I am a seasoned explorer on my final Antarctic voyage. It’s early January, the height of the Antarctic summer, which means my shock-white beard has been growing for a full ten months and is now at the ideal length to command the respect and loyalty of my dedicated six-person crew. Our vessel has just crossed the Antarctic Circle and we are chugging steadily towards the crook of the great peninsula that seems to reach forever northeast, a claw agape. It’s midnight but the sun is bright, so bright that I have strapped on my expensive adventure goggles in order to peer at the thick snarl of retreating pack ice on the horizon. I’m leaning hard into the railing on the bow of the boat, turning a lifetime of accomplishment over in my mind like David palming his final smooth stone at the very foot of Goliath. I am squinting hard, cursing the ache in these old hands and sipping extraordinary coffee procured at our last port of call in Puerto San Julian, when a magnificent pod of transient orcas, ten whales strong, swarms to the surface on our starboard side to exhale in unison. Then again directly in front of our boat, they are porpoising now at full speed. They crest again, even further ahead, compelled no doubt by the promise of rookeries teeming with the fresh Weddell pups of the season. This season. My final season on this ice. See you there, old friends.
I am a 24-year-old Spaniard, recently graduated from the London Business School’s prestigious MBA programme. I have been offered an exorbitant starting salary at a British investment firm; however I will more than likely choose to return to Spain to assume a leadership position in the multi-billion dollar national telecomm business founded by my father in the 1990s. As a graduation gift, a family friend has loaned the use of their breathtaking villa on the coast in the Canary Islands. I am there now, with my girlfriend Carla, a part-time model and candidate for entry into the highly regarded cardiovascular program at La Fundacion Universitaria San Pablo. Most days we sleep late, awash in a haze of fine liquor, sex and limitless futures—but on one particular Thursday we wake with the sun, ambitious enough to launch the small sailboat moored off our private beach. There is virtually no wind, so I maneuver the boat by motor easily into the open waters beyond the reach of Punta del Hidalgo. Against the sunrise painted sky, Carla envelops me with her tender brown eyes. I’m trying to decide if it’s her supple skin or the water around us that is smoothest when the silence is pierced by the whisper of a gorgeous ancient narwhal’s unicorn horn, rising like my fortune through the still surface.
It’s 1985 and I’m Tom Selleck. I’m filming episode 109 of Season 6 of Magnum P.I., “Kona Winds,” and the crew is resting between takes of a montage showing me walking thoughtfully on rugged Hawaiian shores. The long shot will provide the backdrop for one of the most memorable narrations of the series, something about the mystery and hypnotic power of the southerly winds, which of course is a metaphor for the unrequited love I feel for a woman I saved from drowning in the opening scene of the same episode. It’s heady stuff, but I’ve never been more confident now that I’ve won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and two consecutive years of People’s Choice Awards for Favorite Male TV Performer. During the break in shooting I’m sitting alone on a rocky outcropping, my aloha shirt unbuttoned and wild in the wind. I’m staring peacefully into the expanse of the Pacific, thinking principally about romance, when the thin blue-gray line of the horizon is suddenly interrupted by the unmistakable silhouette of a humpback whale propelling itself upward and out of the water, falling backwards with a tremendous and somehow erotic splash.
I am six years old and completely cracked out on the combined sugar of a Shamu-shaped popsicle, a Shamu-shaped candy bar and most of a container of soda that has nothing to do with Shamu except for the fact that it was served by a man wearing a Shamu-shaped hat and working in the snack bar positioned outside of the Sting Ray Lagoon exhibit at Sea World Orlando. That exhibit is important because DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN TOUCH REAL LIVING STING RAYS AS MUCH AS YOU WANT HERE? I have also poked turtles at Turtle Point, staged a pitch-perfect early afternoon meltdown in front of the smudgy glass of the Penguin Encounter and napped through the 2 p.m. showing of “A’Lure: The Call of the Ocean,” which involves stunning visual tapestries and talented yo-yo artists. But none of that matters now, because I am wired and fidgety and barely seated in Shamu stadium, where I am far too young to understand that keeping wild animals in captivity is sad, and a sandy blond man named Brett is bounding onto the wet pavement with a pouch of fish at his side, summoning the appearance of a magnificent live Shamu who leaps from the water like a missile to perform a perfect pirouette that retrieves a herring dangling from Brett’s mouth and then: Splash Zone.