A number of cottages, spaced out along the roadway approach to Olliviere’s ranch house, sport nondescript long bone artifacts: one tied to a doorside lamppost, others strapped in tree forks or loosely dangled by chains from window sill, roof eaves, door lintel . . . They have a slapdash temporary look—ornaments of a holiday or brief season. They adorn neighbor abodes, whose owners or landlords—wishing to partake of the star harpoonists’s fame—have gathered prize castaway fragments of whale skeleton. Cracked or mildew-stained bone parts, imperfect or missing a telltale joint end, but imposing for shape and size: they resemble long javelins, broad shields perhaps, yet most summon whale presence. Whale afterlife aura . . . Patience, counsels winsome Scott, my driver. Don’t be fooled by false fronts, mere decorations like X-mas tree tinsels. Wait for the full-fledged Palace of Honor . . . I’d mildly gasped at a couple of bone-crisscrossed [End Page 139]
upper entryways, as we neared that one authentic home site. At last our tall lean stoic man himself, his eyes aglow, greets us at his gateway—main fence posts elegant, if unflorid. He stands below a highly polished arch, curved jawbone of fifty-foot-long Angel, the only mature humpback ever to have been killed instantly with a single flung harpoon. His hands wrapped around Angel’s outer margins, he caresses the prize relic and invites my touch to the oddly prolonged icicle shape at the center, which towers over the widespread parabola base . . . Still amazingly unblemished and intact, like a tall white shaft of ivory sculpture! It’s her nostril bone, he says. So lovely and crystalline, semi-transparent, but it feels firm as iron to my finger’s gentle taps. Fear not, it’s sturdy. Tough as an elephant’s long tusk. Built to last . . . He trills the last word’s T. Indeed, for a warrior in his eighth decade, Athneil’s a tusky robust specimen, taut and limber. Whatever his off-season workouts, he stays in prime fettle all year round. His own bone case, from anvil-shaped chest to oaken-brawny thighs, seems ageless. He balances on bare footsoles [End Page 140] as if always at the ready to spring into lance-hurl mode . . . House tour starts with a litany of wall-hung and wiresuspended bulk skeletons parts. Athneil’s Whale Ivories.
A few rib bones are laid out, randomly, on his patio deck. A broad skull bone dangled over the living room entrance; displayed above, an embossed portrait of his chief whaling vessel: why ask? A curved trapezoidal backbone spread across that high wall over the mantel piece. Five knobby thick segments of neck vertebrae— in graduated sizes—are stacked in formation like a row of flower pots along the wide mantel. A local sculptor, perhaps, has burnished all edges and slicked the hollows into neat grooves—giving each a singular gleamy finish. But the carefully linked row suggests a great whale head charging forward as we stroll across the frontroom . . . We exit through alcove into a rear parlor and I duck—pure instinct— to avoid being clouted by the succession of whale models hung from the ceiling like Calder mobiles. Imposing shapes. Black silhouettes . . . Right Whale, sleek Killer Whale, bulbous Sperm Whale puffing its bubbly spout (eternally etched in that facsimile [End Page 141] of high fountaining spray), while local Humpback Whale completes the floating roster.
The last, if less
monumental, is clearly more precisely detailed. The model, homegrown, springs to life with closely observed traits. The reek and aroma of huntsman Athneil swirls around the doll-like bust. It’s the one three-dimensional replica, the others all poster art flatboard hangings. Our host holds forth upon the niceties of this species, no living soul more intimate with the Humpback than himself, so often a sea jockey riding on its back, primed for the kill. He takes the shape of his whale-humping crouch, enticing us into onsite peak moments: arms spread akimbo, knees widely outstretched, legs in a crab-arched splits . . . Man riding a camel, an elephant, a stallion—each pose carries its distinct holding pattern and carriage. But whale-riding...