I wonder how many public high schools have the skeleton of a whale hanging in the main hallway. Nantucket High School does. It’s much like the skeleton hanging in the Nantucket Whaling Museum, shown below. The one in the high school is too long for me to get on my camera.
In the 1840’s, Nantucket got rich by killing whales and boiling down their blubber to make oil for candles and lanterns. Oh, and let’s not forget the whale bones that were used to make corsets to compress women’s waists.
An excellent book about Nantucket and whaling is Nathaniel Philbrick’s Into the Heart of the Sea, which was made into a movie of the same name. And of course, there’s always Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick.
In the mid-1800’s, other sources of fuel were discovered, and whaling, always a dangerous endeavor, ceased to exist, although not universally. When my son took me on a cruise into the Norweigan fjords, I saw several statues dedicated to the whales whose oil lit homes and provided food and other items to help people live.
During the last century, research discovered that whales are intelligent, complicated, sensitive mammals. Humans have much to learn from whales. Because we’ve stopped killing them, whales have come to trust human beings, even to interact with us, even to like us. FB friend Jackie Bensley, who now lives in Arizona, sent me the following two photos taken when she was working on The Spirit of Endeavor in the Pacific. These are so much like what I’ve heard about and wrote about in The Island House, it took my breath away.
My editor gave me a copy of the book Grayson, a contemporary true account of one woman befriending a baby whale while swimming in the Pacific.
A few weeks ago, after The Island House came out, I was reading an excellent mystery called Little Black Lies by S.J. Boulton. It’s set in the Falkland islands.
I got goose bumps when I read the following passage about a man and a woman in a boat near Port Fitzroy in the Falkland Islands.
“Shhh. Did you hear that?” He gets to his feet, squeezes around me and goes out into the cockpit. Puzzled, not sure whether to be alarmed or not, I follow and find him on the stern deck.
The sound of the wind and the ocean. The sound of loneliness. The sound of distance from everything. Then something else. Something musical, beautiful, heartbreakingly sad.
“They must be close.” The wave of sound dies away and I reach back inside the wheelhouse for binoculars.
Callum is spinning slowly on deck, trying to locate the source. “I’ve never anything like it before. I thought whale song could only be heard underwater.”
The sounds have gone for the moment, all we can hear is the rumble of the waves and the wind coming off the hills. “It’s unusual but it happens. There are stories of whales having conversations with people. Even with dogs.”
P 75, Sharon Bolton, Little Black Lies, 2015
The man who joins Robin in my novel is named Callum. I read this book six months after I turned The Island House into my publisher. The world is an ocean of connections.