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Among the Seals

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On Dec 2, my wife and needed to go paddling after a intense week of work and physical inactivity. We settled on visiting some friends in Rockport and paddling from Back Beach. We were interested in looking for seals around the Salvages. To our great delight, we found many of them... or was it, they came looking for us.

We left the beach in late afternoon, paddled to the breakwater. There we found loons calling, in their haunting way. This was the first time I had seen them in the ocean. The wind was just the lightest breeze, so sounds carried easily over the water. The sea was a glassy, slow 2' swell.

We then continued to the Salvages. We were the _only_ boats on the water, powered or otherwise. As we rounded the southern tip of the Little Salvages, we saw the first seal in the water. Soon, we saw more heads popping up until we were surrounded with at least 2 dozen sets of eyes.

We paddled and spoke quietly, but mostly just held our position or turned slowly about. They would come no closer than 2-3 kayak lengths when we were looking at them directly. If they approached us from behind, they came within a kayak length. They knew about our eyes and were cautious. One bold individual swam within a length of Patty, then dove, and rubbed up against her kayak, reappearing astern.

As we passed the larger island, more seals slid off the land to come see us. They would dive into the water, then spy, then come closer. At one point, I counted 26 around us. We stayed among the seals for over an hour. Finally, we slowly moved back to towards the breakwater, but our escorts stayed with us. The sun had set, lighting the sky with a brilliant magenta blaze, but it began to get cold so we realy picked up the pace. The seals stayed with us the mile or so back to the breakwater. Passing over the ledge, they left us.

As we paddled back to our friend's house, I thought about how fantastically difficult it would be to hunt the seals. Not just for the skill required, but knowing full well that I would have to become the preadator.

When we arrived at the beach, the sea and darkening sky completely blended together in the advancing night. The Christmass tree in Rockport was brightly lit as were the houses along the shore. People were out walking, curious about where we had come from. Before hefting the boats to the car, we just stood on the beach thinking how fortunate we are.

This was an absolutely magical experience. We were given this precious gift to be out among these creatures, warm blooded as we are, in their element. We could hear them breathing as we all quietly watched each other. It made me wonder how little difference there is between us.

Be polite, tread lightly, for we are guests in their house.

Juan Ochoa

Harvard, MA

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On June 9th, I too caught the curious attention of seals near Dry Salvages. It was my third excursion this season, a solo round trip from Pebble Beach. Passing the eastern shore of Thatcher Island, I set straight for the Dry Salvages on a sea of glass under a blistering sun. Arriving at the Salvages, the seals began popping up all around. Some would vanish with a loud tail slap while others would swim to with a few feet, more interested by close inspection and eye contact. Only a few days earlier I spoke with a woman who told me a seal actually landed on the back of her kayak while paddling in the Northwest. I began to imagine an overactive seal doing the same thing right then and there at the Dry Salvages. Onward to Straightsmouth Island, Gap Head, Emerson Point and Lands End. Back at Pebble Beach dozens of novice divers were learning techniques in their brand-new gear. I landed near the car on a mixture of wave and seaweed. The odor of hot, sun baked neoprene drifted along the beach.

The winter birds are here now. Northern hoards are gathering, sometimes in huge flocks, on tidal ponds and estuaries. Here they are safe from the unbearable winter conditions now paralyzing their summer breeding grounds.

On December 19th, close to the western shore of Mt Hope Bay, a flock of over a thousand Canada Geese burst into flight from a small pond just a few hundred feet from the kayak. Sound from thousands of big beating wings was overwhelming and the flock seemed to darken the sky. Just before passing overhead, the lieutenant males diverged and split the flock around my boat. They passed by in seconds, landing hundreds of yards away, dispersed on the bay.

The winter solstice has passed and how the times have changed since my first trip in June. December 19th was my eightieth excursion this year and probably my last for a while. It brought the tracklog total for the season to 965 miles. So much I’ve seen along the shore between Kittery, Me and Stonington, CT and so much more of this fractal coast I have missed.

I step to my future on a sometimes darkened and obscure trail, feeling my way along, seldom knowing what lies about and ahead. Next to my footprints are the things I have touched and the things passed by, unnoticed. Again and again, my boat slips from the shore on to another world.

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