Island Life: Orca Whales

When you live on an island in Washington State you are sustained by the sea.

Whidbey is a long, narrow island at the northern end of Puget Sound in the middle of the Salish Sea. As you drive from one end to the other you see farms, small towns, forests and water. Always water.

Seagulls thrive here. They bob along the shore diving for fish. They roost on power poles, roofs, boats, and an occasional car. Their squawks and shrieks fill the air as they scavenge and play.

A wide range of sea life shares itself with islanders. Unfortunately, not all of it is thriving.

Orca whales that reside in Puget Sound are in crisis. Southern residents number less than 80. Some years there are no new calves and other years, like 2018, calves are born, but don’t live. And although whales are long-lived there have been deaths of older residents too.

This month two whales show serious signs of starvation and aren’t expected to live much longer without human interventions. Rescue plans and the teams ready to carry them out were delayed by the government shutdown. (Seattle Times Jan. 18, 2019)

A long list of problems represent the complex issues related to the health of local whales and of the environment in general. For Orcas a lack of food, toxins dumped in the sea, noise from oil tankers and navy jets, and signs of collapse within the marine ecosystem have created the current crisis.

On Whidbey, we follow sightings of the Orca and are thrilled to watch them from bluffs and beaches as they feed and play. We are nurtured by the presence of these giants. Many islanders and mainlanders have committed to helping the whales by lobbying politicians, writing letters and articles, and by living with less detrimental impact.

Orca whales in the southern pod are in crisis. Time to take care of our neighbors.

Bees as Bait

“Something flies too close to my ear. For a moment, its buzz is the only noise in my world.” The Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager

The first two sentences of The Hour of the Bees alert us to the importance of the buzzing insects. Bees appear in the title and the main character hears only their whirring as the story begins. All that exists are the bees. All that matters are the bees.

10 pages. In my last post I said I would be re-reading the openings of some favorite MG books. As I dissected the “starters” in this novel I was intrigued. We read about a family in distress. They have left home, friends, work and all normalcy for the summer. A family crisis pulls them to a dying ranch in a drought plagued landscape.

The sheep ranch has only a dozen sheep, the grass is crunchy and brown and the grandfather whom the children have never met has dementia. Family tensions are hinted at, conversation skitters past a missing grandmother and unwanted change seems unavoidable.

But the bees whisper the possibility of something else. Of hope. Of rain instead of drought.

There are no big action sequences, no swordplay or blood. There are no monsters, breakups, new kids at school or bullies. These 10 pages introduce us to a family and makes us curious about their fate. Their every-day-ness connects us to them. Then the bees fly past. Only one person sees or hears them. Is it an illusion brought on by the drought? Or is there much more to the story and the bees will take us there?

The first 10 pages* for The Hour of the Bees set the stage for a great read. As we continue through the novel we learn of the extent of the drought both for the land and in the family. Plots and subplots, stories within stories, increase the tension and make the book impossible to put down.

The Bees are the bait that set the hook to catch readers. We are then pulled into a rich and satisfying story.

This is a must read MG novel. This island reader gives it 5 sea stars.

*(In my version of the text Chapter 1 is 18 pages long, but I’m counting it as the basic 10 page introduction that would be sent to agents.)