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.

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