When they got back to the point, the porpoise were on it already, shredding. The waves were awesome. Donna and Haole both caught a few waves, but neither of them spoke about their meeting with the Narwhale. It was too soon to talk about it as neither of them had fully digested the experience. However, Haole couldn’t keep from asking the porpoise what they knew about the gathering.
“It’s a surfing contest,” said Trace when Haole repeated to him part of what the Narwhale had said. “All the sea animals that surf go. They hold it each year at a place called Teahupo’o in Tahiti.”
“But it’s more than just a surf contest,” added Brine, “it’s a great meeting for all the animals of the sea.”
“Have you ever been?” Haole was fascinated by the concept.
Trace looked around as if someone were listening, then continued, “We used to go every year, but about two years back we were planning to go when the tuna schools moved east at a time of year when they usually move north and we were stuck.”
“Without the schools we wouldn’t have had a steady source of food,” Brine said sadly. “It’s a long trip. Without a school of tuna to follow we weren’t sure if we would have enough food to eat.”
Haole was too exited to let a logistical problem stand in his way. “Are you going this year?” he asked.
“It depends on the tuna schools. Last year they did the same thing. They went east,” said Trace. “We’d love to go, but we don’t know what the tuna are going to do until they do it.”
“Why don’t you just ask them?” Haole asked innocently.
Floater shook his head, laughing. “Have you ever spoken to a tuna?”
“They don’t make very good conversation,” added Trace.
Brine was laughing now too. “Can you picture it? ‘Excuse me my dear tuna. Do you mind telling me when and where you are going to migrate so as I might follow you and eat you for dinner every night?’ How do you think that would go over, Haole?”
Haole hadn’t thought about it that way. “I guess that would be a little awkward,” he admitted. “How did you know that they were going north in all those other years?”
Floater got serious now. “The albatross used to tell us.”
“Really?” it was just as the Narwhale had described, thought Haole. “What happened?”
“We don’t know really,” said Brine. “They claim that they don’t know what the tuna are going to do anymore.”
Just then a huge set wave peaked on the outside and Treak and Donna dropped in side by side, riding it in long graceful arcs. The other three porpoise let out exited burbles of laughter and raced out to catch the next wave, leaving Haole behind in the water, deep in thought. After a second he shook his head and raced out to join the others, but all afternoon he turned the problem over in his mind. There was only one way to sort it out, he figured - go talk to the albatross.
This made Haole nervous. He had never spoken to an albatross before and the impression he had always had, indeed the impression he had been brought up with, was of the albatross as insufferably rude creatures, aloof and unapproachable. Haole now realized that this was generally a view of the world that the penguins had developed due to their isolation. Of course, it had something to do with the fact that the albatross were known to try and eat the penguins eggs when they were unguarded. Still, it was really a function of the penguins projecting their own feelings of social inadequacy out onto the creatures around them. So then, Haole thought, it obviously wasn’t true of the albatross. They were just trying to survive like everyone else, but still it made Haole so nervous that he had a knot in his stomach.
The beach where Donna and Haole slept each night was, as I’ve told you, a cormorant nesting area, but high up in the cliff face there was a resident population of albatross. They never came down to land on the beach, but flew in and out of high nests on the way to their fishing grounds each morning and night. Haole had watched them take off for and land from their long flights since the first day he came to the island, but talking to them was different.
Skitter set up the meeting. Haole had asked that night and Skitter had said that she knew quite a few albatross and that she would ask a few of them to come down to the beach the next morning.
Donna had wanted to come too, so as the sun rose behind the right flank of the island, she and Haole waited on the sand. They had taken a morning swim, but had come right back to the beach not wanting to be late. Soon there was a flurry of activity up in the cliff and a few moments later there were four huge albatross circling down towards them. Skitter was with them too.
The first albatross alighted on the sand just a few feet away from Haole, his huge wings allowing him to practically float down and hover just above the sand for a moment before he stood up on his large webbed feet and folded his wings away. Behind him, the others began doing the same in a graceful dance of landing. Haole was overcome for a few moments by a feeling of wonder. He had always wanted to be in the presence of the albatross and he watched them all land, feeling a great respect for them. It took a minute, therefore, for Haole to notice something that had never crossed his mind. Once their huge wings were folded away, these birds were a little smaller than him. He had always assumed they were bigger and it made him feel strange to look down on them.
Skitter waddled to the front, blinked her big blue eyes at Haole, and started introductions. “Haole, this is Sirius, Rygel, Polaris and Orion,” she started. “This is Haole, the penguin.”
“We’ve been watching you for weeks now,” said Sirius. “I guess that if you were going to leave right away you would have done it already.”
Haole wasn’t sure how to take this. “I really like it here,” he said weakly. “This is Donna, my friend. She’s the one who told me about the island.”
Donna pushed herself forward. She was getting impatient. She’d always had a real sense that birds liked to waste time chattering, so she got right to the point. “We’re worried about the porpoise,” she said.
This got a general titter from the albatross. They were sure she was crazy or kidding. “I think the porpoise are just fine,” said Rygel. “I haven’t seen them swim more than a mile to find food in two years. We need to fly nearly a hundred miles each day to get enough food for our young.”
Haole was puzzled. He knew that the albatross didn’t eat tuna. They couldn’t. Tuna were far too big to be lifted up into the air even by their huge wings. “That’s not what this is about,” he said. “Do you ever talk to the porpoise about the tuna’s migration?”
“The porpoise are far too busy playing and are never serious. It would be pointless for us to talk to them,” said Rygel.
“So, how long has it been since you’ve spoken?” asked Donna.
Sirius bobbed his head, thinking. “For me it’s been a while. Some of us talk to the porpoise quite frequently. My uncle, Odysseus, used to talk to the tuna schools all the time. He would always say that it was an old tradition, but it seemed that he was not really in touch with reality.”
“Does he still do it?” asked Haole.
The albatross looked suddenly sad. “He passed away during the huge storm in the winter before last.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” offered Donna.
Rygel smiled, “The old guy always said that he would fly in any storm. I, for one, am impressed that he never backed down.”
“Hell of a bird,” said the other albatross, Polaris. “So what is the big deal with talking to the porpoise?”
Haole went straight to the point, “Well, it seems that the porpoise are a little stuck without your uncle.”
“How’s that?” Sirius was confused.
“You see,” Donna stepped in, “the porpoise apparently have been relying on your uncle’s seemingly innocent talks with the tuna in order to learn where they might expect the tuna to migrate next.”
“In fact,” Haole added, “I think that your uncle was actually giving the tuna advice on where they should migrate.”
Rygel shook his head, “Why don’t the porpoise just talk to them?”
Haole laughed, “See, that’s what I thought until the porpoise pointed out to me that it would be a little awkward to ask the tuna themselves, since their intention was to follow the tuna and eat them.”
“Oh, I see,” said all the albatross at once.
Sirius continued, “Well, push me out of the nest. I can’t believe that the old crazy bird wasn’t so crazy after all. He was always on about tradition and none of us ever wanted to listen to him.”
“He was up to something,” Rygel winked. “I always knew he was.”
“So, what should we do?” asked Polaris. “In honor of old Uncle Odysseus we should do something.”
Haole already had something in mind. “Well, the porpoise want to go to the Gathering of Ocean Creatures in a few weeks, and they usually follow the tuna, only for the last two years the tuna have headed east instead of north.”
“We could work that out pretty easy, couldn’t we fellas?” Sirius nodded at the others.
“Sure we could,” nodded Rygel. “Listen, Haole. While you’re here we have a question for you. How do you surf across the face of the wave on your feet like that?”
Haole was a little surprised, but he thought about it for a second. “Have you guys tried it?” he asked innocently.
The albatross looked sheepish for a second, then Sirius admitted, “Yeah, we’ve been riding above the waves for so long that we thought we’d give riding on the waves a try. You do make it look easy, but we found it to be just a bit trickier than we expected.”
Looking them up and down, Haole thought of something. “I hate to say it,” he said, “but I think your wings would get in the way.” It was really the first time that he realized how special his small wings were. They were perfect for surfing.
Haole spent the next few days playing with the porpoise and thinking about the journey to The Gathering. The albatross had spoken with the tuna and told him not to worry. He didn’t know what they had said to each other, but Sirius had assured him that the tuna would be headed north this year right on schedule. Now all there was to do was to bring up the idea of his going along to the porpoise. He expected it to go over easily, but he really wasn’t prepared for their reaction.
“Are you crazy?” Trace recoiled back in the water as if he had been physically struck by the absurdity of the idea. “Haole, you can’t,” he said matter-of-factly. “Tahiti is in the tropics!”
“I don’t get it,” said Donna, “what is the tropics?” She honestly had no idea what Trace was talking about.
“Honey,” Brine was smiling sweetly at both of them as if there was something they did not understand about life. “The tropics are a part of the world where it is very hot all of the time.”
“That sounds great,” said Haole. He couldn’t even imagine any part of the world being warmer than Antarctica was in the summer, and to travel to a part of the world that always enjoyed the pleasant temperatures of the long summer days of home sounded wonderful.
“No, Haole, you don’t understand,” said Trace. “It’s a lot hotter. Living here in the Antarctic all of the time you would be shocked at how hot it can get there.”
“But, I…,” Haole tried to argue. He honestly didn’t understand the problem.
Trace stopped him. “You are a penguin!”
“We aren’t even sure if you can survive in temperatures like that.” Brine was genuinely concerned for Haole’s safety. “The heat is brutal. The sun is so intense that it can burn your skin.”
“He has feathers!” shouted Donna, “This is ridiculous.” She was frustrated by the way the conversation was going.
Both of the porpoise stopped and looked back and forth between Haole and Donna for a few moments. They felt sorry for them but they agreed that this was ridiculous. It was out of the question for Haole to go. Besides the temperature there was the long migration distance. They knew that the longest distance that Haole had ever swum was from the ice sheet out to the island. The trip to Tahiti would be one hundred times farther than that. There was another thing. Brine didn’t want to say it, but she needed to convince Haole not to risk his life. “There has never been a penguin that has traveled out of the Antarctic. It’s that simple. You aren’t capable of making the trip.” She felt bad as soon as it was out of her mouth, but as far as she knew it was the truth and she just wanted to protect him.
“It’s not true,” blurted out Donna.
The porpoise looked at her in surprise. If they had had eyebrows they would all have been raised about now. “How is that?” asked Trace slowly.
Haole took a deep breath. “We met the Narwhale, and he told us of a time long ago when penguins used to travel across the seas like the porpoise do now.”
The porpoise weren’t listening. They were shocked. “You met the Narwhale?”
“We met him a few days ago out in the deeper water,” said Haole.
“Listen,” said Trace, “the Narwhale is old and crazy.”
Donna was tired of the argument. This is not at all what she expected from the porpoise. “Let’s just wait until the tuna migrate. If the tuna head north in a week than we all know that he was telling the truth.”
“I don’t know what she is talking about,” Trace was truly puzzled. “Do you know what she’s talking about?” he asked as he looked to Brine and shrugged.
It’s true that the talk with the porpoise didn’t go the way that Haole wanted it to, but Haole tried to get himself back into a good mood anyway. He told himself that it didn’t matter. He told himself the he didn’t want to go to the stupid Gathering anyway, but he knew that he was just lying to himself. He desperately wanted to go. He thought of nothing else all day. He racked his mind, but the more he thought, the more it seemed to be impossible for him to make the trip alone and by the end of the day he was depressed - very depressed. He spent the afternoon moping around the cove off the cormorants’ beach. He avoided everyone. Donna came back from playing Catch with the porpoise and tried to get him to race her around the island, but he was in no mood to play. She got upset with him and swam off to play at the point in the small swell that was running, telling him that he was obsessed. When the porpoise came into the cove just before sunset he pretended to already be sleeping. He heard Brine tell the others not to bother him. He had been really upset about the whole ridiculous idea of going to The Gathering, was how she put it, and he deserved a break. The other porpoise must have listened to her because they swam away after that and Haole moped around the beach till dark.
Donna came back just after dark and again Haole pretended to be asleep. He just sat there and pondered his own hopeless position, but of course it didn’t get him anywhere, and sometime later he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep and the first half of the night passed in a timeless short moment…
Something woke Haole in the wee hours of the morning. Something had changed. He sniffed the dark night air and it was full of heavy sea salt. There was a bright moon and the night felt alive. The depression of the day was gone in an instant. There was energy in the air.
In a second he knew what it was. The rumbling booming noise of waves breaking in the moonlight out on the reef let Haole know that the swell had come up since the sun set. Sharp cracking of big waves unloading their energy on the point reverberated across the beach.
He looked over at Donna. She was still sleeping, nestled up next to a big rock, her head tucked between her flippers. She didn’t stir at all as Haole got up and waddled to the waters edge and jumped in.
The water was full of energy and moving down the coast in a fast current. Haole headed for the point, watching the moonlight low on the horizon glimmering off the water. Clouds covered the sky except for a small space around the moon and the night seemed timeless. The crashing of the waves became louder and louder as he neared the point. Haole was being carried up and over swell after swell as they rolled by underneath him. As he got closer to the point the waves got bigger and bigger until it was as if there were small mountains passing beneath him and he became swallowed by deep valleys between them.
Once he was out at the break he marveled at the way the low moon gave plenty of light to see the waves by and he immediately swam into a big one, riding it all the way down the line. It reminded him of the waves he used to catch back off the ice sheet - big, mean and fast. He quickly swam outside and caught another one, carving long drawn out turns all the way down the line. These waves were fast and thick, and the swell was getting bigger with each set. Once Haole had been out in the moonlight surfing for an hour or more, the trouble he felt about the journey to the Gathering was a million miles away, and after several more waves Haole looked up into the sky and lay back in the water. There was a lull, and the sea went momentarily calm.
The Moon sat on the horizon for what seemed like a long time as Haole stared at it and waited for another set to come building into the point. Finally, the moon set in a faint glow and the clouds followed it over the horizon to complete their blanket of the sky. Haole watched the whole thing. He was mesmerized, watching the last of the glow fade, thinking about the good fortune he had had, coming to the island and finding good friends and a safe place to live. Even if the journey to the Gathering was not going to happen, things were going to work out in the long run. For just a minute Haole thought about his mother back on the ice. It made him sad because the truth was, although Haole would never have admitted it, he really missed his mother and the community of penguins in the huddle. Secretly he wished that he could go back, but could he go back? Was he just an outcast now? He even missed the way his mother used to smooth the feathers on his head after he swam. He was lost in thought for a long moment.
Now, my esteemed reader, pay close attention because something really astounding is about to happen to Haole. He is about to take the next step in his journey to becoming a legend.
A movement in the water stirred Haole’s attention and he looked around. He became alarmed when he realized that he could not see a thing - nothing! After the moon set, the sea had become pitch black! The motion of the water, Haole knew, was the water moving out as the next set of powerful waves approached. He gulped, looked around in a panic, but there was nothing. Clouds covered the sky and he was in total darkness. Fear began to creep up his back. This was dangerous. He could feel the first wave approaching.
Haole wanted to swim into the wave. He was in the perfect position but the sea was too black. The huge wave rushed at him with a speed exaggerated by the darkness. Haole struggled to see, straining his eyes to squeeze the last bit of moonlight out of the dark. There was none. It was just black. With a powerful pull he was lifted up in the body of the wave as the first one jacked up on the reef.
Hope seemed to rush out of his body. Haole closed his eyes in a moment of despair, but just then something happened. He realized that there was no difference between opening and closing his eyes. For just a moment it came to him, a vision of himself lying on his back, eyes closed on a sunny afternoon, safely floating in the water. He relaxed.
He heard a voice in his mind. ‘Trust yourself,’ it said. ‘Don’t be afraid, it’s only water… let go.’ Pushing forward, he swam into the wave.
He closed his eyes. The spray blowing up off the top of the wave was still raining against him. The weightlessness at the edge was the same as when it was light and, as he pushed himself out through the lip, he felt for his feet to connect with the face. He raced downward with the speed of gravity. His webbed feet connected in the darkness with the water and sliced a clean turn off the bottom as he leaned into the wave and felt for the power in the face to let him know when to come off the gas and re-adjust to set his line. The lip exploded behind him in a shuddering roar, splitting the dark like a whip cracking. Haole opened his eyes involuntarily at the boom but he could see nothing, just searing blackness. He closed them again. The face of the wave went concave and Haole leaned forward on his toe edge, picking up speed as the barrel came over and enveloped him in a huge sucking cylinder of air. He raced forward, meeting the darkness, feeling his way through the wave as he adjusted his weight to stay in the juicy power center. The water flew past under his toes as he crouched down with the speed and braced for the final rush. Behind him the tube began to collapse and the foam of the breaking wave spat out around his body as he leaned forward once again and carved a clean line in the dark toward the safety of the shoulder. He had ridden a wave from start to finish with his eyes closed!
He was so at one with the rhythm and motion of the waves that he didn’t need to see. He swam in the blackness until he could feel by the way the sea moved that he was out near the top of the point again. He felt calm, centered and acutely aware of each nuance in the motion of the water. It was only then that he surfaced, finally opening his eyes, and saw that in the distance the first light of dawn had just begun. There was an eerie salt-spray mist hanging over the water and it was like a fog in the slight gray light. Haole could see another set wave coming, looming toward him.
Now able to see, Haole raced forward. Whereas a moment ago he was feeling his way into these huge waves, now, with just this dim amount of sight he shot forward with total confidence. He dove down, soaring beneath the wave as it built. As the wave neared the point, Haole swam up inside it and as it began to break he was once again on the face, streaking under the folding lip. This time it was different though. When he couldn’t see, Haole had been conservative, being careful just to make it to the end of the wave. Now with the aid of his sight, he threw caution to the wind, racing across the face and tearing a huge carve just under the curl. He was in total control! Racing across the wave he threw turn after turn, confidently pulling in to another tube, then accelerating towards the top of the wave and doing an incredible air maneuver where he leaped above the wave for a second and then came down again, landing smoothly to carve another great arc. It was a truly amazing wave. Haole was totally in the moment. He wasn’t thinking - just being. And although he didn’t know it, and probably wouldn’t have believed it if he knew, it just might have been the best anyone has ever surfed. Haole had caught and ridden a perfect wave. He had crossed that invisible threshold and become a master surfer.
At the end of the ride he swam out to the top of the point, ready to catch another. He was buzzing all over. Never had he felt so in control, so in sync with the waves. He was going to swim into another one right away, but he suddenly had a strange feeling. All around him the water seemed to vibrate in the dim light. The brightening dawn seemed to turn the mist yellow in an instant and Haole looked around the water as the vibrating got stronger and stronger. Something inside him told him to swim out, over the oncoming set of waves and out toward the deep water. He followed the feeling and within moments he was swimming through the yellow mist outside the point as the big swells moved under him like watery hills.
At the top of one swell the vibration became exceptionally strong and Haole imagined that he could hear his name being called out to him through the water. It was faint, but he imagined that his name was echoing through the water like wind through the trees. No, he wasn’t imagining it at all! He was really hearing it. His name came clearly now, vibrating through the water. Haole had heard this sound before. He followed it further out and dove beneath the surface, following it down into the dim blueness. It came again. “Haole,” echoed through the water and Haole realized what it was; it was the Narwhale! The Narwhale was calling his name! He sped through the water toward the sound and after swimming hard for a few moments he began to make out its huge outline in the distance. Drawing nearer and nearer he drew up short when he caught sight of the horn, white and twisted, jutting out into the water. The Narwhale was watching him with its great eyes, steady and unblinking.
“Come closer,” the Narwhale said.
Even though Haole had been in the presence of the Narwhale a few days earlier, he instinctively winced backwards at first; then, regaining his confidence, he approached the whale.
The Narwhale lowered his great horn so as to make room for Haole to come nearer. “I’ve been calling you because I need to talk to you,” he said.
Haole didn’t understand. “You need to talk to me?” he asked lamely.
“I need to tell you a few things. I spoke with the whales to the north, and I told them that a penguin had moved off of the ice,” the Narwhale said gently.
“We met with the albatross,” Haole blurted out.
“I know. They tell me a great many things, and I told them that I would not scare the tuna again this year if the tuna would agree to swim north.” He laugh was like a stream flowing over some rocks.
“It was you?” Haole was beginning to understand the way in which everything affects everything else.
“Yes,” said the whale. “They won’t talk to me. The tuna run when I come near, so I was trying to chase them every time that they headed east. It didn’t work. But getting the albatross to talk to them did. Haole, you are going to accomplish great things!”
Haole looked sad at the comment instead of pleased as he might have been. “The porpoise have said that it is too dangerous for me to travel to the Gathering.”
“I expected that,” the Narwhale spoke, “and that is the reason that I came here to meet you today.”
Haole didn’t understand, “How could you have known I was here?”
A great and deep laugh came from the Narwhale’s belly. “The waves are the biggest they’ve been for a month. I knew you couldn’t stay away.”
“I want to go to the Gathering more than anything,” admitted Haole.
The Narwhale looked kindly at him, “I know. And you will go.”
“But…,” Haole’s mind raced. Surely the Narwhale didn’t expect him to make the journey alone. “I don’t even know the way. The porpoise tell me that it’s thousands of miles.” “And it is,” the Narwhale was being patient with Haole. Haole was scared. That’s the truth. He knew he had to go, but for the life of him he could not figure out how he was going to do it. “How will I eat?” The Narwhale was very wise. He had been swimming these oceans for over a hundred years. “Don’t worry about the small details. Once you know that something is the right decision, you need to jump on the opportunity. The details will work themselves out.” “Eating is not a small detail.” Haole felt dumb for saying it as soon as it left his mouth. “And, what about Donna?” The great whale was about to tell Haole the most important thing that Haole would ever hear. Haole didn’t know it at the time, but many years later Haole would look back on this moment as the one instant when he knew for sure what the purpose of his life was. The whale let his nose come to the surface, (for, as you know, a whale has his nose on the top of his head). He blew a great spout of water, and then took a deep breath. “Haole, you must go to the Gathering. I know that you know this already. You must go, for at the Gathering you will accomplish something great - greater than anything that any penguin has ever accomplished. The strange thing, Haole, is that this great thing won’t be what you think it is – and it is likely that no one, no one at all, will notice. It is just like trusting in your own balance. The more you hold on, the more you will fall. Perfect balance comes in relaxing, letting go, and trusting in your own instinct.”
The incredible experience of riding that wave in the darkness was still sharp in Haole’s mind. He heard the words, but Haole was nevertheless struggling with the idea of how he could get there. He thought about the moment of letting go, when he had trusted his own inner balance and pushed himself over the edge in the dark into that beast of a wave. Suddenly it was all clear. What the Narwhale had said about small details made sense. He would go to the Gathering and worry about the details on the way. “I want to leave as soon as possible,” he said suddenly. The Narwhale was pleased. “Good,” he said, “I knew you would come to this decision on your own. Now, to make this journey alone you must harden your mind. Picture yourself on the journey, and then picture yourself arriving at your goal, the Tahitian Islands!” Haole began to do what the Narwhale instructed. He pictured himself on his quest, but he immediately was aware that he pictured Donna swimming next to him. “When I make the journey, I know that I’m suppose to go with Donna,” he said solemnly.
“Yes, the small fur seal,” said the great whale. “She will come with you. I almost forgot the important role she has already played. Don’t worry, Haole, you won’t make this part of the trip without your friend. But, be warned, there will come a time very soon where you will need to act alone.” “When do we leave?” asked Haole. “Go back to the island and tell your friend Donna. But, tell no one else,” cautioned the Narwhale. Take the rest of today to prepare. Rest. Eat a big meal, for it will be a long journey my small friend. Tomorrow I will meet you at first light right here in this same place.” And with that the Narwhale turned his huge body around majestically, cutting the water with his great horn. He arced his tail and gave a tremendous push, sending Haole tumbling in the turbulence, and glided silently away into the empty blue.