Opinion: A lesson from the orcas

Kayla Heidenreich, Editor

Easter morning was sunny, clear and still. The Puget Sound was as smooth as glass, beckoning an early SUP paddle with my dad. Minutes later, we were sitting on our boards in the middle of the bay, admiring the silence and beauty around us.

Without warning, a juvenile orca broke through the inky surface less than 15 feet away. Her dorsal fin was the first to emerge, followed by the front half of her huge black shiny body. Exhaling a plume of steam into the cold air with humbling energy, she looked at us with a curious intelligence that seemed to say, “Hello friends, I see you. Who are you? What are you doing out here?” And, then she was gone.

My dad and I gaped at each other, but then she surfaced again as near as before, swimming past us and dipping out of sight once more. After repeating this pattern several times, she turned to the north, took a deep breath and disappeared. We looked in the direction of her departure, both wondering the same thing: Is she here with her family? We began to paddle after her, hoping that this magical experience wasn’t yet over.

I immediately started laughing and crying happy tears – I didn’t know what else to do. As we paddled toward what we hoped was the rest of the pod, I just kept saying to myself, “Is this really happening?” Even now as I’m writing this, I’m still in shock.

I can’t help but wonder if what’s going on in the world had any effect on the likelihood of that experience. With panic and fear inserting itself within our human population, we often lose sight of the good things. And granted, it’s completely understandable why. We haven’t faced something like this in 100 years. Yet, we must not ignore the beauty that still surrounds us.

My dad and I ended up watching a pod of eight orcas feast on schools of fish from about 20 yards away. And not only that, one of the orcas was completely white. An albino. Researchers estimate there are just 10 in existence. That experience was far from a common occurrence.

With a near worldwide quarantine in effect, there have been fewer cars on the roads, less travel by air, a lower production of goods, and overall, less consumption. Yes, our economy is suffering, but what about the natural world? She seems to be thriving. This experience has demonstrated what incredible things the human population can do by coming together in a united front. We’ve accomplished some of the impossible. For example, the air pollution that haunted Asia, specifically China, has almost disappeared…that hasn’t happened in decades. The canals in Venice that were once extremely polluted are now filled with fish – yet another miracle, all because we have severely decreased the creation of pollution. This makes me wonder, what else could we accomplish if we all put this much effort into some of our global issues like starvation and pollution?

Would the experience my dad and I had still have happened if we weren’t limiting the use of watercraft, fishing, or recreation in the water? I cannot draw that conclusion, but it is an interesting thought.

With this global pandemic, we have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to shift our priorities around. We have the opportunity to slow down, to spend more time with loved ones and neighbors who we might not usually connect with. We have the opportunity to get outside, into nature and experience the wonder that we are often blind to by the overwhelming amount of stuff and things we “have” to accomplish on a normal day. We have the opportunity to learn a new instrument, read that book we’ve always said we were going to read, or to pick up the arts and crafts we’ve had to abandon.

I learned an important lesson on that Easter morning. When it seems like something is completely taking over our mind, actions, thoughts, decision, and outlook we must see the big picture. Yes, it is important to adhere to social distancing rules and take the precautions set by our government. But we cannot let ourselves dwell on the negative – that doesn’t do any good for the situation or our health. Appreciate the good things in your life, enjoy the beauty all around you – you never know what might happen, you might just witness an albino orca and her pod feeding on fish while sitting on a paddle board.

Kayla Heidenreich is a Sierra Nevada University junior.