A Fluke

Some whales are very profligate with their tail flukes, like humpback whales.

And some are really coy, a fluke a rare, sought after event, like blue whales.

As we held our breath and watched for the magical blue whale fluke on our boat trip around the Baja California peninsula that ended last week, I contemplated the word “fluke.”  The inbuilt definer on my macbook Air says fluke means:

unlikely chance occurrence, esp. a surprising piece of luck : their triumph was no fluke.
ORIGIN mid 19th cent. (originally a term in games such as billiards denoting a lucky stroke): perhaps a dialect word.

No explanation about the link between the two meanings — and English is ineffably polysemous (words have many unrelated meanings).  But the sensation of hopeful anticipation of something unexpected, possible but not guaranteed, a happy accident — that’s what you breathe when standing on the deck of sportfishing boat with 20 others, binoculars and long lenses poised, watching for a blue whale fluke.

My whole relationship with birding is a fluke, a happy accident.  A chance encounter with a globe-bounding ornithologist who became a friend, then a lover and partner.  Increasing comfort with fitting optics to my own eyes, of the binocular and photographic species.  Distilling facts about body shape, bill length and colour, wing shape, location into my detail-resistant brain until patterns begin to emerge and slowly, slowly families and sets began to have meaning. Simultaneously learning the interplay between exposure, ISO, aperture and shutterspeed speed settings, each of those forming its own species.  (Widest aperture possible (F4.5) + exposure of -1 + ISO of 400 = speed of 3500 which is correct for capturing a non-flying bird isolated from its background at mid-day in the sun; crank up the ISO and decrease the aperture to put that bird in context).

So much absorbed in a short period of time, revealing so much more to learn.  And, the pure joy of capturing a red-billed tropicbird in flight, unique tail spike outspread.  A bird I didn’t even know existed a year ago.

So grateful.


2 thoughts on “A Fluke

  1. really enjoying witnessing your development as a photographer Cate…and was pondering the notion of “cranking up the ISO and decreasing aperture to put the bird in context”….wondering what the increase in “ISO” and decrease in “aperture” are, when i’m attempting to soften and see others fully in their contexts…hmmmm…..

  2. Nice blogging! 🙂

    I love this phrase: “Increasing comfort with fitting optics to my own eyes”. In some ways, I think this is related to your work, and your relationships, and how you help others “see” things. A sort of flukey self-application …? 🙂

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