something died in his truck. There are teenagers holding hands.
There is a man dressed head to toe in Seattle Seahawks fan gear,
including sneakers. There is a man with a cane and a woman with
a walker. There is a girl in a wheelchair. There are tour groups, family outings, and a man wearing tuxedo trousers and gleaming
black shoes and a motorcycle gang jacket. People eat and drink
and joke and curse and smoke and spit and gape and dawdle and
laugh and several ask me, Where’s Herman? I say my experience
is that he will loom into view after a while. Some people don’t
wait. Some people express annoyance with the hatchery management and the lack of organization as regards Herman’s appearance. Others mistake Herman’s eight-foot-long companions for
Herman. Others wait silently for Herman to loom into view.
The most memorable viewing for me that day was a young
man with a small boy who appeared to be his son. The father
looked like he was about nineteen, with the wispy first mustache
and chin-bedraggle of a teenager. The boy, wearing a red cowboy
hat, seemed to be about three years old. The father tried to line
the boy up for a photograph, tried to get the kid to stand still until
Herman loomed into view, but the boy skittered here and there
like a rabbit, the father alternately wheedling and barking at him,
and finally the boy stood still, but facing the wrong direction, with
his nose pressed against the glass, and the father sighed and
brought his camera down to his waist at exactly the moment that
Herman slowly filled the window like a zeppelin. The boy leapt
away from the window and his hat fell o=. No one said a word.
Herman kept sliding past for a long time. Finally his tail exited
stage left and the boy said, awed, clear as a bell, Holy shit, Dad. The
father didn’t say anything and they stood there another couple of
minutes, both of them speechless, staring at where Herman used
to be, and then they walked up the stairs holding hands.
On the way home to Portland, as I kept an eye out for osprey
along the banks of the Columbia, I thought of that boy’s face as Herman slid endlessly past the window. It’s hilarious what he said, it’s a
great story, I’ll tell it happily for years, but what lingers now for me is
his utter naked amazement. He saw ancientness up close and personal. He saw a being he never dreamed was alive on this planet, a
being he never imagined, a being beyond vast, a being that rendered
him speechless with awe until he could articulate a raw blunt astonishment that you have to admire for its salty honesty. He saw wonder, face to face. Maybe wonder is the way for us with animals in the
years to come. Maybe wonder is the way past the last million years
of combat and into the next million years of something other than
combat. Maybe the look on that kid’s face is the face of the future.