Met any humans, lately?
I’m a girl human, underneath all this winter gear.”
I slowly walk around the seal, who, on occasion, flips over, belly up, then reverses, belly down. I decide it’s a ‘she’, for no scientific reason, but I need a pronoun with which to connect. So “she’s” a girl. When uncurled, she measures about three feet long, dark grey on top, white underbelly with grey spots.
I inspect. No obvious gaping or oozing wounds. Still, I am a bit fearful of the circumstances that have brought her here, so I keep a respectful distance. The seal opens her mouth, but doesn’t speak. However, I do see that she has teeth. Lots of them. Pointy, sharp teeth.
“Are you hurt?”
Time passes. I call again. I’m told to continue waiting for a call back. I wonder if I am going to be late for dinner.
“Does your mother know where you are?“
Coincidentally, at the mention of ‘mother’, something clicks. She quits belly-flipping and hoists herself upright. Beached by a sand dune, alone with a chattering human, is no place to be. Her mother, her family, her pals are ‘out there’. It’s getting dark and stormy.
She unfolds and re-arranges her flippers, one at a time, pulls herself upright, stretches out and inches forward. Now is a good time to make a run for it.
She’s got fifty, sixty, maybe seventy feet of this rocky, pebbly terrain to reach the water. First pass…she travels two, three feet– and stops. She is clearly tired.
She gives it another go and gets maybe four, five feet. Stops. Exhausted already? Anxious and impatient, I would push her if I could. Can I ?—push her? –with encouragement? For the next twenty, thirty minutes, I become the seal’s cheerleader. I was, in fact, a high school cheerleader. I dig in my dusty memory archives and surprise myself in retrieving chants and handclaps, decades old. I bend close and softly start.
“How ya doin’?” (Pause).
“Hey, Hey, –
What Do You Say? –
Take That Ball the Other Way!”
She gives me a look and moves a few feet more. Pause. We exchange knowing looks. I recall another cheer, louder.
“Two, Four, Six, Eight,
Who Do We Appreciate?
Seal. Yaaayyy SEAL!” (Clap. Clap.)
Stop and start. More looks. Louder.
“Give me an ‘S’.
Give me an ‘E’.
Give me an ‘A’.
Give me an ‘L’.”
Our dance continues. More cheers. But no cartwheels.
“You Go Girl!”
When she is ten feet from the water, my phone rings. At last, it is Julika, from the Riverhead Foundation. I excitedly blurt:
“She’s not beached anymore.
- Almost at the water.
-Five feet more to go.
Oh no…she’s stopping. WAIT!
She’s gulping big swallows of sand from the water.
She’s NOT going in”.
Julika confirms that this is likely a Harbor Seal yearling. She reassures me that seals sometimes pop up on sand dunes, just to sun themselves. But the eating of sand could be a sign of stress as rocks are sometimes found in the stomachs of sick seals. I hope and pray that Seal found tiny crustacean food and hasn’t lost her marbles, eating pebbles and rocks.
“Go Seal Go.”
And then, slowly, very slowly, Seal wades into the water. I worry if she is just too exhausted. Slowly, very slowly, she wades out. Dragging. Pause. Forward. Pause. I’m running out of cheers.
“Seal, Seal, she’s our man.
If she can’t do it, no one can.”
Finally—Seal gives one big push– and she is swimming. I can’t see her head any more. She is swimming toward the Cedar Point Lighthouse. With salty tears and a hoarsened throat, I rally one last cheer.
“V-I-C-T-O-R-Y! Victory –Seal!”
Will she make it to Gardiner’s Bay and Long Island Sound forConnecticut?Rhode Island? Or will she go around Montauk, and head forFlorida? Will she ever find her mother? Will she tell her mother about me?
An hour or so after I began, I am back in my car. Shivering, I send Julika cell phone pictures with location notes, for the records. I’m exhausted from wind, water, and worry, cold, cheering, and clapping. I am sad that we never got to say goodbye, but happy that Seal is now at sea. Homeward bound, I hope.