If you're part of my family, you know what this is, right?
Yes, it's Whale Rock! A sure sign that we're getting close to Lake Alpine! (Thanks to Isolino Ferreira for his kind permission to use this photograph.)
We passed this rock sculpture just about every year when we were kids, as we drove up to Lake Alpine during summer vacation. I can't remember which one of us kids first spied Whale Rock, but I remember that person insisting, "I saw a whale by the side of the road!" and the adults replying, "Sure you did, honey." Eventually that person was entirely vindicated as everyone got a chance to spy the whale. And, much as drives to Disneyland always involved a game of Spot the Matterhorn, drives up to Lake Alpine always included the game of Find Whale Rock.
Who made the whale? No one in our family has any idea. When we were kids we never gave any thought to its creator, any more than we thought about how Lake Alpine had come into being; the whale was just a Force of Nature, to be enjoyed rather than explained. But since then I've wondered about this spontaneous roadside art -- what factors inspired its creation, how long it's been lying there alongside State Highway 4, whether anyone's ever stolen up there and left a bowl of petunias next to it. And at the moment, surprisingly enough, I have no information about it available at my fingertips -- only what's already in my head.
It's rare to come across something as esoteric as Whale Rock these days. So many other kinds of ephemeral roadside art, from the short-lived Seattle monolith to the vanished spontaneous junk sculptures of the Emeryville mudflats beside San Francisco Bay, are now documented on the Internet and the information is available to surfers from every part of the globe. But there isn't much hard fact to be had about the whale, not even much by way of photographs. In a way, that makes it all the more special, almost mystical; it's sort of a cetacean Stonehenge. That's just how I like it.