Jon Alexander / Saturday, Feb. 8 @ 7 a.m. / Angels and Desperados
ANGELS and DESPERADOS: A Sign of Things to Come...
Yesterday morning, I arose, as usual, around 6:30 a.m. and took Jake and Max for their morning walk and deposits. It was raining, with the air in "pea soup" viscosity, the wind coming off Battery Point, stiff and bracing -- all in all, a morning not entirely conducive to a sunny disposition.
As I walked down the path past the Lighthouse, then the jetty and the pier, across the beach and on... I couldn't help but think of the significance, if any, that the first day of the year would, or should, hold. Two thousand nineteen was in the rear view mirror and I've developed a practice of looking ahead and out of that rear view mirror, which all too often has a way of just takin' you into the ditches. But, that said, and I'm not into the occult or looking to find Robert Johnson or the Devil waiting for me at the next crossroad, I do look for signs and omens and prospects of things to come.
And so, I trekked across the mud flats and the beach, over Howe Park, until I was at the soccer fields where I loose the "kids" to run. Rising out of the wind and rain, I came to our Marine Mammal Center, which takes in injured seals and sea lions, attempting to nurse them back to health, with an eye to returning them back into their natural environment. The folks that work there are all volunteer and, for my money, do God's work in rescuing these injured creatures we inhabit and share the Earth with. Not to sound simon-pure, as my brother Bedsworth once rightly accused me of, but it's hard not to note that these creatures don't kill or take more than they need for subsistence. They don't inflict pain or brutality upon each other for the mere sake of it. And they don't stockpile whatever they consider to be precious or valuable for the sheer hell of it either, like their human counterparts. Yeah, and even through this thick veneer of hide they call skin back in Jersey, there's something about a defenseless, wounded or sick baby seal that gets to me.
As I approached the Center, now closed to the public, I thought back two, maybe three weeks ago, when I walked by on an early morning and talked through the fence to Janice, one of the volunteers, as she scrubbed down one of the pools. They hadn't had any new pups or seals in awhile, but Jan told me, upon my asking, that they had just taken in a baby Fur Seal whose mother had abandoned it. The little fella also had a fresh scar on his back, probably from a dog bite, which is the biggest cause of seal injuries the Center identifies upon intake. Jan went on to tell me, they were watching after the little fella 24-7, but it looked as if he wasn't going to make it -- just too much abandoned time and dog-bite infection. Somehow, it always gets to you, and you can't help but notice when you see these special people, the ones you'd think would get used to it, maybe even going numb after a bit, still shaking their heads in pain and disbelief that some greater deity shouldn't have taken the day off on this little one.
And then, just a week before, I saw another volunteer and, hesitatingly, fearful of the probable answer, asked how the pup was doing. She pursed her mouth and rolled an eye as if to express disbelief, then told me that incredibly, against the odds, he was still real sick, but hanging in there, although it still didn't look good, but he was living up to his name. Hard not to name the little guy "Rocky."
New Year's Day, in the rain, fog and wind, I trudged on up towards the Center, catching just a glimpse of one of the orange pieces of foul weather gear the volunteers wear in inclement weather. And, with no other in sight, as I continued searching for some evidence or shade of prophecy of the foretelling of Two Thousand and Twenty and what it had in store for an ongoing battle with Stage IV bone cancer and those I care for and about, I was now at the Marine Mammal Center and the story or "Rocky" was undeniably going to be it. Bracing myself for the inevitable, would I hear Rocky was a fighter to the very end, giving it more scrap and will than the volunteers had ever seen in those 3-4 weeks of night and day feedings, antibiotics injections and misty eyes. Or would I see a gentle smile telling me that he just slipped off in the night, with no pain or fear, just quietly swimming off around the bend, back to a place with no dogs or pecking gulls, where his Mom was waiting to feed and protect him.
All those and more permutations went through my mind as I approached the Center, knowing that, better or worse, that Rocky's story -- one way or the other -- was going to be the prescient harbinger of the year to come and the way it'd had all come to pass, it was a done deal, with nothin' left but the telling.
And just then, Jan came around the corner, dressed out in her Grunden's gear. I motioned her over, and she already knew the question I'd asked every time in the past month and would revisit now. Looking down to avoid the rain, plain and simple, cut to the chase, "Uh, how's Rocky?" A long, pregnant silence as I, embarrassed to myself, look further away from the rain and the probably answer to come and the duty of prognostication in what to make of it and ... Jeeeeze, am I looking at the beginning of her smile? And, I hear something, wind garbled, about "must've been a miracle" and as I pressed against the fence, an explanation of how just two nights ago, Rocky had turned it around, squirming like crazy and syphoning down his formula. Jan told me this happened, rarely, when out of nowhere, a pup or baby sea lion will be on death's door and somehow, someway, they find something they were born with, something in their soul, that tells them "not here, not now, no way ..." and then, in the rain and wind's torrent, I wondered if those words were coming from her or somewhere else ... and I looked up into the silence of her smiling at me ... as she waited and told me they'd be releasing Rocky back in a couple days, but he was actually "walking" on his own and using the wading pool and if I was lucky, I might find him there.
I walked around the entry way to the east side of the Center, where the cyclone fences protect the wading pools. Nothing at the first two, but there, just below the back side of the last wading pool, I see something small and gray move. Careful not to make a sound, I stand stone-like, next to the fence .. as that small, gray patch of fur now moves up the ramp to the top of the pool's edge ... and stares at me. I'm not going to tell you all that passed through and upon me during those moments. Because it's also what you all take from this story of Rocky and how it was his gift to all of us, this foretelling of what 2022 holds.
In Memorium: On Saturday, February 1st, my dear friend Art McCune crossed the bar. One of Del Norte's favorite sons, I would sit at Mary and Art's Smith River home, listening to him regale us of times, "in the day," when life was bigger, bolder and, seemingly, a helluva lot more fun and exciting. Fair winds and calm seas, Art. We'll see you up around the bend.