Happy Thursday! I’m actually getting Friday’s post in a day early this week. Still working on the writing class and trying not to get distracted by the blog. In that spirit, the following blip is from a section of the book where I describe a walk we took along an Oregon beach during some residual storm surge. The echoes of dying are just about everywhere, if only we allow ourselves to listen.
We stayed close to the cliffs rising at the back of the beach, scanning their sides for escape routes just in case. The litter of driftwood at their base was a wildly tossed collection of enormous pilings and giant tree trunks ripped free from prior moorings by lashing waters of extraordinary force. The evening before they’d all rested in settled places, tumbled long ago to fit tightly along the feet of the cliffs, bone dry and sun bleached, high above the tidal reach. But after the night’s wild surf they were tossed about and water soaked. Embedded with wet sand. Some of the old pieces had been picked up and scattered down the beach or washed away entirely, while other ones were only freshly arrived.
Picking our way we came across the damp carcass of a sea lion, headless and beginning to decompose. At first I mistook her for driftwood but as we drew nearer I saw tufts of fur still clinging to her skin and I was irresistibly drawn to her. Kneeling, I placed my hand on her side, the damp flesh still soft, giving way beneath the pressure as if she was exhaling. I felt a mixture of wonder and horror and grief, marveling that I, Dia…woman of Idaho, of inland rivers and sweet water lakes…was touching a sea lion. I might as well have found myself next to a unicorn or griffin. She was miraculous to me, sleek and tapering, and I ran my hands above the contours of her body, sweeping them along her back and sides, over the folds of her torn fins as if my hands were somehow remembering the deep waters gliding over them. Endlessly, fluidly tender.
I wished that her head was still there. I looked at the wound and was chilled by the neat edges of severed spinal bone where someone had clearly sawed through it. I felt agitated murmurs fluttering up from the sand around me and I shared in the distress, made uneasy by those who move easily in the darkness, desecrating the dead.
I spoke to her gently, whispering final words of farewell and gratitude. But then a sneaker wave rushed up, driving Cal and I onto the higher rocks behind her. We watched as the water surrounded and lifted her, washing her back down the beach out into the waves where she swam again one last time, headless and vulnerable. She got stuck, tossing about in the turbulent zone where ingoing and outgoing waters meet and I wished she could somehow get past the waves and return to deeper waters. We stood helplessly as she tossed and rolled, back and forth, trapped and jostled in the limbo zone created by conflicting tides.
But finally, when I could barely stand to watch anymore, a strange, lone ripple of current heading away from shore washed past her and for a moment it seemed like whatever was left inside her washed away, too. I thought I glimpsed a shimmering sea lion, whole again and beautiful, swimming just beneath the surface, riding that ripple back out to sea.
And then it was gone.
I’d like to end this post on a completely different kind of beautiful note. Here’s a video of a couple of Polish musicians playing Tchaikovsky’s Sugar Plum Fairy on the most surprising instrument. It’s both entertaining and exquisite. Enjoy!
copyright Dia Osborn 2011
This that you wrote…is a book! And although I was there, had not seen through your eyes until now. If not better, you see differerntly (thank God).
Cal is correct. You see differently, but I’m so glad you are able to describe to us lowly ones what you see. I like that you ran your hands over her. I repeatedly get myself in trouble with observers when I stop to touch and tamper with recently emptied little bodies. There is some warning that rushes through my subconsciousness…don’t touch dead animals…you’ll get…what? I dunno. Fleas? Death? Sickness? Fear? What possibly can a dead animal to do me that hasn’t already been done to it?
You too!? I have a strong tactile sense and get a lot of information through my hands, so I’m always touching things without thinking about it. Especially out in nature…but most of the time I’m either alone or with someone close who knows me well enough not to be surprised. I’m fascinated by dead things, too–bodies are pretty generally exquisite and miraculous, whether currently inhabited or not. 🙂 And yeah…what in the world can you get from touching dead animals that you wouldn’t get from touching live ones? In fact, it’s probably safer since there’s no danger of being bitten anymore.
I think you hit it on the head with Fear. We can always catch Fear from dead things if we don’t stay awake.