Saturday, May 24, 2014

"They died hard"

Kase (I've always known him as 'Kasey' but apparently his first name is spelled Kees or Cees) Van der Gaag died this week. He was one of the last of the whalers in my town; a man who has in his own quiet way proved instrumental in the cultural shift from whale-killing to whale-watching in Albany. He was born in the northern hemisphere but chose the  Antipodes to live out the rest of his life.

Occasionally when I visited old whalers to interview them or say hello, Kase would drop by with a bottle of whiskey. He was a dignified man with a blue-eyed, romantic and practical demeanour that made me feel comfortable as soon as I met him. He reminded me of my father. He had the most excellent manners. He summed people up quickly. He sparkled with a gentle, old knowledge and something of the new world too. The title of my post tonight is a reference to something he said during his whaling days .. he was just a beautiful renaissance man, really.
He hated seeing those whales die.

This week, one of the world's great storytellers was offered up to our earth. When I read in the local paper that he'd gone... for a quiet still  moment, part of my life broke away. I knew that another library had burned down and still I drifted happily out to sea with him ...

Chris Pash, who has been following this story since the 1970s  has written an obituary to Kase here:


  1. "They die hard", was his comment after harpooning whales.

  2. Oh Sarah very sad. Your description of him is beautiful and reading it made me shivery and mournful. Thank you for these small (big) poignant stories.

  3. Thank you, Sarah. "I knew that another library had burned down" is a wonderful image to use when describing a bereavement such as this. The whole community loses when someone like Kase passes away. I wish I'd known him personally.