Have I ever mentioned that I lived in Los Angeles for three years back in the eighties?
It might tell you something about how much I missed Wyoming when I tell you that I got all teary one time when I saw a Christmas card portraying a snow-covered pine tree.
I missed pine trees. I missed snow. I missed home.
But there were some good things about LA.
Like whale watching.
When you go on a whale watching tour you climb on a boat with a lot of people. The first thing you do is jockey for position to claim a good viewing spot near the window (and out of the wind, preferably).
Then you hang on while the boat churns out to sea. The leaders of the tour have ideas on where the whales are and they also have rules on how close they can get to the whales so as not to harass them, but all that is invisible to the folks on the tour.
As soon as the captain powers down the engine, everybody starts looking around.
Then you wait.
The boat lurches side to side. You sip on your water bottle and wait. You scan the ocean, training your binoculars on the wavy horizon until your arms are too heavy to hold up any more, so you lower them, and wait.
You think to yourself, "Maybe I should have gone to Disneyland instead."
While you’re waiting, you notice the salt on your lips and lick them. You gaze into the water and wonder what fishy things are lurking down there. You listen to the calls of the sea gulls as they criss-cross the boat’s wake.
You check the horizon again. Nothing new.
You watch a couple who are standing a few feet away and notice how the young woman is trying to keep her hair tidy in the wind by patting at it. She keeps swiping her finger under her eyes as if she’s afraid her mascara is running, which it is.
First date, you decide.
Somebody points and yells, “Spout!”
You turn in that direction just as a fountain of water spatters the surface of the sea. Then the maw of a blue whale rises up out of the liquid floor, followed by the massive barnacled slide of a whale body.
Everybody laughs and applauds, as if the whale were performing a stunt just for us.
You giggle with your friends as you wipe the salty water from your face. You show off your photos and look at theirs.
Then you wait, again. And wait. On a two-hour tour, that might be all the whale you see. Sometimes no whale appears at all.
A writing session, I’ve decided, is a lot like a whale watching tour.
The ratio of waiting time to the arrival of perfect words is a lot to a little. Sometimes nothing worth anything arrives.
You've got to be ready for inspiration to splash you and start you giggling. Or crying. Or whatever the words do to you when they come.
You’ve got to get on that boat and go out to sea if you want to see a whale, and you’ve got to show up to the page if you want to write.