I arrived at the beach at mid-tide, because that’s when the harbor seals typically hoist themselves on the rocks. Sometimes, I bring my friends. Sometimes I point them out to tourists. But today, at the mid-point of my friend’s chemotherapy treatments, I went alone.
I wanted to talk with the seals privately, as we’ve done in the past. I felt sure they’d pose for my camera, same as before. I’d send videos to my friend, because the sounds of the ocean are soothing. I’d send snapshots of the seals, as well, because they’re a healing balm for her.
But as luck would have it, “my” typically quiet cove was crawling with tourists. Locals, too, who probably skipped out on work to enjoy the sunny, hot weather. They scrambled over the rocks where the seals usually lounge. They splashed in the tide pools, took business calls at the water’s edge, and snapped endless selfies with squirming, screeching kids.
I didn’t begrudge them the opportunity to visit this lovely hideaway. Of course not. I don’t expect everyone to approach this outdoor sanctuary with the same reverence that I do. But I confess to a bit of selfishness in wishing I were alone on the beach, for at least a little while. Seemed to me, this was the only way the harbor seals would make their presence known.
“They don’t always hang out here,” said the tide pool docent, whom I’d never seen before, but with whom I’d shared a brief conversation about starfish and, well, seals. “They have the whole ocean at their disposal,” she said, “not just this one beach.”
“Yeah, I get that,” I said, “But I really think they’ll show up. They always seem to know….”
I watched the incoming waves for the next two hours, but they didn’t pop their heads up, much less come ashore.
The tide began to surge again, and my parking meter was set to expire. I gathered my belongings, reluctantly so, and left my rocky perch. I was still clinging to the notion that the seals were out there in the surf, but that I’d somehow overlooked them.
I scrambled across the hot sand, toting my belongings toward the staircase. Stopped. Pivoted. Listened to my intuition, and lifted my camera out of its bag.
I scanned the horizon one more time, index finger on the shutter button. Sure enough: In a peaceful cove, not visible to people scrambling over the rocks…in the water, far removed from the madding crowd…I spied a harbor seal floating past, just as happy as could be.
He showed up for my friend and for me, I truly believe that. Another gift from the sea, carrying a special kind of magic.
“These seals seem to know you,” said the movie producer who shared the beach with me this morning. I was snapping photos in the rocky cove; his crew was sprawled across the sandy shoreline, filming a promotional piece for Visit California.
It’s true that the seals are comfortable with my presence. They talk to me, and vogue for the camera.
So naturally, I’ve been posting lots of photos & videos lately. Because: seals. Who doesn’t love ’em?
But there’s also backstory to this, my most recent obsession.
You see, my friend in New York loves seals. She’ll drive all the way to Maine, just to watch them play.
“Do you see seals on your morning walks?” she asked me one day.
“No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them around here.”
She was really disappointed, because: seals. Who doesn’t love ’em?
It didn’t seem all that likely at the time, but I promised her I’d take pictures–if I ever saw them here, that is.
In a poignant twist of fate, I first saw these harbor seals on the morning of my friend’s cancer diagnosis. I’ve been taking seal videos and snapshots for her, ever since.
These harbor seals keep showing up–for my friend and me, and for anyone who finds delightful these gifts from the sea.
So there’s another other thing I haven’t yet mentioned. Trust me: It’s very much related.
My friend and I are working in tandem on some special projects for the Hillary Clinton campaign. It’s a coast-to-coast connection that makes us feel as if we’re doing something good in the world. And despite the miles between us, it’s brought us very close. Illness or no, we are stronger together.
Well… I didn’t know it when I visited the seals this morning, but my friend had sent a handwritten card to our candidate of choice. She tucked a short note inside, and addressed the envelope to Madam Secretary, Hillary Clinton. “Let yourself be great!!!” she said, and then she signed her name.
And so it was that while my friend was at the hospital this morning, hooked up to the IV line that delivered her third chemo treatment–and while I was in Goff Island Cove, circumventing the film crew and capturing these images–my friend from New York heard her cell phone ring.
Guess who was on the other end?
Yes, that’s right. Madam Secretary, Hillary Clinton.
If you know me, you know already that my eyes were swimming when my friend let me know how things went down. Hillary was gracious, she said, and so very encouraging: “Get well soon,” she’d said, with genuine warmth in her voice; and after thanking my friend for the personalized card (and her volunteer efforts), Madam Secretary mentioned the four, smallish words that touched her so deeply.
“Let yourself be great!!”
A softball coach first shared those words of encouragement with my friend from New York. She was just eleven years old. But as so often happens with words that resonate, my friend never forgot that handful of words. And when the just-right moment presented itself, she passed them along.
You never know where a moment’s kindness might eventually travel.
You might be surprised about the reach of a few, carefully selected words of encouragement.
Like these seals, they imbue a special kind of magic. When you least expect it, they find their way back to you, carrying treasures of their own.
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy…
and exclaim or murmur or think at some point,
‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'” –Kurt Vonnegut, in “Knowing What’s Nice”
Thanks, Jama Rattigan, for bringing this lovely quote to my attention. If it isn’t perfect for today, I don’t know what is.
It’s the height of tourist season, but on this cool, damp morning, the beach is almost empty. A marine layer hugs the coastline, blanketing everything in fog. I walk at the water’s edge, soothed by the lullaby of the drifting tide and a seagull’s muffled cries.
Gentle waves drift ashore–foamy crests on steely-gray water. I contemplate the ebbs and flows of my own life, and pull my loved ones close in my thoughts. It’s a primal urge, I think, this wanting to absorb with all our senses these “gifts from the sea.”
When the fog lifts, I scan the horizon with my camera. Could it be? At the furthest reach of my zoom lens–below the oceanfront mansions with floor-to-ceiling windows and expansive balconies–a herd of seals has taken up temporary residence on the craggy, offshore rocks.
A seagull flaps its wings frenetically, as if to say to the napping seal, “Wake up, sleepy head!!” But the seal just blinks really slow, rolls away from this annoyance, and goes about the business of being a mammal who loves nothing more than snoozing by the sea.
Meanwhile…another type of drama!
A jogger passes me, circles back to see what I’m filming. “You a tourist?” he asks.
I must’ve looked puzzled, because he points to my camera.
“Oh, this. I always take it with me.”
Why? Because you never know when you might come upon a heart-shaped piece of sea glass, nestled into Mother Nature’s jewelry box. And who knows? You might also find yourself at the threshold of something new –deeply satisfying but wholly unexpected.
For Part II of my video shoot (sounds of the sea, seagulls & seals), click here.