52 hertz. All whale species call between 15 and 20 hertz.
No other whale can hear 52 Hertz.
It’s March 2013. I’m in the Indonesian village of Tukad Mungga within a rock’s throw of the Bali Sea. It’s my first time in my husband’s country.
The oven-like temperatures don’t stop the women from wearing their fitted kabyas and ankle length sarongs. The smell of fresh garlic and shallots, frangi panis, and half haired cats swirls all around the air.
A woman pulls me to the side––one of Paddy’s aunts or cousins. She laughs at me and mumbles Balinese as she yanks my sarong, tying it to the side of my body. After she finishes, I walk back to the group like a child who has been dressed by her big sister. (Writing this now, I still remember the tightness of the fabric pulled across the curve of my lower belly. What a mess I must have been to the seasoned village women–Paddy’s white wife, a clueless wide-eyed westerner.)
It’s ceremony time in the village. Dozens of people have been working for days and weeks to prepare for our wedding. Mounds of intricately crafted banana leaves lie stacked throughout the village. Mama Mirah had graciously given my clumsy hands a lesson in banana leaf art. I finished my first one in 15 minutes. She had made thousands for our big day–her youngest son’s wedding.
As I sit heat exhausted on the concrete courtyard, I survey the scene in front of me. Paddy’s cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandmother all live in connecting homes, creating a u-shape around the courtyard. The women share an outdoor kitchen. Children and chickens run through the middle, while the elderly lie shaded in their beds. Babies nurse at the open breasts of their mothers next to the group of men that have gathered to do the daily chopping of the vegetables. I don’t understand a word being said, but my heart recognizes the harmony of a full functioning village.
The day before our wedding I watched as the sweat soaked men wrestled a pig out of its pen. The animal’s disparate calls attracted the attention of a man walking past on the nearby road. He was the only white man I ever saw in the village. After he offered his assistance, I asked him where he was from.
“Tukad Mungga,” was the reply. His accent told me he was American.
“Where did you live before here?”
“I lived in the Seattle area most my life. In the States, I didn’t know my neighbor’s name. Here you raise your neighbor’s children.” He shook his head as he looked at the ground. “I’m not going back.” No doubt he had found his pod.
I wanted to stay forever in Bali. Really, I did. As I sat aboard the US bound plane, I knew I was returning to a villageless country. I knew I was re-entering the land of 300 million 52 hertz whales. All of us calling out across the waters searching for our tribe. Are you like me? Can you hear me? Surely this is what social media is all about––lonely souls calling out for our pod.
My husband had grown up bare-backed and fluoride free, a toyless child, but his life was sopping wet in the riches of relationships. I could take toys and clothes to the materially poor children of Tukad Mungga, but I could not bring a whole village in my suitcase to give to the nation of solo swimmers. I can only write this. Send it out to the deep. And hope you hear my frequency.
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Author: Debra Warshaw
Editor: Travis May
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