That Will Never Happen Again

    Throughout the summer and fall the bathtub perched on the towers of rocks just above the intertidal was our own form of luxury living. Often with a cold beer in hand, I would slip into the tub, perching carefully on the wooden slab on the bottom, the only defense between my butt and the burning fire just below. But once you were in and comfortable, it was hard to get out, especially after enough rain had fallen to justify using fresh water as opposed to the saltwater we’d been using all summer. Saltwater was fine, but had a tendency to leave you feeling as dehydrated as a tumbleweed.

After two days of torrential rain that turned the Hanson Island creeks from trickles to raging rivers, the sun came out, the wind shifted to the northeast, and the mercury sped past zero bound for the horrible land of below freezing. The time seemed right, to break out the tub again, and enjoy the sun and cold air from our very own hot tub. But the water we were filling the tub with was frigid. Bombarded from all sides by the freezing temperatures, our little fire underneath seemed woefully meager. Yet we were committed to this bathing adventure, and we resolutely threw every piece of relatively dry wood we could find onto the flames and watched as the water temperature rose by tenths of a degree. By 4 o’clock the sun had dipped behind the trees, and without the sun’s rays, a cruel chill swept into the cove as our numb fingers continued to feverishly feed the fire.

After four hours, I’d had enough. Plunging my cold hands into the bath water, I declared it hot and ready. Of course, after exposing them to the freezing air for the last 15 minutes, anything would have felt warm. I’d had a great idea for a photo though. One of us, in the tub, back to the camera, silhouetted by the setting sun with steam rising into the chilled air, a Kokanee in hand. In my minds eye it screamed Facebook profile picture. I stripped down and slid into the tub. The warmth my hands had felt moments before was all relative. While the water wasn’t cold, lukewarm may have been a little too generous. Any ideas of a photo shoot vanished as the first gust of cold wind hit my little bath. Every exposed inch of flesh erupting in goose bumps. Splashing water alleviated the chill for just seconds as the cold air pulled any warmth it created from my skin.

Screw this. At lightening pace, I scrubbed soap over my body and passed shampoo over my hair briefly, feeling my hair begin to freeze as I rinsed. As cold as it was, I knew getting out would be even worse, and contemplated curling up in the bottom of the tub with just my nose above the surface for the night like some pink, freshwater sea lion. With a gigantic effort I pulled myself out of the tub and began pulling on every article of clothing I could, dry body or not. Sprinting back to the house I threw open the door, greeted by the warmth of a roaring fire and the insulation of our fancy, new, thermal pane windows. The goose bumps began to recede, my hair thawed, the shiver rolling up and down my spine disappearing.

Form the table Brittney looked up, hands perched above her keyboard, eyeing me skeptically. “How was it?” She asked.

I gave a small smile, trying to think of a positive way to spin it, to convince her that it was worth it, and not to let our hours of fire feeding and frozen phalanges go to waste. “Well….” I start. “I’m glad I’m clean now.”

With a look of grim determination Brittney rose, grabbed her towels, and with a deep breath as if preparing to leap off the high dive, stepped outside and into the growing darkness.

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New Zealand Thanksgiving

We were hot, sweaty, and exhausted. Sand and dirt coated our arms and legs. My skin that had been browning was beginning to look suspiciously red. We were miles along the Abel Tasman trail on the northern tip of the south island of New Zealand at the end of November. It was paradise with gorgeous tropical beaches falling into the turquoise waters of the channel between the two islands. Palm trees and ferns dotted the trail as we wove over the hills and along the beaches, never too far from the picturesque view of the water. The aches in our backs had long ago gone numb and we moved with the hunched postures of those with perhaps a little too much weight on their backs.

But despite the beauty and the freedom, it was hard not to feel homesick as we finally dropped our packs at the end of the day. It was Thanksgiving back home, and it was hard not to think of houses packed with friends, family, food, and football. Brittney and I knew this day would come when we had put together our three month trip to New Zealand. That we would be, first the first time, away from everything that made the holiday memorable. We sat on the beach watching hikers trudge up and down the beach and kayakers scooting back and forth at the mouth of the bay.

Digging through our packs we debated what should do the honor of being Thanksgiving dinner. There was a couple packages of some pre cooked pasta, and two boxes of curry; one red, one yellow, complete with compressed zip-locks of chicken and the smallest servings of rice I’d ever seen. We decided nothing could be more traditional than pre cooked curry as we had sadly polished off the macaroni and cheese two nights before. Unceremoniously we dropped our dinner into water suspended perilously on top of the camp stove and watched dinner roar to a boil.

We stretched out in the shade of the trees and polished off Thanksgiving dinner in about five minutes. Slowly the sun began to fade, and the stars, devoid of artificial lights began to creep out, the trees casting shadows from the full moon rising over the ocean. Exhausted with another 15-miles on our legs we crawled into our tent, putting an end to our first southern hemisphere Thanksgiving. Or at least, so we thought.

I was asleep before my head hit the canvas floor of the tent, my eyes felt like they had just closed when I felt Brittney shaking me awake again.

“Did you hear that?” She asked sitting upright in the tent, her head grazing the roof. “It sounded like an animal screaming outside.”

Groggily I listened for maybe half a second, muttered, “no,” and promptly fell back asleep. Minutes later something pulled me out of my sleep again, but this time it wasn’t my wife’s hand on my shoulder, but something outside, rustling around our tent. Our tent had an extended fly, allowing you to be outside the interior while staying out of the elements. It was in these small gaps that we’d been keeping our backpacks with our food, wallets, clothes, and everything else vital to our survival in this unexplored frontier that was New Zealand.
Just on the outside of the fly on my side, was the rustling. A million worst case scenarios begin rushing through my sleep addled brain. Was it the gruesome threesome from The Strangers? The aliens from Signs that had terrified me since I saw the movie when I was 11? Or just your typical escaped lunatic dead set on murdering innocent Alaskan raised hikers in there sleep? No, it had to be that German quartet that had set up there tent across the clearing from us. As my mind slowly slogged through the possibilities, the sound grew closer until the fly moved, whatever it was, it was inside the fly. I’d propped my pack upright, leaning against the tent, its’ silhouette dark against the light background of the fly. As I stared at the outline, it suddenly fell away from me toward the opening, the collision muffled by the grass.

I could hear the pack being rummaged through as I’d left the top open. Camping in a land devoid of bears, my packing had become plenty lazy. This was beyond fear now though. My trail mix, the elixir of life was in the top of the bag, it must be saved. I sat upright, my fingers fumbling for the zipper, and bellowed with as much intimidation as I could muster, “hey!” In a spasm Brittney came awake, flailing her arms and legs as she threw the sleeping bag from her.

I finally locate the zipper only to realize my legs are still pinned within my own bag, I kick, trying to free myself. In the moonlight I can see my bag of trail mix, seemingly pulled by an invisible hand free of the back pack.

“What is it?” Brittney asks, her voice filled with terror.

I search for words of comfort to reassure her, to let her know that I had the situation under control, that her husband was here to protect her. “I… I don’t know!” So much for bed side manner.

I break free of the sleeping bag and spring from the tent. A small shadow was dragging the bag of food toward the forest, with another yelp, the creature dropped the trail mix and retreated to the woods. Brittney was clambering over my shoulder trying to see, unsure if she should fight, run, or laugh at me. “It’s ok,” I say, searching for something reassuring “it’s… it’s kinda cute,” still with no idea what the heck it was.

Trail mix securely back in the backpack we dug out head lamps and looked into the trees to find at least seven pairs of glowing orange eyes emitting from the forest. We stare at each other, “what are they?”

“They don’t have lemurs here do they?” (Hey we were still basically still asleep).

Whatever they were, they were clearly not aliens, masked murderers, or lunatics. Food securely at our feet behind the impenetrable zipper we crawled back into our bags and tried to fall asleep to the pitter patter of the, “lemurs” (ok they were opossums).

Springer

The greatest Hanson Island story ends here, but it begins far to the south. Off the dock of a ferry terminal in Puget Sound near Vashon Island. In early January 2002, ferry goers inherited a mascot, a tiny, emaciated, two-year old orca whale. The little whale became an instant celebrity, following the ferry back and forth day after day. Yet the lost whale was in trouble, separated from her family, malnourished, and in dire need of the attention and physical contact she craved.

Biologists up and down the Pacific Northwest coast rushed to Puget Sound in an attempt to discover where the tiny whale belonged. Saddle patch photos and acoustic recordings traced her, not to the nearby southern Resident community, but to the A4 pod from the northern Residents off the northern coast of Vancouver Island, 250 miles from home. She was A73, commonly known as Springer. The previous summer, she had failed to return to Johnstone Strait, as had her mother Sutlej (A45), both were presumed deceased. Springer had returned from the grave, but how she had made it all the way to Washington was a total mystery.

And so the debate began about what to do with this tiny whale that had violated international law by crossing the border. Had she been rejected by her pod? Did she have some communicable disease? Had she already grown too attached to the boats that choked the sound? A wild orca had not been taken into captivity in U.S waters since 1976, but this was different. Without human intervention, Springer seemed doomed. But public opinion made it clear; Springer needed to go home not to a tank.

But no wild orca had successfully been reintroduced to the wild, the closest had been Keiko of Free Willy fame, who had lived a solitary existence in the wild before dying of Pneumonia. The federally funded U.S program NMFS (National Marine and Fisheries Service) balked at the idea, claiming lack of funding and the difficulties that had transpired in Keiko’s rehabilitation.

While the debate raged, Springer received round the clock attention as people tried to keep boats, ferries, and others from interacting with her. It was a hopeless endeavor, as Springer continually rubbed against boats in search of a surrogate for other whales. Whatever was decided, rehabilitation or captivity, Springer could not spend her life off the Vashon Ferry dock. After two months of debate, NMFS accepted a a plan that included seapen rehabilitation, translocation, and finally, a reintroduction into the wild.

In the meantime, Springer needed to get healthy in order to satisfy Canadian officials who feared returning a possibly diseased and contagious whale to its already threatened northern Resident population. Over the next three months Springer became one of the most monitored patients in the world, receiving antibiotics to clear up a skin condition, ketoacidosis, and worms. Slowly, her condition improved. And so a new debate began, where and when to release Springer. The solution was in Orca Lab’s front yard. A fifteen minute walk through the woods behind the lab leads to a small, skinny, and protected bay known as Dongchong Bay. The plan was to place the net pen in the back of the bay, and wait for Springer’s family to swim by.
Moving day came on July 13, 2002 when Springer was lifted by crane from her holding pen in Puget Sound onto a catamaran for her big trip north to Hanson Island and home. The following day, Springer’s pod appeared, swimming south in Blackfish Sound past the mouth of the bay. The moment of truth had arrived, and the net pen was opened. Springer showed no hesitation, pelting straight for her long lost family. But it was not quite the storybook ending everyone had hoped for as Springer and pod eventually departed in opposite directions.

Free but still orphaned, Springer returned to her old pod mate; boats. Two days after her release, Springer positioned herself squarely under a boat, making it impossible to maneuver without hitting her. She would have to learn to live with wild orcas again, and just as importantly, they had to learn to live with her. Her first few interactions appear to have gone poorly as she was seen with teeth marks raking her body as pods seemed reluctant to add another hungry and growing whale to their ranks.

By August however, Springer seemed to have found a degree of acceptance. A young female orca (Nodales, A51) from the closely related A5 pod began to serve as a surrogate mother, guiding Springer away from nearby boats. While eventually Springer reunited with her closer relatives in A4 pod, Nodales probably saved her life in those first few turbulent weeks back home. As summer came to a close, and the orcas began to disperse for the winter, everyone held their collective breath, knowing that the winter months would be Springer’s biggest test yet. The following summer she returned with her natal pod, fat and healthy. At the lab she received a heroes welcome. The massive wooden sign still hangs above the observation deck, adorned with a spyhopping orca, hearts, and the message, “Welcome Home Springer.

Every few days I run through the forest to Dongchong Bay. The forest is spongy and bouncy, it feels less like running and more like bouncing on a trampoline. Arriving at the bay always gives me pause, a small rocky trail runs along the left hand side of the tiny bay, breaking free of the trees and giving a full view of the bay and Blackfish Sound beyond. In my mind I can see the net pen, the notoriously energetic orca springing clear of the water in breach after breach. Her loud squeals and calls echoing off the watery canyons of her home. She’s a mother now, no longer just a nice story but an integral and contributing member of orca society.

I wonder if she remembers this place, this bay and the multitudes of people that healed her, fed her salmon, and most importantly, were able to let go and let her go home when the time was right. I wonder if she ever pauses at the mouth of Dongchong as she goes by. If she can still hear her voice ricocheting and bouncing off the rocks, hear the crack of her splashes as she returns to the water. If she has any idea what a miracle her life is.

Patches the Sea Lion: Part II

Patches skimmed the steep rock face just below the surface of the waves. Every now and than his whiskers tickled as they brushed against the rocks. He pumped his flukes and rode the growing wave that his body created. Taking the corner of the cove as fast as he could, Patches sent waves crashing onto the rocks, soaking a gull that squawked at his boisterous entrance. Gulls amused Patches more than any other creature. Bobbing arrogantly on the surface, completely unconcerned until you surfaced near them, causing them to cry out and fly away in a flurry of indignation because you had the nerve to breath.

Patches broke the surface and grabbed a quick breath, feeling the mist of his exhalation run across his exposed back. The gash still throbbed from where the sea lion had fallen on it earlier and he noticed that it was bleeding again. It had been a month since the injury and it still protested at the mildest irritation. He hoped that it would begin to scab over and heal soon, the thought of maneuvering around the colony all winter with it and feeling the cold wind against his exposed blubber was not appealing. But for now he would just have to continue to live with it, and it certainly didn’t stop him from hunting.

Like most sea lions, Patches wasn’t all that picky about what he ate. He was a decent fisherman as far as sea lions go, though he still struggled to catch the ultimate prize, salmon. But bottom fish, crab, and herring were all easy enough to grab, and filled him up reasonably well. But he felt his body desiring the fatty meat of the salmon that continued to run past the rookery and knew he would need to start catching more to get through the winter. As quietly as he could Patches dove and entered the mouth of the cove. The water was shallower in here, and he could see clearly thirty feet in front of him, his world a greenish, aqua tint as rays of light from above reflected and stabbed the waving kelp fronds. It was here, Patches knew, the silver flashes of salmon could be found. They would seek shelter in the kelp beds to rest, relying on their maneuverability to wiggle through the stalks of kelp to stay a step ahead of the monstrous male sea lions that hunted in the deeper waters just fifty feet away.

But Patches had no trouble squirming among the kelp, and it was here that he had the most success hunting salmon. Many of the younger sea lions too, would work the kelp bed just off the rocks directly below the humans platform that overlooked the ocean. As the tide rose it was often necessary to pass directly below this platform, just feet from where they stood. The larger sea lions flatly refused to go near. Everything about the land seemed to terrify them and at least once a week at the rookery, one would let out a terrified roar and scramble for the ocean, unconcerned with anyone in his path. In the interest of preservation all before him would run for the ocean, trying to stay out of the way of his surprisingly agile bulk. It would than take them hours to get back onto the rocks.

The young sea lion wove through the kelp, head turning constantly as if on a swivel, his stomach growling. As he came out of the kelp bed and made a slow turn to go back the other way towards the cove, he felt something disturb the water next to him. He looked back to his left and saw that he was not alone. A harbor seal cruised peacefully in his slipstream, looking up at him expectantly. Patches had heard of this behavior but had never actually been followed by a harbor seal before. They would often trail a sea lion closely, scooping up scraps or the chance to clean up a whole fish if the sea lion missed his original lunge. But he had no intention of sharing any fish that he got, but for now, the little guy wasn’t bothering him at all.

The pair traced the kelp bed three more times, all to no avail. With a disappointed look, the harbor seal turned and dove for deeper water, skimming the ocean floor for crab. It wasn’t a bad idea, thought Patches, clearly the kelp bed was depleted of everything but sea urchins, and he wasn’t that hungry yet. But just as he rose to grab a breath before heading for deeper water, he saw it. A salmon cautiously glided into the kelp directly ahead of him, floating silently near the surface, the kelp fronds waving back and forth, obstructing his view. His heart raced as he swam slowly and quietly below the fish until he was directly below it. He hadn’t taken a breath and his lungs were beginning to ache. If he was going to strike he had to do it soon, but the kelp was still in his way. He floated on the current a few feet further, feeling the rocks scrape against his belly as the salmon slowly came back into view. The current shifted and the fronds were pulled the other way, exposing the fish. Sensing the change in the water, the salmon twitched, its’ wide unblinking eyes darting left, right, and down.

With all his strength Patches launched himself upwards, his eyes focused, the fish filling his mind. With a powerful flick the salmon bolted forward just as Patches closed his jaws. He felt scales rip off in his mouth, tasted the slimy texture on the back of his throat, and felt the fish slipping through. With a bolt of panic he snapped down and his teeth punctured skin, his mouth full of the salmon’s tail. The fish wiggled but Patches had him in his powerful canines as he ripped his head back and forth, feeling his body break the surface.

He broke the fish into bits, hearing the the squeals of the gulls all around him, snatching at pieces of his precious lunch. In three quick gulps Patches managed to get most of the fish down. Pride swelled inside him as three other sea lions raced up, eyes groping the water column for scraps. But they were too late. Patches floated at the surface, finally having a chance to catch his breath, feeling the sun warm his body as he stuck his flukes straight in the air. He drifted serenely in the current, in no real hurry to go anywhere with his belly full of fish.

When the East Wind Blows

I’m used to the cold, you kind of have to be if you lived in Alaska your whole life. Anything above 80 degrees shuts my body down, but the cold has never bothered me. After enduring two winters in Fairbanks and dragging my partly frozen carcass through 40 below weather to class, I’d never really considered anything else as, “cold.” I figured this winter would be more of the same. Sure, the weather would dip below freezing occasionally, or as the people of Fairbanks know it as; “September,” but between blankets, thick socks, and the fire I figured it wouldn’t be that bad. I even began to tell people back home that I was looking forward to a warm winter for once. Three days ago the wind shifted to the east and the clouds vanished, leaving us with brilliant blue skies, and a 15-knot gust on a direct flight from the frigid B.C. interior. The mercury began to plummet, and we began to shiver.

Forty below isn’t so bad when you have a heated, sixty-five degree classroom or dorm to duck into that can go from frozen to toasty with a simple turn of a dial. If we want to be warm, we were going to have to work for it. Our big downstairs windows don’t discriminate, letting the view and cold air in while sucking out the fire’s precious heat. We we’ve been chopping wood and kindling, hunched over the chopping block until our lower backs go numb, and scour the beach for bark. The bark from the fir tree comes off in slabs, some as small as your hand, some as big as your torso. Nothing burns hotter than a few dry slabs of bark, capable of sending the mercury skyrocketing ten degrees in an hour if you stack the wood just right.

And through it all, the world outside looks beautiful and cloudless. Just like a glorious sunny day in August, the sapphire and baby blues of the ocean and sky contrasting with the rich greens of the islands. Except of course stepping onto the deck now takes your breath away for a whole different reason. Perhaps the animals feel the change too. The humpbacks have suddenly started to filter out, leaving us with just a couple of sightings a day as opposed to dozens just a week ago. Even the sea lions don’t seem impervious as there’s been far fewer of them huddled on the rocks, though it’s hard to imagine that the water could be much warmer.

At night Brittney, the cat, and myself have huddled beneath a pair of comforters, keeping the draft away and the heat in. None of us are quite ready though, to share our bed with a rabbit that seems to use the bathroom once every thirty minutes. It is the frustrating thing about ensuring your pets comfort, you can never be sure if they’re too hot or too cold. Our solution to keeping the rabbit thawed has been tedious; involving climbing out of bed every hour and half to stoke the fire and add more wood to keep the temperature at a humane level. It’s not a bad routine, if I could just convince my groggy head to turn off the alarm and get up instead of just completing step one.

A reprieve lays insight, with clouds and rain returning in just a couple of days and with them, slightly warmer temperatures. I never thought I’d be happy to see the clouds and rain again, especially after our soggy October. I’ll miss the view with the spotted white capped mountains perched on the mainland to the east a fantastic sight, especially in the evening as the sun sets. But I’ll be relieved to no longer stress about potential frozen water lines, hypothermic bunnies, and habitually numb toes. From now on, Alaska will never feel quite as cold, as long as I have a house with whistling heater vents to come home to.

Nature Knows No Guilt

Everything must eat, this I know. Nearly everyday I witness fish being taken by eagles, gulls, seals, sea lions, and orcas. I’ve stood in awe as humpbacks gaze up at the sky and lazily open their gigantic mouths in order to basket feed. And I’ve greedily photographed almost all of these occasions with excitement.

This morning David watched from our cabin windows as an immature bald eagle swooped down and picked up not a fish, but a gull. He had seen this happen once earlier this summer and was not nearly as shocked as I. We watched as the young eagle landed on the rocky face that extends our cove out into the channel. With the gull in its talons, the eagle began to pick away at it. Unusual prey we thought, but normal behavior. I ran over to the lab and grabbed the camera in order to document this unexpected event. As I hurried back to our porch, the eagle took flight, still clenching the gull in its talons. But as the eagle landed on its perch, we noticed it had dropped the gull into the cove.

Hardly thinking anything of it, I returned the camera back to the lab to notice David staring into the scope where the gull had been dropped. “It’s still alive and floating just below the eagle,” he said to me. As I lowered the scope to take a look, I felt myself start to panic. With ruffled feathers and immobile wings, I watched this gull getting pushed up against the rocky shoreline by the growing waves and flooding tide.

In a flurry, I began to run back towards the bird. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but I knew I wanted to try and help. I carefully ran across the rocks and kelp until I saw it floating near the rocky cliff. Both wings were limp at its sides and its feathers were in disarray. The last gull I’d been that close to had washed up in our cove a few weeks prior and we buried it in the woods. In an attempt to avoid another funeral, I decided to use my sweater to pick this bird up out of the water and bring it to shore. In a span of about three seconds I had convinced myself that I could nurse this poor thing back to health and somehow rehabilitate it.

As I waited for the waves to push the bird up in order for me to safely grab it, I wished so badly to be able to communicate with it. I needed it to know that I was trying to help and that I wanted it to live. Instead, it worked as hard as it could to paddle away from me. In that moment, I felt ashamed that I thought any attempt I made could save this bird.

As I sat up on a high rock watching it bob in the water, I accepted that this is nature. This was not the same death that consistently breaks my heart with animals that are mass produced in factory farms or trophy hunted. The pain, suffering, and fear that those animals experience is not something I can compare to the death of an animal that has never been touched by humans. This dance I witnessed between the gull and the eagle was not something I needed to fix, feel guilty over, or apologize for.

-Brittney

Patches: Part 1

The rocks were crowded and wet with the waves of the ebbing tide still lapping at their base. It smelled too, with dozens of sea lions jostling and roaring for position, climbing and stomping on each other, all trying to reach the drier and exposed portions above. But it was an uphill battle in more ways than one. It was hard to climb on their flippers, and the sea lions above outweighed the ones below by at least 500 pounds. Obesity can have its’ luxuries.

At the edge of the rock, clinging to the edge inches from the icy waves was a young male sea lion named Patches. He lay curled up in a small nook that kept him from being launched off by his neighbors who seemed determined to uproot the three big bulls five feet above. One made a vain leap for the ledge, only to be met by a deafening roar and six inch teeth. The younger sea lion retreated unceremoniously down the rock, tripped, and fell the last few feet back into the ocean, plunging ten feet before floating for the surface.

Sea lions don’t roll their eyes, but if they did, Patches would have. What was the point? In an hour the tide would shift and begin to flood, and an hour after that they’d all be back in the ocean. It was better to settle for a nook with a little tide pool and a barnacle sticking in your back as long as you got some sleep. Not that Patches ever got much sleep. There was always someone clambering over you, convinced that the next rock over was the one for them. Here you got by on quick cat naps, got back in the water, and fed as much as you could. Gaining weight was the only real way to move permanently up the rock.

Patches rolled over to see his remaining rock mate, still eye balling the ledge above and the three massive bulls occupying it. What luxury! No barnacles scratching you, or boat wakes washing you off, just four hours of glorious sleep. Despite the ferocity of the previous assault, his rock mate seemed dead set on trying to succeed where his partner failed. He moved tactfully and casually, waddling awkwardly toward Patches, as if he had nothing more in mind than a stroll down the angled rock into the water. Carefully he put his flippers on a carved step leading up and slowly pushed himself up until he was eye level with the ledge.

The nearest bull would have none of it, but this time he struck. Patches felt his eyes widen and his body recoil as the teeth struck the young male, causing specks of blood to fall onto the rocks, only to be washed away by the sea. The young sea lion leaped for safety only to land directly on Patches’ wound.

The gash was small but nasty, about six inches in diameter with a single puncture wound in the center along the left side of his back. After days of nursing it and keeping it away from the sharp rocks and the aggressive teeth of his rivals, he felt the wound split again, a shooting pain reverberating along his back. Patches roared and snapped at his rock mate who, despite being larger, had clearly had enough for one day and leapt into the water, his belly flop sending a wave of water over the rock and Patches.

Shaking his coat dry, he tried to go back to sleep, but the attempted thievery from the first two sea lions had made the mature bulls above uneasy, they were unwilling to share their rock with anymore upstart young males. With a bellow and a crash that shook the whole rookery, one of them leaped down beside Patches, charging at the small nook he had folded himself back into. With a yelp of surprise and fear Patches dove for the ocean, feeling the sting of salt water on his cut. Diving deep he paddled hard away from the rock and his aggressor, finally rising to the surface 100-feet away.

He was sick of the whole game. Why they all had to haul out in the same stupid place was ridiculous. Wouldn’t it be better if they just distributed themselves evenly? It’s not like the British Columbia coast line lacked for rocky intertidal zones. And yet here they gathered, piled in massive brown heaps, crushing each other to death while the big ones above roared and slapped the ground with their flippers, letting all who could hear know who was in charge.

Tired and hungry, Patches swam slowly north along the shoreline. Not far from the haul out was a peaceful cove. Many of the sea lions avoided it because of the humans that lived there. But Patches didn’t care. It was obnoxious the way they ran down to the rocks and made weird gargling noises at him, but they were harmless really. And the harbor seals would chase fish into the cove, and there was nothing easier than a fish trapped on a rock face. The thought cheered Patches considerably, and he swam faster, past the last rookery, toward the tiny cove with chum salmon on his mind.