A Whale’s Heartbeat

In these subzero nights, I’ve abandoned my room of windows on the top floor and started sleeping in my daughter’s lower bunk bed, in her room cozily located over the wood stove. Upstairs, my older daughter’s room is just across the hall from mine, and we generally talk before sleeping. My younger daughter is pleased with her turn at companionship. Plus, she doesn’t complain when I read late at night with the lights on.

Last night, before falling asleep, she told me a whale’s heart beats about 10 times per minute, while the tiny shrew’s heart can pulse away at a 1,000 jumps per minute.

I reached up and snapped off the light. In darkness, we imagined how voluminous might be a whale’s heart, hot blood churning through its chambers. She told me about a trip she’d taken a few years before with her father, to Provincetown, where she and her sister walked through the ribs of whale skeleton. In the warm dark room, we lay imagining what it would be like to live in the belly of a whale, and late in the night when I woke to feed the fire, I was still dreaming of that dark, living interior.

A good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing–more’s the pity.

– Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale


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