The Coastal Post - May, 1997

Dateline Gualala


On the rugged cliffs of the California North Coast we came to the Whale Watch Inn to follow the humpback whales migrating northwest. Tall pines frame brilliant vistas where the foaming sea-green surf pounds huge brown boulders and the waves are slowly "lapping with low sounds near the shore." Dark kelp is bobbing near the orange buoy. The elegant living room in this "showcase" suite of the Whale Watch Inn includes two private decks with clear views. A fire blazes in the fireplace. The Queen Anne furnishings in this suite remind me of the elegant decor in the home I lived in when I was young.

And I am remembering my early years in Marin county where my great-grandfather, Theo Weissich, and his son, Otto Weissich, were whalers. And sometimes in the middle of the night being excitedly awakened from sleep, my little brother Bill, and little sister Lise and me, by my father, Bill Weissich, because "They got a whale!" Oh, memory! We'd throw on bathrobes and coats and slippers and pile sleepily into our green Buick and drive, half asleep, to the Richmond whaling station, and then wait there, chilly in the dark night, until the boat would come in, pulling its mammoth spouting captive. Such excitement there was in that trip to the Richmond Pier. I never wondered why we were all waking up in the middle of the night to go to Richmond. It was simply understood. Whales brought their own compelling sense of power. They exerted a powerful draw. When the whales beached, the surrounding waters at the dock were thick and red with blood. We'd go home then and to sleep, and in the morning, my grandfather would watch as I caught smelt off the damp pier for 60 cents a bucket, hauling them in as fast as you would catch trout at a trout farm.

My great grandfather, Theo Weissich, a very tall, spare man began a fish business. He lived with my great grandmother in a huge, brown, three-story home with what seemed then to have had at least 12 bedrooms, and which really did have a parlor, a sun room and a sense of being surrounded by the ages. There were always aunts and uncles, and lots of cousins, as well as my own little brother and sister.

Light streams into the room through the skylights. There's a knock on the door and a wicker basket is delivered by room service containing splendid breakfasts of blackberry blintzes, a fresh lemon poppyseed loaf, juice, sliced strawberries and ham with a thermos of coffee.

The sun is shining off the deck of the Whale Watch Inn, and although I haven't yet seen a whale, memories of whales and more than whales, return. The brown shingles of the house of my great grandparents. Their house had a walk-in pantry and a huge kitchen, where German pastries such as apple strudel were always baking. The large pansy garden in back with the pigeon coops where my father raised pigeons. And from that house, my great grandfather's house on Sycamore Street in Mill Valley, where I first had the emotional glimpse of family, to the time of being awakened in the middle of the night to go to the pier where the whales were.

How much time has passed, I reflect, as I look out from the deck of the beautiful Whale Watch Inn corner room with its view of the same wild North Coast with the splashing waves. He is gone now, my great grandfather, and so is my grandfather and father as well.

The whales are migrating in fewer numbers now, uncaptured and free, and I reflect on the whales returning as surely the mortals shall not. And with the fire blazing both in the fireplace in the corner living room and blazing too in the reflection in the windows facing the ocean, I yearn for a glimpse of a dark-bodied whale to recapture a memory, a memory not only of whales.