Let us meet just slightly west and south of a place called despair.
It is a place that does not turn away from difficulty or fierceness. And yet it is also a place of paradoxical gratitude, where images, metaphors, powerful language and practices of grateful living combine to bring about moments of belonging, grace and yes, even joy. —Dale Biron
Life isn’t a pailful of herring, you know. Not for Freckles the harbor seal, any more than it is for the rest of us.
Not for nothing does Freckles have this spindle-shaped sleekness. He forages the Pacific Ocean for hours at a time every day, grabbing snacks on the go because he’s also got to keep an eye out for predators. Manmade dangers, too–like gill nets and ship propellers.
Freckles navigates rough waters every day, so no surprise! When he finally hauls ashore, he’s exhausted. But as leader of this pinniped posse, it also falls to Freckles to defend their onshore habitat.
You might be wondering: How does he manage?
Look deep into those liquid brown eyes, and you’ll find your answer. There’s wisdom in that sleepy-eyed gaze of his, not fear. He’s been around the tide pools a few times, our Freckles. He’s earned every one of those grey spots.
He’s not afraid to go nose-to-nose with his problems, but he also knows when and how to chill.
You’d never guess, for instance, that he’d just squared off with Clancy, the interloper up front. Once Freckles laid down the ground rules, he nestled himself into the algae-softened rocks again, angled strategically between his long time friends and this brazen newcomer. Peaceable kingdom, restored.
That’s how Freckles rolls. He just takes care of business, tra la la, and then settles in for another nap.
We could all take some cues from Freckles, now couldn’t we? Tuned in, blissed out…finding our happy place, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
I went down to the beach again yesterday–after the tides receded, when the harbor seals typically sun themselves on the rocky shores of Goff Island Cove. It was a hallmark day: the 7th and next-to-last chemo treatment for my friend on the East Coast. Same as always, she was counting me to send pictures and videos, to help get her through the final weeks of that grueling regimen.
In the same way that I look to the skies for hummingbirds, she scans the ocean for seals. They are her spirit animals, harbingers of comfort and hope. No way would I ever want to disappoint her! That’s why, over the course of her many treatments, I’ve observed very closely “our” seal family’s habits and habitat. I know, from watching them and observing the tides, when they’re most likely to appear. They’ve become very comfortable with my presence; I call some of them by name. They’ve always revealed themselves to me, even when they hide from others. But yesterday…even before I descended the wooden stairs that lead into to the cove, I sensed that they weren’t there.
I blinked hard in the strong sunlight…didn’t see them on the rocks. I scanned the open water…no bobbing heads.Nature has her own, mysterious ways. She doesn’t operate on our timelines. I know and respect all of that. And still, I struggled against a rising panic. How could I explain to my friend that the seals hadn’t shown themselves–on a chemo day, of all days?
Tourists came and went, snapping selfies as they climbed all over the jagged rocks where the seals usually chill, calling out to each other in loud, jolting voices that would surely send the most habituated sea life into hiding. I watched an elderly couple explore the cove, clinging tight to one another as they bent over the tide pools, whispering excitedly about sea anemone, hermit crabs and shells. They were Eastern European, I think, from the sounds of their broken English. When they approached the rocks where I stood, I introduced myself. We used gestures and simple sentences to communicate, as new friends do. Quietly, because we shared a reverence for that space. When I said something about the “seals,” their eyes lit up. With huge smiles stretched across their sunburned faces, they pointed in unison to a distant rock formation, surrounded by water.
Here it is, a place they call Treasure Island.
And there they were: Freckles and Friends, sprawled on the rocks in the afternoon sun. Beyond the reach of any human beings, and almost beyond the reach of my little bridge camera. Snoozing, as seals do, after they’ve eaten a large meal and nap time stretches in front of them, unimpeded by predators and ocean surges.
A young seal was nestled into a patch of surf grass, at the base of the rocks.
The baby seal was wandering off by himself, as is his wont.
The oldest male, Freckles, was flanked on all sides by friends, all of whom were camouflaged by the mounded rocks that shielded them from the glaring sun.
Such a relief, to see them there, safe and sound…and, well, present. Such a pleasure, to send photos to my friend! Videos, too, like this one.
I’m reminded once again, of the good that shows itself when we hold out hope in the face of doubt. This is what it means to “get by with a little help from our friends.” This is what it means to keep the faith.