Lions of winter

Posted by Ken Campbell October 15, 2010 0 Comment 1487 views

OK, so it’s not winter yet, but it is surely coming our way. In southern Puget Sound, one of the most impressive harbingers of the season is the California sea lion, who makes his appearance about this time every year. Although it’s possible to see sea lions during the summer – there may be some here and there – they make a clearly-defined return in the fall and winter, following the salmon.

Sometimes I watch them as they surface and dive, listen to their grunts and raspberries as they breathe and then dive again. Their heads are massive, bewhiskered, at once fearsome and noble. Compared to the local harbor seals, which are plentiful throughout the year, the sea lions are big all over, especially the adult males. On shore or a floating dock, on the occasions that you might see them out of the water, the biggest ones are mountains of blubber, heads pointed skyward to take the weight off of their necks. In the water, on the other hand, they are grace and power. They swim near the surface for a minute or two, then dive deep in search of seafood.

On the water with them, floating on a suddenly-small paddleboard, with sea lions surfacing and bellowing right there, in my immediate vicinity, their size and power commands attention and respect. I know that they don’t see me as food, but I don’t want them to see me as some sort of threat either. The end result would be pretty much the same from my perspective, regardless of the animal’s intentions.

Add to this that I can’t really see them now, because it’s early morning and completely dark. I don’t know if there’s only one, maybe more. Whether he’s 20 feet away or 200. I just know he’s there somewhere. And so am I.

I am aware of my place in the food chain. I understand that there are times when a person just needs to accept that he is not always on the highest point in life’s big food pyramid. It can be a jarring realization, however, when it’s delivered by sea lion, about 15 feet off to my right, at 5:30 in the morning.

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