The Dance of Whales — The Dance of Life

Written by Ken Leinbach
    Monday, 28 April 2014
The Dance of Whales — The Dance of Life

I awoke alone just before sunrise, happy for the warmth of my sleeping bag. The eastern horizon was aglow where ocean met sky. Purple, peach and pink all mixed up into one intense remarkable color. I rolled over and rested my chin in my hands to take in the beauty before my eyes. There was hardly a breath of wind on the shore of this small, isolated cove on Isla Espiritu Santo in the Sea of Cortez.

My mind was awake, open and clear.

I heard a soft sound ... not so much an interruption, but an intrinsic part of the moment.

Sound focused to sight and I became a witness to the joyful dance of life. First a smooth ripple, then a graceful glistening black mound rose impossibly high from the sea followed by a deep primordial breath. Another ripple, another slightly smaller mound, another breath. Massive flukes rose up — quiet — save for the dripping water from the tails’ edge. I could hear the drips! Then they were gone.

Silence and awe filled the space. The horizon of pure color brightened. I rested in expectant beauty.

Another ripple, black mound and primordial breath. The big one again! In close proximity, still water suddenly boiled and erupted with a loud PBSSHHH! The second whale exploded out of the water launching its body straight up to a shocking height, twisting in the early morning air before — KABLAM — body met water in a spray of delight. I felt the reverberation through the ground. Holy cow!

Seconds later, silence with a widening circle of swells was the only evidence of the glorious moment before. Wow.

The horizon was electric with light ... the sun was imminent.

Silent ripple of the big whale, breath and ... PBSSHH ... it happened again as the smaller one jumped! KABLAM ... then silence.

Wait ...

The daybreak danced crescendos as the larger whale now exploded and launched up and up and up in perfect synchronicity with the first sliver of the rising sun. Its body glistened as each of a thousand drops of spray glowed like priceless jewels and the moment was captured forever in my soul.

This really happened.

I have no idea what to make of an experience like this other than to simply say “thank you.” I would not give up this moment of perfect connection to the natural world for anything ... and what is perhaps most profound ... I could not have been in this exact place in space and time were it not for the precise path that my life before me had taken. Everything up until this instant was suddenly validated. All the hard work of the Center. The raising of two children. The struggles with dementia for my Mom. It is especially meaningful this year, in which I have had to face my share of both inner and outer demons and challenges. Every joy and pain was brought into focus as necessary contributions to this flash of profound cathartic clarity. No silver bullet answers, just pure beauty, hope and mysterious purpose leading to an intense appreciation and love of all life.

As John Muir once said, “One touch of nature can make the whole world kin.” I get it.

Almost equally profound is how, in this dance of life, I ended up on the Island of the Spirit in the first place. It is a story of how an experiment we affectionately call the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee has had an impact in a neighborhood some 3000 miles away.

I was invited to participate in a program in La Paz, Mexico called the Way of Nature through the Academy for Systemic Change, a program I helped found. The Way of Nature offered a four day solo experience on an island an hour boat ride from La Paz. The program was to start and finish, however, at a community center called El Mangle (translated as the mangrove). El Mangle, I knew, was connected to a guy I once gave a tour through our Centers to about seven years ago. I reached out and here is a portion of his response:

Ken, I’m excited you are coming. I would be super interested in having you meet some of our team along, of course, with having you see what is happening on our campus. You will see the similarities with what you all have accomplished in Milwaukee. It has been inspired by your work to be sure.

It turns out that we were used as a significant guide post in the development of El Mangle. Stated another way, the incredible work that so many of us from Milwaukee have been involved in has found a seed in a poor barrio of a small city on the Pacific coast in Mexico ... who knew?


El Mangle Meeting & Events Center!The site where El Mangle now sits is on the coast in an area that used to be a non-official trash dump with some abandoned buildings and a grain elevator. Plagued with drug issues, a few years ago one of the buildings known as the “crack house”, was converted into a beautiful community center. The right leaders were engaged, inroads were made into the community and a massive community clean-up ensued. The grain elevator is used to teach rappelling and may be turned into a climbing wall. Art abounds as does the use of recycled materials. It’s a meeting ground for researchers and fishermen to improve fishing practices in the Sea of Cortez. A place for locals to garden and grow food. A place for kids to learn about the environment. Sound familiar? While not used exactly the same way as our Centers in Milwaukee, the facility style, and positive, kind, intentional and proud community vibe is almost identical. I couldn’t stop smiling while I was there.

I am so thankful for you and your role, whether big or small, in making our high impact environmental community centers tick. I wonder what other places are out there like El Mangle that we don’t know about? We may not have whales, but it doesn’t take a whale to form the human-nature-life bridge that John Muir speaks of. It happens daily in Three Bridges Park, Washington Park and in the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum. And now we know that it happens daily at El Mangle as well!

It all comes down to inspiration and clarity of purpose. It is powerful stuff. I encourage you to find your whale and more importantly, help the kids in our city do the same.

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” John Muir.

Whale photo credit: Whit Welles

Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach is a nationally recognized science educator and leader in community-based environmental education. From a trailer in a high-crime city park, Ken has had fun facilitating the grassroots effort to create and grow the Urban Ecology Center which is the topic of his first book.

Striving to live with as little environmental impact as possible, Ken lives in the community in which he works and, not owning a car, commutes by bike, unicycle, roller blades, and occasionally even by kayak on the Milwaukee River.



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