A Whale Bone

In the depths of the ocean, miles down, in water so cold it dreams of ice, where light is only an intimation, a quality of deep and even deeper shadow, in this place, whales descend after they have died.

No whale could live here, these mammalian beasts, warm-blooded, air-breathing, some light enough to breach themselves out into the sunny air, and marvel at the space.

But some whales, whey they die—not even most, but some, a few—bloat, rise, dip, decay, and then, twisting over, bodies turning to follow diving heads, they begin to fall. Through, and through, and through the gray and crystalline sea, out of the reach of the light, out of the reach of the colors blue and green. They fall, would-be angels, tumbling towards the very bottom of the earth, the very bottom of the sea. This journey cannot be made in hours, but over days, inexorably, they fall.

The bottom greets them, so cold and so forbidding almost nothing lives at such great depths, under the crushing weight of the world. Almost nothing. But something does. Something lives at these great depths in these great seas for one reason only—to live off of dead whales.

Whales, when they reach the bottom, are almost completely stripped of flesh. They are no longer carcasses but skeletons, skeletons of these great whales, bones, and what is left of living bone—marrow.

Deep in the dark, crushing, formidable depths of the ocean, there are worms that live off of the marrow of whale bones. They live one end down in the bone, the other waving in the water. They are red, and green, and have no mouths, no stomachs, no digestive systems at all, just sacks of bacteria which they carry with them, in exchange for absorbing a molecule or two of food.

These are animals which live—and being so specialized, having had the time to become so specialized, one must consider that they are thriving—at the bottom, the very bottom of the ocean, the bottom of gullies and valleys which mark the bottom of the ocean’s depths, in dark, cold canyons devoid of light and nutrients. Here in these most inhospitable of places, thrives a worm, which cannot eat, but still manages to live, off the marrow of a whale’s bone.

Did you ever stop to consider what happens to a whale bone? Is your care and attention, your understanding and imagination, as exacting as this? I don’t suppose it is. I don’t suppose it could be. You may think you know what’s possible, but really: You have no idea.

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