Leaving Eagle Eye This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

September 1, 2007
Come on, Megan, let’s run back.”

“No way!” I replied automatically to my camp leader, Greg, who was already jogging down the path.

I ran to catch up, but I could go no farther. The hike up to Eagle Eye, a research station on a cliff overlooking Johnstone Strait, had been more arduous than I had expected. Steep uphills were followed by sudden drops through dense tangles of ancient trees and ferns as tall as my shoulders and as wide as I could spread my arms.

British Columbia is the land of the enormous. The trees are gnarled with age and have an immensity that seems impossible. Sea stars (or starfish) three feet wide crawl in the shallows, and 100 feet offshore the sea floor plummets to 2,000 feet. And then there are the orcas, of course. They were the reason I was there, on a month-long trip that turned out to be much too short. I was learning all I could about these giants of the sea.

Although I insisted I couldn’t possibly run back, Greg pushed me. He ran ahead, and I found myself following, weaving through the trunks and jumping down slopes, finding a rhythm in the strange combination of jogging and walking. Every few minutes he would look back and ask if I needed a break, and I would surprise myself by saying, “No, not yet. I can go farther.” I didn’t know how it was possible, but I could. Somewhere along that trail, my thinking changed. I stopped humoring Greg and began thinking about just how far I could run before walking again.

We paused to lean against a tree that had been blackened and gutted by lightning. I gulped water, then air. I was still a little out of breath when Greg suggested we continue, but I didn’t say no.

I knew that we were approaching the end of the trail when the light changed. It became more yellow and brilliant, the color of open space against the ­muted, gray-green darkness of the thick forest. Spaces opened above and in front of us.

“Let’s run the rest of the way,” Greg said, taking off, and now it was a game. As we ran into the light, I ­remember wondering how it was possible that after a long hike I was now running full out – I who had never run in my life. But I was. The trail curved sinuously through tall grass under an open sky. And then we were there, and I was still running, running all the way up into the shed where my friends Rachael and Jess were waiting. They looked up from their books, startled, as I hobbled through the door and collapsed in a chair. Greg was already there, and we grinned at each other. He had tested me, and I had passed.

“You ran all the way back?” Rachael asked incredulously. I laughed through gasps of air. I was stronger than I knew. I lounged in the shed with Rachael and Jess, reading a book and munching on maple sugar cookies as we waited for Trish, the warden of the Ecological Reserve, to take us back to Telegraph Cove in her boat. Getting into the boat involved carefully lowering ourselves down a sheer cliff of black rock and onto a ledge. My legs, still wobbly from the trail, trembled a little, but I made it with the help of my friends.

Once we were safely in the boat, Trish began rapid-firing commands at us. We experienced the supreme pleasure of many boat trips throughout this month, and we paid for our passage as best we could by ­doing whatever the captain asked of us.

Trish had enormous character and an even bigger laugh. She was tenacious and made for water like a duck; she would have made a good pirate. Her job was to keep other boats out of the Reserve. Her ­passion was observing and protecting the orcas of British Columbia, the great black-and-white dolphins also known as killer whales.

Out on the boat earlier that day, I had gotten to know Trish, who spoke with the Scottish-sounding lilt of her native Nova Scotia – calling roiling seas “snotty” and rainy weather “gross.” I came to realize that we were similar in our love of the orcas. She is the kind of person I aspire to be. Confident, energetic, and strong, she has found her path in life.

Trish’s vessel was a type of inflatable motorboat called a Zodiac, perhaps 13 feet from bow to stern – and old. Duct tape and marks of wear patterned its sides as if, in its years of service, it had earned merit badges and ornaments of honor. I positioned myself near the bow, and ­Trish gunned the boat away from the cliffs. We all whooped as it reared up against the churning gray waves, and the five of us – Rachael, Jess, Trish, Greg, and I – braced against the wind as we flew over the surface.

The passage was long and cold. The air over Johnstone Strait is chilly, and moreover it had begun to rain. The rain mingled with the cold sea spray, and the two were indistinguishable. I was soon unable to feel my hands holding onto the boat, and my face stung deliciously. Jess withdrew further and further into her rain jacket, until we could see only her nose and smiling eyes. Trish stood at the wheel, swaying with the boat and occasionally looking over her shoulder to tease Greg, who had been forced to fold his tall frame into a small space behind her. Rachael and I sat across from each other at the bow, leaning squarely into the gale, rocking back and forth as the boat skipped across the waves.

We sang. I felt enormously alive. And then, suddenly, not more than 100 feet away, a massive black fin knifed the surface. The orca blew explosively. Terror and awe burst from my mouth in a scream as we rocketed toward the orca, and then Trish pulled the key out of the ignition and we were still.

I scrambled to my feet. The massive bull orca sculled at the surface for a moment, turning this way and that, as though he was confused by our boat’s sudden silence. We watched the whale and he watched us. Then, giving us a wide berth and surfacing frequently – as if to tell us where he was and avoid collision – he swept past with majesty and grace and continued down Johnstone Strait.

My spirit caught in my throat. We went on, but then there were more. Trish again cut the engine as a family of orcas surrounded us. Their breath rushed into the air in white clouds, two, three blows at a time, and then they went under again. Underwater, they called to each other, always in touch with their family, never alone.

Above the water, we five humans stood in our boat and watched, saying nothing. We had only to look in each other’s eyes to convey what we felt. A whale to our starboard side surfaced and crooned a high call ­into the air, and Trish and I laughed and hugged each other in joy. As the whales glided past us in their ­watery realm, we looked at each other with tears in our eyes. I trembled from the cold and my awe at the beautiful world around me – the huge sky and water of the Strait, the orcas, the spirit of the wild, and my boundless love for the people with me.

As the sky began to clear and pale sunshine broke through the clouds, I closed my eyes and let the moment sink into my soul. I knew in my heart that I would not forget this day and that somehow I would find my way back to British Columbia.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the September 2008 Teen Ink Travel Contest.

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This article has 6 comments. Post your own now!

Megan McGrath said...
Oct. 28, 2008 at 9:38 pm
Thank you to everyone for your kind comments. I cannot even begin to tell you how happy I am that everyone likes this piece <3
tweedle dee said...
Oct. 28, 2008 at 5:00 pm
wow i got the chills this was so well writen it displayed everything beautifuly and i wanted nothing more than to be riht there doing exactly the same thing, and i felt like i was too. that was simply amazing, best thing i've read in a long long time!
Steve@UK said...
Sept. 13, 2008 at 12:40 am
A truly beautiful piece of writing Megan. I expect to see a few best-sellers with your name on them in future years!
David A. said...
Sept. 12, 2008 at 3:20 am
mhuchit1 said...
Sept. 11, 2008 at 8:21 pm
Wow meghan this is amazing you are an amazing writer and i hope you use your talent to go places and help people what a truely awesome experiance!!
osmia said...
Sept. 9, 2008 at 10:09 pm
Thank you for sharing your time at the Cliff. I've never been there but heard lots about it. Your words evoke the grandeur of Johnstone Strait. I envy you your volunteer time spent there.
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