Even off the grid, where hot running water is nothing more than a mystical fantasy, there is luxury. And like everything else around here, it is earned. Balancing precariously on the rocks on the inside of the cove sits an old bathtub. Small towers of rocks on all four corners keep it level, just try not to notice the rusting bottom and slowly chipping paint. But fill her to the brim with seawater and meticulously feed a fire beneath the rusting base for a few hours and viola! Your very own saltwater hot tub.
The orcas vanished on September 17th and we’ve heard nothing from them since. We haven’t been without entertainment though. Just a mile down the beach, on a series of flat white rocks lives our new neighbors. They are loud, kind of smelly, and supposedly, will call the Hanson Island shoreline home for the better part of the winter. The Stellar Sea Lions have been patrolling the shore, sometimes just feet from us for almost a month now, their growls and barks becoming a consistent white noise that we’ve all had to learn to block out. But a strong fall run of salmon have led to several spectacular chases and catches from the neighboring sea lions and harbor seals. The sea lions especially love to attack from below, rocketing out of the water, a salmon clamped tightly in their jaws. Bouncing vertically in the water column they seem to bob like corks as they try to orient their catch so it slides down the gullet headfirst, all in one nauseating gulp.
The salmon scatter any direction they can, seeking shelter in the kelp bed or running into the shallows where the sea lions are hesitant to go. Two days ago we watched a fish, trapped against the shoreline in just a foot of water, while a sea lion circled just off the shallows. Seeing dinner floating meekly in the water I ran off the deck and over the rocks and hovered above the 18 inch salmon. In one move I lunged for it and felt my right hand grasp the base of his tail. With a single flick and a torrent of water, the salmon broke free of my grip and rushed into the kelp bed, willing to take its chances with the pinnipeds. Crestfallen, my pride in pieces I found two more salmon that day, and both times, spectacularly failed to corral them. Frustrated but determined, I found an old blue net in the shed and strategically placed it near the lab. Next time I wouldn’t go unarmed.
Which is how I came to be yesterday, watching the tide slowly fill the cove lounging in the saltwater bath. A sea lion with a large gash on his right flank routinely enters the bay, sometimes surfacing just twenty feet from my tub, eying me with perhaps just a bit of jealousy. A harbor seal, dwarfed by the sea lion we’d named “Patches” follows in his wake like a dog after its owner. I lean back and close my eyes, and hear a splash from the other side of the rocks. Glancing over the small mound I see a sea lion, pacing back and forth his attention directed at the shoreline. Praying for a shot at redemption, I climb gingerly and bare ass naked out of the tub. Paul and Helena were gone, it was just Brittney and I on the island, but nevertheless, my social conscious kicks in and I reach for the only thing I have to cover myself with, a bright pink towel.
Cinching it around my waist I move gingerly down the rocks, feeling their points and spikes stab into my feet. I try and fail to avoid slipping and breaking every bone in my body while still looking for the shadow of the salmon. I reach the water and see it, swimming slowly back and forth, fixed firmly in three feet of water. My heart races, all pain forgotten I run back up the rocks and grab the net and make my way back to the water, pink towel still firmly attached. My return startles the wayward fish and with a flick of its tail, disappears into deeper water. My heart plummets, a fall breeze washes over me and I shiver. Had I gotten out of my warm tub to fail again?
The water laps at my ankles, the net held limply in my hand. I’m about to turn back when the fish returns, moving into the same shallow pool that he just abandoned. Three rocks stand clear of the water on one side and I move as quickly and quietly as I can onto the furthest one, eyes locked on my prey. I reach the third rock and stumble, catching my balance before I fall, but my bumbling, and maybe a flash of pink startles the fish and he again flicks out of the pool. Patiently I wait, wishing I had stopped to put on some actual clothes, goose bumps erupting all over my body. For the second time the fish comes back and begins once again his slow circle around the pool. As slowly as the adrenaline in my body will let me, I dip the net into the pool and wait. The fish circles again, passes the net, and turns his tail to it.
This is it. I drop the net to the ocean floor and watch the salmon turn into the blue netting. I pull the net from the pool and in my rushed movements, the towel falls. For a moment I stand naked and frozen, the fish thrashing in the net now high above the water. How I wish there was a picture. Grabbing and refastening my pink garment I pick my way back up the rocks and reach for the walkie talkie, “honey, I know what we’re having for dinner tonight.”