07 March 2008

My Summer with the Whales

I haven't yet gotten to share with you my Christmas present--one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given.

Julie was here for Christmas. I gave her a framed map that had pictures of our road trip along the Santa Fe Trail last summer. She gave me a T-shirt from Hard Rock Cafe London.

(That place has special memories for us. The year I was at Newbold, she and Mom came over at Christmas Break. The first night they were there, Mom slept off jet lag while Julie and I took a walk, ending up at the HRC, where we had to yell above the music to catch up on four months apart.)

I had told Julie that the money probably wouldn't be there for a road trip this summer. Julie had a great idea to alternate East and West road trips. Later that night she told me, "I've been talking with Don about this summer." OK. "If you would be willing to plan the trip, we will rent an RV and pay for gas. All you would need to cover is food and admissions."

I have to plan a trip? Really?

That was an incredible gift before oil soared above $100 a barrel. I live to plan awesome road trips--as many of you know. Within seconds I had a plan for an epic journey.

Last summer we followed the greatest of American mammals--the bison--across the prairie. This summer we will focus on The Whale.

The journey will officially begin at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. When I was a kid, I loved the huge blue whale that hung in a gallery in the Museum of Natural History (I understand it recently fell and shattered). If they don't have another whaling exhibit, we will go to the Museum of American History for the whale hunting display.

From DC, we will cross through Delaware, race up the Jersey Shore and across Long Island, ferry across the Sound into Connecticut, and make New Bedford, Massachusetts our destination. During our stay in New Bedford, I'm hoping to take the kids into Boston for a day and go out on a whale-watching boat trip from Portsmouth.

From the landing of the Mayflower to the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania in 1858, oil came from whales. Whaling vessels from the Massachusetts ports of New Bedford and Nantucket sailed around the world and hunted whales--particularly the mighty sperm whale. The greatest of American novels, Moby Dick, was set within this important industry.

Whaling is central to the American character, and I can't wait to learn more about it. It is a dream come true--a pretty great Christmas gift indeed.

In advance, I'm reading everything I can get my hands on. The books I have read (or am trying to read as in the case of the 624-page Melville opus) are:
  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. The definitive book on the whaling industry--and the American spirit. Captain Ahab is the Ur-American in so many ways.
  • Leviathan: the History of Whaling in America, by Eric Jay Dolan. A solid and comprehensive look at whaling from the 1600s to 1910.
  • In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick. The tragedy that inspired Melville, a whaling ship is rammed by an enraged sperm whale and 39 crew must survive 93 days in the South Pacific.
  • The Whalers. A Time-Life book that has great illustrations and really takes one back in time.
  • The Perfect Storm. I've been wanting to read this one for a long time. It's the tragic story of a Gloucester fishing crew, but it's so much more--a vivid description of life at sea amidst one of the worst storms of the past 90 years.
  • The Man Who Talks to Whales by Jim Nollman. After covering history and literature, why not some psychology? Is it possible to read too much?
  • Whale Nation by Heathcote Williams
  • Assorted books for kids.
Do you have any suggestions? I'm thinking of the recent novel Ahab's Wife, which is based on the Moby Dick anti-hero. There is room on my shelf for a few more before we leave in June.


5Gustos said...

Sorry, but I don't have any suggestions for you. But the trip sounds absolutely wonderful. It will be one to remember, I'm sure.

AMcNulty said...

Hey JD,

Sounds like a good trip you have coming up. I read this article on MSNBC tonight and I thought you might find it interesting as it is very much related to your topic. Here is the link.


Norman McNulty said...

I'm jealous. I'd love to travel to those places with you. When in Boston, you should at least hit part of the "Freedom Trail". It's a red-brick trail through the historic part of Boston taking you from "Old Ironsides", the church where Paul Revere took off on his horse on his famous midnight ride, and finally to the capitol building. I was there last May, and it's a great experience. Not sure if your kids would be up for the entire 4 mile walk, but if so, it would be great. There's great Italian food in old Italy along that trail as well. Just a few suggestions.

April McNulty said...

I would love to go on a road trip to Boston,Washington DC, and New York! I really enjoyed Jr. History trip. Mom and I actually want to take that route as a vacation one of these summers. Have fun with it, and we like seeing your videos you take on them. Have a great week!