Joshua! Kylie! Help your father and me unload the minivan. You can take care of the lighter things, like the mini-cooler and the badminton net. Daddy will carry the poles. Take your beach towels, too, and don't forget that Ziploc bag with the sunscreen. I don't want you kids getting sunburns. They say the worst skin damage occurs when you're young. Joshua? Kylie? Why are you still in the van? You haven't even unbuckled your seatbelts. Let's go!

What? Well, I suppose that's a beached whale over there. Of course I see it. So what? What is there to be afraid of? It's dead. Oh, will you stop. We're not going to a different beach. What? Now, look, Eric, don't take the children's side. They're clearly being unreasonable. You saw the traffic on that interstate. We planned this outing weeks ago, and we've all been looking forward to it.

Promontory Beach National Recreation Area, known for its pristine white sand and azure waters, is possibly the most beautiful beach in the region, according to the AAA guide. Why would we get all the way here just to go somewhere else? I am not going to let a stranded 50-foot sperm-whale carcass wreck our family outing. Now, let's clear out and claim a nice spot before the place gets too crowded.

My goodness, this is a glorious day! I'm glad we came early. There, that's as good a place as any to settle, about five feet from the whale. Let's get our towels down before someone claims the spot. Come on! Last one to the rotting whale is a rotten egg!

No, Eric, we're not going to move. The view is spectacular, and just because a rude old whale decided to die next to it doesn't make it any less so. Stop whining, everyone! Mind over matter. It's a good adage to remember, kids. No matter what obstacle is in front of you, you can still enjoy yourself if you don't pay any attention to it. That's what we're going to do today.

When I was growing up in South Dakota, we didn't have an ocean to enjoy. Sure, we had swimming holes and the Missouri River, but nothing as grand as a whole ocean. I used to dream of seeing it, and when I finally did, I appreciated every second of it. I still do. You kids are only 7 and 9, and already you've flown in an airplane, used chopsticks, and seen the ocean. I didn't do any of those things until well after I graduated from college. I'm happy that you've had the privileges I lacked, but I don't want you to take them for granted. That's a bad habit to develop so young.

Kids, I'm already worried about this sun. There's not a cloud in the sky, and they say the sun is at its most damaging in the late morning. We should move into the shade. Here, let's sit in front of the whale's belly. It casts a nice big shadow. What "tube thing," Joshua? Oh, that. Well, I suppose that the whale's a boy, and that's the thing it goes to the bathroom with. You have one of your own, Joshua, so you should know. Only yours isn't eight feet long, is it? No, honey, don't touch it!

I read in the AAA guide that this beach was formed by a volcano millions of years ago. Can you imagine volcanoes this far north? Well, then again, you have to remember that the land has shifted around a lot. Plate tectonics, it's called. Joshua, have you learned about that in school yet—plate tectonics? No? I'll have to have a word with your teacher. I should just pull you kids out of that awful school and teach you myself. I could do it. Eric, why don't you set up the badminton net so we can play? Here, honey. The poles telescope out. Or hitch one side over that fin.

Oh, look! The whale is still alive after all! Its side is heaving! My goodness, it is huge. It must easily weigh several tons. And look how it's weakly flapping its free fin. Don't worry, kids, it can't hurt you. It won't be alive much longer, anyhow. Oh, now I've done it, haven't I? Remember the dead starfish you found on the beach last year? Well, this is no different.

Kylie, stop crying.

There's more to see on this outing than just some silly old bloated dying whale. Like that buzzard over there! Hello, Mr. Buzzard!

Whew, is anyone hungry? I sure am. I was in such a rush getting everyone up and the van loaded that I didn't eat any breakfast. Granola bar, anyone? There are some nice pears in the big cooler. Oh, Joshua, the whale doesn't smell that bad. I didn't hear you complaining about the stench from Flowerpot's litter box when you neglected to clean it last week. You've been very irresponsible with that cat, Joshua. I should give her to that nice Levine girl up the street with all the pets.

Okay, okay, everybody just calm down. Joshua! Get back here! It was only the whale's tummy exploding a little. As the whale perishes, its body fills with gas, and then it needs somewhere to escape. It's just like when you drink a little too much soda. That's why we only brought juice on this trip. Look, this sort of thing happens during decomposition. Remember—death is just the final stage of life. Sober heads, now.

Come on, Kylie, Joshua, Eric, let's all go for a swim. Let's wash all this black, inky sludge off our bodies. Bring your boogie boards!

Eric, stand up! It's so typical of our family for one of you to faint from the sulfurous gas fumes produced by the putrefying innards of a beached sperm whale. I didn't vomit and fall over when I discovered those blackened bananas wedged under the backseat in the minivan this morning! Eric, you're as bad as the children.

Well, if you're just going to lie around and pass out, I'm going to go for a walk. I was hoping we could spend the day together as a family. But I'm not going to let a decaying whale or three spoilsports ruin my outing. Ooh, look! A sand dollar!