Today’s title is a recurring line from Virginia Woolf’s novel “The Waves.”
That line mesmerized me when I wrote a paper on “The Waves” for my Woolf seminar in graduate school. I love the desolation of it–” a waste of waters,” and though I’ve not returned to that book in many years, it persists in my consciousness, a potent symbol, a perfect fragment.
However, High modernism is not the only source for memorable reminders of the power of the dorsal fin.
On September 25th, Ralph Collier, founder of Shark Research Committee and author of the fascinating and disturbing book “Shark Attacks of the Twentieth Century” will be my guest lecturer at Glendale College. I am a proud member of the Shark Research Committee and frequent reader of Pacific Coast Shark News, Collier’s archives of detailed eyewitness descriptions of shark encounters (sightings, breachings, bumped surfboards, headless seals washed up on the beach or more rarely, full-fledged attacks) from California to Washington.
I could spend days scrolling through these accounts–which are both scientific and poetic, eerie and beautiful. A man diving near Refugio in Santa Barbara County takes sanctuary in the kelp canopy after a 12-foot great white steals a freshly killed lingcod from his hand. Two miles west of Refugio, a shark, “possibly a great white,” lifts a kayaker out of the water. On a cloudless day in Big Sur, a two-foot high dorsal fin surfaces then disappears.
Phrases like “glassy calm” and “crescent-shaped bite” dazzle and terrify. Detailed, crime report-style identifications: “blunt nose, 12-14 feet in length, grayish black” alternate with the ephemeral, and elusive: “the shadow of the body was about 15-feet in length.”
These encounters, these observations are usually over in seconds.
The shark moves lazily or with the precision and speed of a torpedo, over the reef, out to sea. Or simply sinks and disappears.