By Morleen Novitt
It was a cold afternoon in April. The last few days of my spring vacation were disappearing. We had rented an ocean-front house in Amagansett. This big, weathered house was supposed to provide a little get-away for my husband Don and me. I felt restless as I stood on the deck looking at the sea. The houses on either side were unoccupied. Their big windows provided a view nobody observed. The sky was a steely grey and the water left whiskers of spray as the waves crashed onto the beach in front of our house.
I was thinking about the office. It had come as a tremendous shock to me to discover that there were people there who didn’t like me. And they were weaving webs of intrigue to get me out. My agency had merged with another. Suddenly I had gone from winning every conceivable award for creativity that my former (and now defunct) company gave out to being an old hack in a matter of months. I was superfluous. Driftwood or rather dead wood that needed to be removed. This was a new experience for me and I didn’t really feel equipped to handle these entanglements. I just wanted to write ads.
My husband returned from his morning walk. His hair was slick with the mist from the air. He pointed towards the west and said: “I think there’s a seal stranded on the beach.”
My heart started to pound and I ran to get the binoculars. I could see it, a blob of speckled brown and tan, white and black lying in a rut made by some large tires. I hurried down to look at the little animal. There was this poor seal, all wrapped up in some sort of fishing net that had somehow married itself to a thick rope. The distressed creature was a harbor seal about three and half feet long, silently but frantically whipping its neck about, exhausting itself, trying to get free. Though it made no sound, I felt I could hear it scream. It looked so sad. So scared. Its huge black eyes gazed into mine. As if it was pleading with me for help. But for all I knew, the animal was terrified of me. Perhaps I was causing it more stress. I clumsily raced back to the house.
“Don,” I shouted to my husband. “It’s a little harbor seal. Oh my God, it is just wriggling around. I am going to call somebody.”
I went to telephone Okeanos, the marine animal rescue organization I had often read about. This wasn’t as simple as it sounds. I grew hysterical with frustration. After getting a few different numbers- worthless, unless I wanted to visit an aquarium- I reached a promising recording requesting that I press “2”because this call was about a stranded seal, whale, sea turtle, dolphin or porpoise.
I spoke to the kind, patient marine biologist who stressed, “Don’t touch the seal and above all, try to keep it from going back into the water. It’s likely it cannot swim in its condition. It could drown.”
I gave the biologist directions to the beach in Amagansett and ran back to the imprisoned animal. By now, a small crowd had gathered. I didn’t like everyone gawking at the helpless creature. It seemed humiliating for it to have to be seen so compromised. I grew more and more panicky, frantic.
I believed it was our collective fault that this poor seal was in trouble. It enraged me. Eventually a kind member of the Shore Patrol came, and he helped keep people and dogs (suddenly it was an AKC Convention) away. I could only imagine what the seal could be feeling as the dogs, now leaping around pulling at their leashes and barking like mad, grew more curious and agitated.
The wait was long. Interminable. The cold, damp air. The wind making it hard to keep our footing. Sky and water seamlessly meeting. Dogs going crazy. People offering well-intentioned but idiotic suggestions.
“You hold its head and I’ll try to untie these ropes.” Really?
I ran back home. My husband, splayed out on the sofa, was calmly reading the newspaper. I reported,
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