I am thrilled to have been a finalist for Prime Number Magazine's Creative Nonfiction contest for my essay "True Names." Eight finalists were chosen from 56 entries, with the three winners being chosen by author Ned Stuckey-French. (I'm happy to say that my friend and grad school colleague Laurie Easter won third prize.)
I'm still looking for a home (read: publication) for my essay, so I can't share the whole thing here, but I thought I'd give you glimpse of it. (Such a tease, I know.)
This essay is part of my manuscript-in-progress, a collection of linked essays called For All We Learned, The Sea, which explores landscape, belief, and the longing for home and belonging in all its many forms.
Here's the beginning of "True Names":
Etch-a-Sketch, Baja, Echo. The tour guide on the whale watching boat knows these humpbacks by name. She recognizes them by their tail markings, the designs they were born with and the wounds they've sustained since then. She announces each whale as it levers its broad tail out of the water like the dark wings of an enormous seagull. To my eyes, this display is an anonymous flash of rubbery black and white on the sun-dazzled water, but our guide assures us that unique patterns decorate each one, the whale tail equivalent of human fingerprints.
My husband and I are on a whale watching tour boat off the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts. At 115 feet long, the Hurricane II is billed as “the largest and fastest Massachusetts whale watching vessel north of Boston.” From that description I assume this is a boat of substantial size, but I don't know much about such things. For all of my trips to the seashore and my love of the coast, this is the first time I've left land for open water. Taking this tour was the one thing that James insisted we do on our vacation. His eagerness surprised me, he who cannot swim and generally avoids being in water above his knees. But the idea of whales had caught his fancy, and now they've caught mine.
"Look for a fluorescent green glow in the water," the guide says as the whales come closer. This is the telltale sign that a whale glides near the surface, the white patches of its skin reflecting back the otherwise invisible green of microscopic phytoplankton. I stare into the water alongside the boat, skeptical that I'll be able to differentiate between normal ocean-green and this special whale-green. But then the water looks like a neon lamp has lit it up from below, and sure enough, I spy a pectoral fin beneath the glow. This first sighting fills me with hope; I may not be able to name the whales, but I can spot them.
** ** **
I hope you'll be able read the whole essay somewhere in the near future!