Poetry, Travel Memories; The first time ever I…. Whale Watching

This poem and memory is in response to a post from  dverse poetry prompts . It is about remembering a journey or place visited and trying to recreate the experience.  This is about the first time I visited America and where I saw a whale for the first time. It’s also about the mix of media messages, memories, feeling the fear, seeing the contrasts and learning about the biodiversity of living things.

The First Time Ever

 Gray Whale in San Francisco Bay    May 1999

The first time ever I travelled to those United States

Where star spangled banners show off diverse places.

Where the cavalry comes and sort things out

With guns n’ horses and Rin Tin Tin.

Why was this a place I feared to go

For an eightieth birthday of

California dreamin’

In San Francisco Bay.

Lew’s life work listening with compassion

Sharing and trusting we are loved.

So why the fears and why not go?


A friend and colleague frowned and said.

You won’t be going to any schools. Instead,

You are going to San Francisco

Where you can wear flowers in your hair

If you dare.


I leave a library full of well-placed books.

And think of a library with half written pages

Of young ones’ dreams and parents’ screams.

Columbine and eglantine in Shakespeare’s dingly dell

Of murder most foul where books lay strewn

budlike withering, wandering worlds, unworn.


We arrive and meet with love, forgiveness, fun.

A birthday to unite all States.

Where are you from? Your accent is so quaint.

London? What state’s that in? New England?

Oh across the pond, that England.

Islands within a continent of

Many smiles, many good days.


On a cold and blustery day in May

We boarded a boat in the drizzly dawn

To go far out to watch for whales.

We float about and see our first great Gray,

Between the rocks of Alcatraz and the Golden Bridge.

Directions called and Whale ahoy he stays or she

To show how whales can spout their shout.

Spots of barnacles for years within the sea

Ancient being with a peerless eye, explores

Within the bay, between the rocks of Alcatraz

And the Golden bridge. Why did we not stay?

But went out further seeking more

To see upon the sea.


It was a whaleless, grey and dismal day.

Cold crept in with oceanic spray.

No more giants but squawking gulls

And deep within, the stomach pitches.

Smells of vomit, fear of lurching overboard.

If there could be calm could I walk back

Like Jesus to the shore?

The waves they pounded.


The gulls cried out and followed on this hopeless tour.

All had been seen within the bay, no more.

We learn that seagulls do not exist.

Only gulls of many different kinds.

Oh Jonathan Livingston Seagull if only I had known,

Your flight beyond the realms of gulls so sure.

But now I do not know which gull you were.

And all I want is to return to shore.

Between the Golden Bridge and Rocks of Alcatraz

Was a Gray whale, the first I’d ever saw.

No need for more.


I am not sure whether my experience might encourage others to go whale watching. I had also never visited the USA but felt wary of the statistics and media messages on violence.  April 1999 was the time of the tragic shooting at Columbine School. As a teacher and in charge of our school library  we all felt very shocked and concerned about the loss of such young lives.

I am very glad I spent a week in San Francisco for Lew Epstein’s eightieth birthday. We were well loved by our American friends and we visited many places, near and far from San Francisco.  The Redwoods, Yosemite, Monterey Bay and of course the city itself. The whale watching was to be a highlight!

Post Script. We have planned another trip to the Azores, to Faiai where we hope to go out on a boat as there are many different kinds of whales off the deep sea bed surrounding the Azores. We will hope for a good day.

Dedicated to the too many young lives lost to violence and abuse. And to leave an ocean full of life for youngsters not only to read about but see and wonder. Travel in Peace. Gray Whales do.

OPHELIA   ( Hamlet)   Her garland of flowers and her deep sadness.

There’s fennel for you, and columbines.—There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it “herb of grace” o’ Sundays.—Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.

Gray whales can live up to 70 years. Barnacles attach easily to them as they swim slowly in nutrient rich oceans. The barnacles leave rings and thse give  individual markings to each whale. They migrate and can be seen along the Mexican and Californian coast at certain times.

Gulls and birds of the sea and shore

{ Larus} Heermann’s Gull, Ring billed gull, California gull, Western Gull, Laucous winged Gull,   and many varieties of tern, elegant, royal and least,  and from my poem on the biodiversity of birds, american  versions of plovers, sandpipers, curlews, whimbrel, dunlins, sanderlings, are but a few of sea bird variety on the Californian shores of the Pacific.

Link to beach guide for California

Thanks for reading and I do appreciate comments.

36 thoughts on “Poetry, Travel Memories; The first time ever I…. Whale Watching”

  1. I would love to go whale watching. I too was wary of travelling to the States – I have a fear of guns and violence, but my husband persuaded me to go to New York a year after 9/11 and it was an interesting trip. However, I don’t travel well, so I won’t be going again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. At least you have been once. I still haven’t been to New York but now it is the range of interesting birds and other wild life which might make me go. Some of the blogs photography of theses creatures is stunning.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been out on a small boat watching Grey Whales in the Los Angeles area. It was thrilling. We got se to some. They were incredible. Hopefully their numbers will recover. Nice poem!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Except in certain small areas (like a tiny portion here in my home of Richmond) people really truly don’t roam the streets seeking to kill. I’m glad you at least gave us a small chance and visited. And I am so glad you enjoyed your visit and the whale watching. If you read the haibun I submitted first for this, you will see we Americans aren’t so different in our love of family, friends, and simple joys.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No of course not,it is always the media that emphasise the worst aspects and I know and met some really amazing American people at the birthday and while travelling. Being a teacher though the school shootings seem so tragic.


  4. You picked a peach of a place, a CA jewel to savor, & your recall is dazzling. We watch orca a lot here in Puget Sound WA. I love your lines
    /where books lay strewn/budlike, withering, wandering world, unknown/.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sorry you had to keep going further out to sea when you had a perfectly good whale to watch right where you were! 🙂 Yes, the school tragedies are the hardest to take. I can see why you were wary of visiting. The media makes me wary of living here but the news is out of proportion of course. A couple of weeks ago there was a sighting of a Right Whale and her calf in the inlet just a few short miles from where I live. I didn’t get to see them but this is the second year that they have been spotted here. They are endangered and I hope to be ready next year if they show up again. That will surely be a once in a lifetime experience!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The school tragedies need a certain approach and I link up with the Sandy Hook Promise. In general the media can overemphasise the problems and I feel scares people. Paedophiles was one thing that has scared parents here and there is so little freedom for children. We roamed and were warned to just keep together! For a while there was a fear of the tube after the terrorists
      attacks in London but it didn’t last long. Hope you see the whale, will have to look that one up. Thanks for reading and the prompt dug this one out of my memory. It was a very special year for me.


      1. We roamed when we were children too. Our neighborhood was filled with playmates for us and we (mostly) felt safe when exploring the outside. There is little freedom for children here too. Parents, I believe, are scared of the world in general now and keep tight reins on their kids. I can see why that was a special year for you…nice.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I enjoy whale watching and just came back from that trip. Sad to think you were “wary of the statistics and media messages on violence” because even though the media portrays the US as such, the country is so large and the incidents are really not that common. I found in my own traveling, you can’t rely on what the media reports. People and places turn out wonderful. Yes, no seagulls.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No agree but that was my memory then in 1999 and now I would like to explore the wilder side of the USA. Quite often the high statistics are gangland violence. My daughter had a marvellous time in Guatemala but if you just read the Foreign Office report maybe it would put you off! We had such a marvellous time in San Francisco and met such interesting folk.


      1. Honestly, it is worse than 1999 as far as the media reports now. I agree on reading government reports too. Those I read before going to Eastern Europe really had me “scared” to go. When there, I thought people and the places were wonderful. Nothing like what I was lead to expect. There are countries I will never visit though. Sadly, the people there are probably welcoming, yet it is the fanatics in those places that hate Americans.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well I travelled through Syria and Iran in the 1970s and yes most people were very kind but there seems to be criminal issues now with hostages as in Iraq. I wonder when there will be real peace there.


  7. Smiles–I used to live in Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco. My whale watching experience matched yours–the gray, gray day, the cold wind and then the sudden thrill of seeing the whale emerge from the ocean. Sadly, crime is too rampant in our larger cities, for sure. But right now, I’m into reading Elizabeth George and her wonderful mysteries set in London and investigated by New Scotland Yard! Such is the fallen sate of our humanity.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your poem reminded me of my own trip to San Francisco. It was/is such a beautiful city. My hostess and I took a boat on the bay. I do not know now if the trip was for whalewatching but I did see a lot of see otters sunning themselves on the rocks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That must have been fun. We saw those near Monterey Bay. San Francisco is special on the bay but have just been to Lisbon and that too has a wonderful position on a great river mouth and where the Discovers of the New World set off across the Atlantic!

      Liked by 1 person

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