I was chaperoning a group of high school biology students on a four-day field trip to Monterey, California, with biology teacher extraordinaire, Mike Sherron.
We visited the incomparable Monterey Bay Aquarium, where the students conducted informational treasure hunts among multiple amazing exhibits. We learned about penguins, sharks, jellies, kelp forests, and more.
We hiked through Point Lobos State Reserve, viewing sea otters exuberantly pounding clams on their chests with rocks, then twisting and rolling in the water, grooming their luxurious fur. Seals and sea lions basked on rocks in the sun, the sea lions giving an occasional bark.
We stood in awe before enormous groves of eucalyptus trees, marveling at literally thousands of Monarch butterflies clinging to branches in thick orange fluttery clumps.
We picked our way among the rich tide-pools, discovering scurrying hermit crabs, flowerlike sea anemones, spiky sea urchins, and orange and purple sea stars.
And we spent one memorable morning whale-watching.
Which was how I found myself leaning against the boat’s railing, surveying the blue Pacific Ocean with binoculars, and continually being elbowed in the ribs.
Every whale’s back that broke the water’s surface elicited excited exclamations on my part. I couldn’t help it. Every puff from a blow hole, every tail splash, every flipper flap brought fresh cries of joy and delight.
Unfortunately, Mr. Sherron was trying to videotape the whales. He kept elbowing me. “Carol!” he would hiss. “I’m filming! We can hear you!”
Chagrined, I would whisper my apologies and resolve to bite my tongue. Keep quiet, Carol! But then suddenly he would be elbowing me again. Darn! Was I gushing already?
Of course, part of me wondered what the big deal was. Isn’t it good to have a passion for nature? What’s wrong with hearing someone enjoying these magnificent whales, with sharing their wonder and excitement with others?
Call it part of the soundtrack! Get over it! Right?
It is several weeks later. While substitute-teaching at Mr. Sherron’s school, I hear the students talking animatedly about a mysterious movie. “Have you seen it?” they eagerly ask each other, grinning. “I saw it last period! When do you get to see it?”
Hmmm. Odd that a presumably educational film would generate such unabashed interest. Definitely not the norm for high school kids.
And then Mr. Sherron ushers me into his classroom to view the film he had put together of the field trip. We watch clips of the Aquarium, sea otters, Monarch butterflies, tide pools.
The kids sit patiently, politely, if expectantly.
Suddenly we are on the boat, looking out at the ocean. The kids sit up straighter, the room charged with eager anticipation. Whispers of “This is it!” and “Here it comes!” fly excitedly around the class. Mr. Sherron shoots me a dark and meaningful look.
Surprised, I almost turn around to see if it were directed at someone behind me. What? What’d I do?
Whales’ backs break the surface of the ocean, their big broad bodies rising up and then sliding smoothly back down into the water. Puffs of water shoot into the air, flippers flip, tails rise majestically and come down with an enormous splash.
But the soundtrack is a woman’s voice squealing, “Yes! Yes! Right there! Right there!”
The kids sit forward, listening attentively, eagerly.
“Oh,” sighs the voice rapturously. “Look at it, it’s so big, so big! Come on, baby, come on! Yes! Here it comes again! Up – and down! Oh yes, yes!”
I stand transfixed, aghast. No!
I was just –
It was just –
The whales –
The high school students, awash with hormones, squirm happily in their seats. I glance helplessly at Mr. Sherron. He is scowling at me, arms crossed.
The voice continues. “Oh my god, oh my god,” it moans. “Two of them! Come closer, come on over here, both of you, I want to see you! Oh yeah baby, that’s what I’m talking about! Do it again, right here, just like that!”
The film has the high school students’ rapt attention, although I notice an awful lot of discomfited fidgeting in their seats. Why didn’t Mr. Sherron tell me to be quiet?
The voice becomes a throaty croon. “I love you, baby, I love you! No, don’t go, don’t go…” Then, with rising excitement, “Oh god, there it is again! Come here, baby, I want to kiss you! Oh god, it’s so beautiful, it’s so big! Look how big it is!”
A breathless pause, during which the high school students are riveted in their seats, clutching their desks, practically panting. Then the voice suddenly cries out, “Oh my god, look at it spout! Do it again, baby, come on! Do it again, just like that! Yes! YES!”
The high school students can’t stand it anymore. They are completely disheveled, overwrought. “Forget the whales!” they burst out. “Show us the deck! What’s happening down on the deck?”
Mr. Sherron glowers as I inch my way out of the door, cheeks aflame.
You can accuse me of many things, but not a lack of enthusiasm.