December 3, 2023 | Rome, Italy


By |2018-03-21T18:50:34+01:00August 8th, 2012|"American Girl"|
It hung in the air for an eternity…

#8220;I don’t like my life,” I told Rebecca. “It’s strange to hear myself say it, but it’s true.” I was in the thick of a hard time and I wasn’t in the mood to be cheered up; I was just looking for a place to be honest.

Rebecca couldn’t help herself.

“I know your current situation is not ideal, but at least you have your freedom. I’m stuck at home being a mom. Cheer up, you can still travel around freely, not like me.”

Her words provided a modicum of levity. Traveling had always brought perspective to the scale of my problems, and I needed that now.

Luckily, I had planned a trip to southeast Alaska in February and it was mere week away. It could not come soon enough.

The weeklong trip involved taking an expedition vessel from Juneau to Glacier Bay, then back by way of Endicott Arm. I was looking forward to nature on a grand scale: salmon spawning, black bears, bald eagles and kayaking near salt-water glaciers. Witnessing these, I thought, would return me to the person I remembered, the “me” I desperately missed.

The first morning on the boat I woke early to someone shouting. I wasn’t sure what was said but I jumped out of my bed alarmed. Looking out the window, the sky was covered in a dense fog. I was disoriented, not quite sure where I was. Remembering I was on a boat, I put on my robe and walked out of my cabin into the cold Alaskan dawn.

I stood at the railing and slowly the cloak of mist rolled back to uncover the rim of the Fairweather range covered in snowfields over the icy strait. The beauty was stark and naked. I breathed the moist air, and exhaled.

Then, I heard the shout again, and this time, heard what was being said.

“Whale! Whale!”

I ran to the bow and met several others looking slowly out in the dark morning water.

A short distance on the vessel’s port side, a small upward plume of spray shot up in the air. Everyone gasped and pointed. “There it is!”

I saw the spray, and then, close to the boat, the whale broke the water and raised its dark back above the wave. It was enormous.

It submerged momentarily, then, like a bow on a gift, the tail appeared. It hung in the air for an eternity as we watched spellbound, and then the whale swam beneath the boat and slipped back into the inky blue.

We all went silent with a strange reverence. We stood like children, scanning the waters and waiting; our figures in the lingering fog so small and insignificant compared to the huge mammal that showed itself to us. Our lives seemed less than a speck.

After the sun rose and filled the open sky, it was clear for now, the whale had disappeared into the deep.

My problems, too, could no longer be found. Strangely, I couldn’t remember what exactly had upset me so in New York.

Traveling — which can transform weary adults into grown-up children — had again worked its wonders. Smiling, I couldn’t wait to tell Rebecca she was right.

About the Author:

Madeline Klosterman wrote the "American Girl" column from 2008 through 2019.