Here’s another Roy story. I hope you liked the previous ones. To review: I wrote these stories for children who love animals in hope that they and their parents read them together. As a child, my dad always read to my brother and me each night. I believe it is the best way for parents to spend time with their children. The Roy stories are a mix of actual events and a little imagination. They are written in the voice of a father who believes his son can communicate with animals in some mysterious way.
Roy and the Orcas
My children, Roy and sister Millie tried to catch up with the rest of their tour group. They paddled together in perfect harmony propelling their kayak over the smooth rolling surface of the Alaskan glacial inlet. Both kids were breathing hard but enjoying their effort. The gurgling sound of each paddle stroke and little whirlpools of agitated water were momentary evidence that they had passed.
Earlier, a black bear that unexpectedly appeared at the wooded shoreline caught their interest. The kids stopped, probably longer than they should have, to take some photos, while the rest of their group paddled on. The kids were not worried, at this speed they would catch up to their companions in no time.
“Is this as fast as you can paddle?” Roy teased his sister, “Lets pick up the cadence.” Millie was already at top speed so she turned back to her brother and was about to reply when she saw a huge, glistening, black fin behind their craft. It cut through the water silently and at great speed toward them.
“Roy” she gasped, “Look behind you.”
Roy turned to see what his sister was referring to, but nothing was there except for a small wake. “What are you talking about Sis?”
“It was a big black fin, about five feet tall. It was right behind us.”
As Roy looked back again, his paddle hit something firm in the water next to their kayak. Millie screamed, “It’s next to the kayak!”
Roy turned to the starboard side in time to see the glistening black dorsal fin rise up out of the dark cold water to its full height above his head. Without thinking, he reached out and grabbed it with his right hand. It felt cold and firm in his hand but at the same time delicately soft to his fingers as if he were touching an inflated inner tube. Roy held on with all his strength and felt the kayak lurch forward along with the fin.
“It’s an orca!” Millie screamed, “It’s an orca!”
Roy already knew. He also realized that he should not have reached out to grab the fin; all human contact with Alaskan wildlife was forbidden. He let go of the fin as it sunk back into the dark water.
Roy and Millie looked at each other wide eyed with silly grins on their faces.
“Wow! Millie, did you see that? I can hardly believe it.”
“Look Roy, there are more fins over there. They’re all around us!”
“Sure enough,” Roy replied. “We’re in the middle of a pod of orcas.”
Millie waved and called to the orcas as they glided by, periodically spouting billows of moist spray.
The orcas gradually left them behind without further incident and the kids resumed their paddling while they talked about what had happened. The other kayaks were still out of sight just beyond a rocky point of jagged rocks stretching out from the shoreline.
“Let’s cut through that little channel and save some time.” Millie suggested as she pointed to what appeared to be a narrow passageway between the rocks.
“I don’t know Sis, we can’t tell how deep the water is.”
“Oh, come on Roy, all we need is a few inches depth to get the kayak through.”
“OK, Let’s do it.” he replied. Both kids directed their craft at a small channel. It looked like they were going to make it until they heard a shrill scraping sound and a sharp crack. The kayak came to an abrupt stop.
“Oh, oh.” Roy gasped. “What did we do? Is the boat OK?”
Millie and Roy examined the hull of their kayak as best they could but when they could not see any damage, they gingerly pushed themselves off the hidden rock and continued.
“That was a close call.” Roy said to his sister. “We could have been in big trouble. Even with our life jackets we couldn’t last long in this freezing water.”
They had not paddled far when Millie cried out in alarm to her brother. “Roy, I’m getting wet.”
Roy took off his glove and reached down inside the kayak. Cold water was rushing in. Their feet were already in about two inches of water. “Sis,” he said calmly, “We’ve got to head to shore as fast as we can, before we sink.” Roy had a dreadful feeling that they were so far off shore they would not reach it before they sank, but he did not let his sister know what he was thinking.
Millie looked terrified but said nothing. Both kids paddled for all they were worth, but as they did, they felt the cold water creeping up on their calves. Soon they would be sitting in water and the kayak would founder.
Suddenly their little craft shuddered and momentarily lurched upward out of the water. A black dorsal fin rose silently along side the kayak. It looked like the same fin that Roy had held onto earlier.
“It’s the orca.” Millie yelled. “It’s come back.”
The kids momentarily forgot about their predicament and watched in fascination as the orca rolled over on its side. Its five foot high dorsal fin slowly keeled over, changing from a 90-degree angle to the water to a 45-degree angle. Roy and Millie’s kayak lay nestled in the angle between the fin and broad back of the orca as it swam slowly on its side parallel to the shore. The kids looked at each other in astonishment. They both reached down and laid their hands on the Orca’s smooth flank. It felt firm and cool but animated; almost as if they could actually feel the huge muscles at work through the insulating skin and blubber.
“Roy, what’s going on? What’s it doing? Millie asked as she excitedly ran her hands over the sleek black skin.
Roy shook his head in amazement. He could hardly believe it himself. “I don’t know Sis. I think the orca might have heard our crash on the rocks and sensed that we were in trouble. It came back to help us,…like it might do with a injured or sick companion or young orca.”
“But it’s not taking us into the shore.” Millie responded.
Roy nodded his head. He knew they had no choice but continue their ride on the back of the big orca. Other black fins surrounded them. The orcas took turns approaching the kids and raising their heads up out of the water to get a better view of the humans hitching a ride on one of their own. Millie and Roy were eye to eye with the top predators of the seas. The orcas sputtering exhalations sent clouds of droplets into the air that wet the kid’s faces and clothes. Millie and Roy didn’t mind the spray; in fact, they delighted in each wet noisy breath.
Roy suggested to Millie that they talk to the orca. “Let’s let it know that we are still here and we are grateful for its rescue.” Both kids stroked the orca’s flank and carried on their own conversations with it while it carefully kept them afloat as it transported them along the shoreline.
“Thanks Ms. or Mr. Orca. I don’t know if you’re a he or she, but we are grateful for your help.” Millie kept her silly conversation going, knowing that the orca did not understand her words but somehow might sense their meaning. Millie, at the front of the kayak, could see the white patch of skin under its chin and the large dark eye that looked back at her from time to time as she chatted on.
Roy also spoke to it while he scanned the shoreline for the rest of their group. Ahead he saw several bright kayaks pulled up on a little pebble beach. Their concerned guide was in the process of launching his kayak to go back and search for his missing tourists. He must have been worried because he would be responsible if any thing happened to the kids in his charge.
Roy saw him shade his eyes from the bright sun reflecting off the water’s calm surface as he looked in their direction. Roy wondered if their guide saw the rolling black fins and steamy blows from the orca’s breaths all around their kayak? The guide waved and called to them. Roy stopped Millie from yelling back because he did not want to spook the orcas. The rest of the kids from the kayak tour gathered on the beach along side the guide and waved as they approached.
“They probably can’t believe their eyes.” Roy said to his sister as the orca pod continued its escort toward the group. Roy was sure that no one had ever seen an orca carrying a kayak and two kids on its back. Although some of the kids had cameras with them, they must have been too amazed at what they saw to think of taking a picture.
About fifty feet from the beach the orcas disappeared beneath the shinning surface of the inlet and left the kids drifting. The water was still sloshing in the bottom of their kayak and more was pouring in again so Roy and Millie paddled furiously toward the beach.
“Come on Sis, let’s paddle: we can make it now.” They made it just in time because the kayak was half full of water as its prow hit the pebble beach.
Millie was ecstatic; she didn’t stop talking for the next several hours. She explained what happened to the guide and to the other kids. Each time the story got a little better and more exciting. Roy let Millie do most of the talking. He also was excited but had many unanswered questions. He pondered the details of their encounter. How did the orcas know they needed help? Had they heard the kayak crash into the rocks? Had they heard the kid’s excited voices? Had they used their special communication skills in some mysterious way humans could not understand? There were many questions that he could not answer. He hoped I could help him figure it all out later that evening. Back on their inland cruise ship, Roy and Millie enjoyed a peaceful dinner with Maggie and me. The whole ship was abuzz, talking about the orca rescue. I asked them many questions about their adventure with the orcas. I made careful notes in my journal, as I always did. I marveled at the events of the day, but realized they were very similar to the other almost unbelievable entries in the journal. Maggie was more upset than thrilled at her children’s narrow escape. She cautioned them to be more careful, but down deep, she knew her hounding would do little good.
The next day the whole family stood together on the windy bow of their cruise ship, as it cut through the rolling water of the bay. We sighted a group of black orca fins in the distance ahead of us. As our ship drew closer, Millie waved and called to the orcas. The other kids from the kayak trip joined her, yelling and waving. One big orca left the pod and swam closer to the cruise ship. He rolled over on his side and seemed to be looking at the waving children. Millie was sure that it was her orca and that he recognized her. Tears rolled down her face as she screamed and waved good-by.
It’s him! It’s Him! I’m sure its him.” She cried out to her mom and me as the big black fin sank back into the choppy water like a diving submarine.
Roy looked up in time to see me smile knowingly. I felt him lean close and bury his face in arm of my parka, so no one could see his eyes water up. I put my arm around Roy and held him close while we watched the pod in the distance off our port bow. I softly said, “Thank you orcas, for saving my children. We will try to return your kindness.” Roy heard my words and squeezed my arm in agreement.
Millie was the last to see the big orca. It leaped totally out of the water and landed with a huge splash before it joined its pod and disappeared in the distance.