A Story for Geoffrey

For the day he will be old enough to ask:
Where did the mountains come from?
What happened to the whales?


There never was a time when the sight and the sound of whales, the mere thought of their existence, did not haunt me. I started to sell my pots so I could “own” pieces of them, to keep near me and protect what was left of them. My house is full of whalebone Inuit sculptures. They are carved out of ancient, petrified bone, but for me they still hold within them the majesty of the living beings that those bones used to be part of. I question them:

Of whales I ask
how stone
stone can be
that once
was bone?
Does the moon resound
of unborn flowers yet?

One day, in the middle of the woods, I was surrounded by a vision (can visions be heard as wells as seen?). I was making things out of clay at the time, and as they grew, they began to resemble strange menhir, or rocks, rising out of the earth. I did not know what they were, even though they were familiar somehow. They seemed to turn into creatures I remembered from old myths or legends from the country where I come from. I thought maybe they were druids. They had the kind of presence one would imagine druids had.

With the next summer, the vision and sounds returned. This time, I recognized them. They were the sounds of the sea and the songs of whales. And I called the group of creatures that began to gather around me a “monody in stone”. I had never heard the word monody before, but it sounded like what I saw coming out of my hands. I looked it up in a dictionary. It said: a monody is a song or a poem lamenting someone’s death. Or, a single voice carrying a melody, the others serving as accompaniment.

The vision told me the story of how, not so many years hence (once can see legends in the future can’t one? I often remember that things are going to happen) the creatures of the sea rose in song to breathe the air they needed to live.

As they rose in unison above the waters, into a space that no longer held any air because of what the greed of mankind had done to the world, they froze into stone. And when I found them, they were growing out of the almost-prairie grass, like menhir.

But I knew them as whales.

After the winter, when I went back to work with clay, the vision returned. The stone whales had grown taller and taller. Slowly, patiently but relentlessly, time and the tides, wind, snow and ice had eaten into them so that air and light could travel through the many cracks in the walls.

Now my creatures no longer resembled whales. They had become dwelling places for spirits who drifted in and out of the openings which were like windows. They had become home to the spirits of the sea, of the sun, of the moon, of cold, of thunder, of whales and to all kinds of souls who felt free to come and stay and leave again. They had turned into the Shining Mountains, home of the Spirit Powers. That is the name the First Peoples gave to the Rocky Mountains.

And that is the story the clay in my hands told me, the story of what happened to the whales, and how the mountains had risen from the sea.

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